Geographies of qualification. Disruptive technology and calculative practices in the global wine industry

Authors: Gerhard Rainer*, Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Christian Steiner*, University of Eichstätt
Topics: Economic Geography, Social Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: Economic geography, social studies of economization, rural geography,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8226, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Traditionally, wine has been a localized good, produced in a distinct natural and cultural environment, which was the basis of its qualification (“terroir”). In this paper we argue that the new technology-infrastructure-logistics complex ‘bulk wine’ can be seen as a disruptive technology in this regard. Bulk wine production has increased massively in the past years, accounting for 50% of current global wine trade. The development of flexitanks for wine transportation made bulk wine logistics safer, faster and cheaper and as such has become a key market device. Its disruptive impact fundamentally changes wine production from the organization of grape growing to the commercialization of the final product, as it enabled retail companies to assemble wine across the globe by establishing new connections between distant rural regions. In order to analyze how these new connections are forged and sustained, we draw on fieldwork with New Zealand and German large-scale wineries, wine brokers and bottling companies. Building on Callon et al.’s Economy of Qualities we show how New Zealand bulk wine is constantly undergoing a process of re-qualification until it is sold to the end consumer. In this process, calculative practices such as chemical data analysis, comparative global pricing schemes and online trading platforms play a key role. These market devices have not only fostered the growth of bulk wine production but have also led to new connections between distant rural regions, a spatial redistribution of production, and a fundamental power shift in the mass market, which created new geographies of qualification.

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