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Making minerality matter: Soil science, specialty wines, and post-socialist terroir | 2015-2017

Terroir, or "the taste of place" (Trubek 2008), is the unique assemblage of environmental and cultural factors that define a particular geography, essentialized in the food products of that region: a simultaneously scientific and social mechanism of exclusive quality. Empirical accounts of terroir are contested in environmental sciences, yet the elusive terroir is given legal expression through policies such as Geographical Indications (GIs) (Josling 2006). GIs define and regulate the origins of "localized" foods, protecting them as intellectual property (Gangjee 2013), represented by origin labels.

This project began as my MS thesis research while pursuing a graduate degree in Crop and Soil Sciences. Using the STS idiom of co-production (Jasanoff 2004), I account for the meeting of material landscapes and ideologies in the production of post-socialist terroir wines using a case study from the second oldest GI: the Tokaj wine region in Hungary (1737). With mixed methods, including walking interviews and participant-led soil sampling, I examine the (re)creation and implications of terroir post-1989, particularly, the role of soil science in historic and contemporary demarcations of its exclusive geography.


Following a village-level initiative to (re)brand this wine region, which hinges on distinction through soil minerality, I ask: How is soil science (and its methodologies) deployed in the reification of terroir, making ideologies of difference material features of landscapes? I propose this case study as exemplary of the co-production of social and scientific realms (Jasanoff 2004): the translation of terroir in post-socialist geographies presents soil science as a socio-political enterprise.


The results of this study are presented in a co-authored paper with interdisciplinary authorship (soil chemistry, environmental science, environmental anthropology) and is currently in review (click here for publications).

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