Producing value from Australia's vineyards: an ethnographic approach to 'the quality turn' in the Australian wine industry



This article provides a detailed ethnographic intervention to the phenomenon of value-added agriculture, a discourse that has attained several concrete forms in Australian wine industry policy, and which is routinely presented as a legitimate rural future in wider agricultural and social science research. The legal and policy architecture of 'Geographical Indications' purports to value the regional distinctiveness of agricultural areas, by creating legally-defined wine regions. Producers from these wine regions enjoy privileged access to the use of regional descriptors that apply to their products, and the constitution of such wine regions can also codify the relationships between this regional identity and concrete viticultural and winemaking practices. This article draws on ethnographic research within the Clare Valley region of South Australia, one of the first Australian wine regions to be formally constituted as a legal entity, to examine in close detail the relationships that this region's wine producers have with their own discrete areas of operation. These ethnographic illustrations highlight that the creation of economic value within the premium wine industry cannot be reduced to the technical aspects of viticulture and oenology, nor the legal and policy means by which relationships between products and land are codified. Rather, the nuanced social understandings of landscape that wine producers are consistently developing is a critical element of cultural and commercial infrastructure that affords any wine producer or grape grower the possibility of achieving monopolistic relationships over discrete vineyard areas and the wine that is produced from them. These social understandings have a specifically egalitarian character that acts as a hedge against the chronic uncertainties arising from the global economic environment in which premium wine industry is inescapably a part. This resistance to codification, I argue, is a productive space that constitutes a form of resilience against chronically unstable sets of commercial and environmental conditions.

Keywords: monopoly, regional rents, occupational discourse, intellectual property, Geographic Indications, Australian agrarian futures

How to Cite: Raftery, D. (2017) “Producing value from Australia's vineyards: an ethnographic approach to 'the quality turn' in the Australian wine industry”, Journal of Political Ecology. 24(1). doi: