What can GI scholars learn from food research?

As diverse as legal scholarship is on geographical indications (GI), historical and ethnological studies of food may still offer an often-overlooked perspectives on how GIs come into being. In this post, this Kat would like to share some books which caught her GI-focused attention from historical and ethnological vantages.
When Champagne became French

When Champagne became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity” by Kolleen M. Guy (John Hopkins UP, 2007, 348 p.) is a classic for those doing historical research on GIs. The book traces the development of the champagne industry between 1820 and 1920 (the treatment of the champagne industry being the precursor of the EU GI system). Champagne, maintains Guy, helped shaping regional and national collective identities of the modern France.

Guy follows the efforts of vine growers and wine producers from the Champagne region in lobbying the French government to create a system for protecting regional appellations. This took place in post-revolutionary France: old provinces, including Champagne, had been broken down into departments, with the result that the borders that marked where “true” champagne is produced were uncertain.

Moreover, the relations between vine growers and wine producers could be tense. In the second half of the 19th century, vine growers from Champagne would occasionally sell their vines to producers in neighbouring Germanic lands and in Luxembourg – the resulting product in these areas was also called “champagne”. In turn, wine producers, which were based in Champagne region, would buy vine from the south of France.

When the wine blight, phylloxera, destroyed many of the French vineyards in end of 19th century, vine growers and wine producers from Champagne temporarily united their forces. They now argued that both harvesting and production should take place within the Champagne region. The resulting terroir-based system is very close to the current EU requirements for Protected Designations of Origin (PDO).

Following lobbying by these Champagne-based interests, France adopted its first “appellation law” in 1905. Based on this law, the French government defined regions of production for champagne, cognac, and bordeaux. Modern EU laws on GIs, argues Guy, “resulted from the early twentieth-century struggles of Champenois”.
Whites & Reds

The second book on this Kat’s list is “Whites & Reds: A history of Wine in the Lands of Tsar and Commissar” by Stephen V. Bittner (OUP, 2021, 272 p.). Those interested in the history of GIs in the Eastern Europe will find this book captivating. Bittner follows the history of wine production in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia - first as part of the Russian Empire and then of the Soviet Union.

Similar to what occurred in France, phylloxera devastated the vineyards in this region. Bittner’s research shows that contemporary winemakers were borrowing from the French experience: not only did they seek scientific solutions to phylloxera, but they were also interested in creating their own system of regional appellations.

In 1902, Lev Golytsin, a leading winemaker of tsarist times, spoke at the first congress of winegrowers and winemakers of Russian Empire. He insisted that local winemakers should stop using “champagne” and “cognac” appellations, and focus on developing local wines instead.

The phylloxera crisis was followed by the First World War, Russian Revolution and expropriations during the early Soviet years. Bittner also traces the biographies of the victims of Stalinist repression in the wine industry in the 1930s, all of which was disastrous for local winemaking.

Bittner then observes that just like in tsarist times, the Soviet wine industry also heavily imitated Western European traditions and practices. As a result, instead of developing local varieties, the wine industry throughout the Soviet Union was also producing champagne, cherry and port wine.

Moreover, products, that had traditionally originated from winemaking regions were now being produced in centrally controlled factories across the Soviet Union. The example of traditional Georgian wine “Khvanchkara”, which derives from an eponymous village in Northern Georgia, is telling. During Soviet times, both factories in Georgia and the Interrepublic Wine Factory in Moscow were producing Khvanchkara wine.

This, Bittner notes, precluded the development of a sense of terroir among Soviet consumers.
On the constitution of cultural property through geographical indications

The last book on this Kat’s list is “Zur Konstituierung kulturellen Eigentums durch geografische Herkunftsangaben” by Sarah May (Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2016, 326 p.). Though the book is in German, it is easily translatable into English through automated translation.

May undertakes an ethnological study of two German and two Italian GIs for cheese: PDO “Allgäuer Emmentaler”, PDO “Odenwälder Frühstückskäse”, PDO “Parmigiano Reggiano”, and PDO “Piave”. The work is based on interviews, observation, media research and data from a quantitative survey.

Through interviews with producers (both belonging to a PDO and producing outside of it), local authorities, and museum workers, May explains how and why a PDO comes into being. The issue of regional collective identity returns here. Interviewees recall how the authorities of Hesse region in Germany were the main promoters of PDO “Odenwälder Frühstückskäse”. The administrative division of Hesse being a post-WW2 construct, regional authorities needed local specialities to foster the Hessian collective identity.

May then looks into how PDO specifications are the fruit of compromise between producers, rather than a reflection of common practices. Producers may also decide to leave a PDO. May interviews one such cheese producer, who used to belong to PDO “Allgäuer Emmentaler”. He explained that he did so because he did not see any added value in belonging to a PDO, while it did require paying a monthly fee.

Another interesting focus of May’s book is the role of regional authorities in PDOs registration. May refers to them as “enablers”, who have a clearer understanding of local food traditions and thus are better placed to guide the producers of potential PDOs.

In the final chapter, May looks into the benefits of PDOs for different groups of stakeholders: producers, consumers, regional and state authorities. May concludes that one of the stakeholders who benefits most is the EU. PDO-labelled products are how the EU can communicate an ideal image of itself as a place, where tradition is cherished and preserved.
What can GI scholars learn from food research? What can GI scholars learn from food research? Reviewed by Anastasiia Kyrylenko on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 Rating: 5

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