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Terroir or tūrangawaewae? Expressing sense of place in an emerging New Zealand wine region

Hill, R
Fountain, Joanna
Conference Contribution - unpublished
Fields of Research
Aims: Wine producers and industry commentators in New Zealand have sought to express a sense of place that resonates for them culturally. For some, the originally French term terroir is adopted; for others, consideration is given to the Maori term tūrangawaewae, which connotes deep connections with landscape, family, ancestors, and non-human life. Drawing upon ethnographic research and discourse analysis, we aim to critically examine how sense of place is being expressed in one of the country’s emerging wine regions, including how the term terroir may itself resonate differently from in France. Methods and Results: Interviews were conducted with approximately 30 wine producers and industry stakeholders in the North Canterbury region of New Zealand, a region that produces a small proportion of the country’s total wine production, but which is developing a distinct profile focussed upon pinot noir and aromatic white grapes. In the interviews, respondents were asked about how they understand and communicate a sense of place, amongst other questions about their wine, their business and their region. Analysis of winery and regional websites, other promotional materials, and wine bottle labels, has supplemented interviews to discern how sense of place is communicated. Initial findings from interviews and documentary analysis suggest widespread producer recognition of the terms terroir and tūrangawaewae, though terroir is more commonly employed, and the use of either concept is tailored to the audience at hand (i.e. cellar door communication being different from what is printed on the bottle label). The sense of place mobilised in websites builds upon landscape elements (climate, relief, geology, soils), and has an aesthetic quality, as is common in France. The North Canterbury use of terroir differs from typical French use in that it generally does not build upon secular human history, whereas tūrangawaewae is used to evoke the spiritual and potentially historical connection of wine producers to the land. Conclusion: Our research has found that there is significant desire to build the sense of place, to distinguish the wines of North Canterbury from those of competing regions, and to educate consumers as to the importance of provenance and the character of less common grape varieties. Elements of geography, history, aesthetics and technical skill are woven into narratives of provenance, and the medium conditions the message, with explicit use of the term terroir more frequently encountered on websites than on wine labels or in person at cellar doors. Tūrangawaewae is not currently being widely used in this area. Significance and Impact of the Study: This research provides insights into global variations in how sense of place in the wine industry is expressed, including the use and resonance of terroir, amplifying the calls by scholars for more attention to be paid to different local expressions of the concept, and to the tensions inherent in the promotion of cultural goods like wine. It will provide analysis of the ways in which a relatively new wine region builds a national and international profile, and how it develops a culturally resonant narrative around the qualities of place.
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