Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change
Research Article
2021, 6(2), Article No: 08

Introduction to the Sociology of Wine—The Sociological Decanter: Pouring Sociology into Wine, and Vice Versa

Published in Volume 6 Issue 2: 11 Jan 2022
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Wine from grapes is both ancient and highly modern, increasingly widespread across vast swathes of the planet, and made, marketed and distributed by a huge industry that directly and indirectly employs millions of people and generates huge profits, at least for some. Yet despite wine’s social and cultural importance, sociology and sociologists have remained remarkably quiet about wine, unlike those in other academic disciplines. There is today no such thing as a scholarly field called the sociology of wine. This introductory paper to the special issue on wine and sociology considers this state of affairs, and what might be done about overcoming the relative silence of sociology on wine matters. It offers an extensive literature review covering what international sociological work there is on the wine/sociology interface, considering this relatively modest body of literature in relation to the more voluminous amounts of wine-related analysis offered by anthropologists, geographers, economists, and others. These scholarly domains are represented in the paper by reference to classic works and indicative readings. The paper poses a series of questions as to what a sociological field of wine analysis could look like, and what it would take to build such a thing. It also illustrates how the papers published in the special issue contribute to posing and answering some of these questions.

All stultifying drunkenness, such as comes from opium or brandy, that is, drunkenness which does not encourage sociability or the exchange of thought, has something shameful about it. Wine and beer provide intoxication for social purposes; wine has simply a stimulating effect, while beer is more nourishing and satisfying like food. There is, however, a characteristic difference. The beer-drinking bout is associated with taciturn fantasies, and frequently with impolite behaviour (Kant, 1798 [1996]: 59).

Thus spoke one of the West’s great philosophers, espousing the highly conventional view that, while wine makes you witty, because it is a civilized and civilizing beverage, beer makes you moody or ready for a fight. Since then, the discipline of philosophy has engaged with the nature of wine and wine drinking sporadically, sometimes bringing in more ‘social’ concerns, but often treating wine matters as if they existed in a sociological vacuum (Allhoff, 2007; Peters, 2009; Smith, 2007). That raises the question of where is sociology when it comes to considerations of wine, and how people make it, sell it, drink it, and talk about it?

As the wine spills out of the bottle, so does the ink. It is impossible to enumerate how many words have been written about wine since humans started making an alcoholic drink from certain kinds of grapes about 8,000 years ago. Wine seems to be particularly alluring for wordsmiths: poets have praised it, religious authors have both eulogised and condemned it, aficionados wax lyrically about it, technical specialists produce reams of text about it, industry professionals earn their livings discursively presenting it, popular writers present overviews of wine to broadening publics (e.g. Estreicher, 2006; Millon, 2013; Phillips, 2018), commentators present sometimes polemical texts ranged against the contemporary ills of the wine world as they see it (Nossiter, 2009), and today different sorts of academics engage with it through the lenses of disciplinary specialisations. Wine and words have become inextricably entwined, with the latter not only describing the former but also actively shaping it in multiple manners.

Yet sociologists have remained remarkably quiet about wine, despite their loquaciousness otherwise, and their capacity to analyse just about everything else imaginable which exists on the planet. Few sociologists, relative to the total number of them, have systematically engaged with wine, either in the past of the discipline or today. This has been so both in the countries which have historically had little or no wine-making traditions, and, perhaps more surprisingly, in countries like France, Italy, and Spain, which have long-standing wine industries.

It is not going too far to claim that there is today no such thing as a (sub-)field called the sociology of wine, let alone a systematically and coherently organised field that could be termed the social science of wine more broadly. This is particularly strange given the importance and significance of wine and wine-related phenomena across the world at the present time.

Sociology’s historical and current neglect of wine matters is especially odd given the social, socio-cultural, socio-economic, and socio-political forms of significance wine has had in the past and continues to have today. Wine’s various significances are in fact today not diminishing but instead growing and spreading to ever more parts of the world. As wine making and drinking have become more geographically extensive, the various roles wine plays in the lives of different sorts of people have expanded and complexified too. More persons of more diverse types nowadays drink wine than was ever the case before. Wine is made in more diverse places than ever before too. The apparently simple word ‘wine’ actually refers to multiple constellations of heterogeneous, complexly interlinked, phenomena, all of which have significant social and societal presences. Therefore, wine should certainly be a matter of major interest for sociology in general, and for sociologists of many different types.

Wine today can be understood as being organised in terms of industries (which make and sell wine), worlds (which socially organise wine drinking) and cultures (which construct the appreciation and understanding of wine by different groups of drinkers) (Inglis and Almila, 2019). Sociology has by and large ceded the study of wine industries, worlds, and cultures to other disciplines. Yet all of these encompass tens of millions of Dollars of economic activity annually. They involve tens of thousands of people directly, and many more indirectly, in the production, distribution and sale of wine. Many more millions of people drink wine, regularly or occasionally. Wine is produced on a massive scale, with billions of litres produced annually. Wine production contributes hugely both to the economies of producer countries and to the tax revenues of importer countries (Veseth, 2012). Wine is both highly globalized in multiple ways, and also a means by which globalization – of taste, lifestyle, profession, and so on – is developed, promoted, spread, thematized, and sometimes resisted, by many different sorts of people (Inglis, 2019b).

Thus, even in the simplest terms of economic significance and the large numbers of people involved in wine-related activities, wine is an important element in and of large parts of the world today. That significance is growing all the time, sometimes very rapidly indeed. From Denmark to Thailand, new wine producing areas are coming into existence and prominence (Anderson and Pinilla, 2019). At the same time, new groups of wine drinkers are appearing, not just in the more spectacular cases of China and east Asia (see Ho, 2021a), but also among lower social groups in more established wine drinking contexts, as is the case in north-western Europe. Wine drinking is becoming ever more an accepted part of middle-class lifestyles around the world, or at least a component of aspirations towards them (Colman, 2008).

Today’s wine industries, worlds and cultures are globalized in complex and intricate ways. Ownership of vineyards and wineries varies from massive multinationals to tiny independent producers. While wine is booming in certain ways and in specific locations, it is in deep crisis in others (Anderson, 2004). The complexly globalized nature of wine both reflects, refracts, and in some ways contributes to, much broader social, cultural, economic and political processes, including the changing politics of nationalism, post- and re-nationalization, neo-colonization, neo-liberalization of markets and industries (and de-liberalizing trends, such as trade wars), Europeanization (and its opposites), post-industrialization, social and cultural reconfiguration and fragmentation, cosmopolitization (and its antagonists), and (late- or post-) modernization (Inglis and Almila, 2019). Wine is created in and through such processes, as well as being an important index of how they are working and in which directions they are moving.

Wine is profoundly caught up in issues to do with labour struggles and exploitation (Guy, 2019), and the politicization and publicization of these for diverse audiences of consumers (Herman, 2018, 2019). Wine is also deeply tied to phenomena of climate crisis, ranging from the degradation of environments caused by unsustainable vineyard practices, through to older wine-growing areas being undermined by climate change, at the same time as new locales are made possible for wine making by rising temperature levels (Almaraz, 2015; Ashenfelter and Storchmann, 2012; Nicholas, 2015; Pincus, 2003). Wine is thoroughly bound up with contemporary ‘politics of nature’, with increasing numbers of producers and distributors keen to promote their ‘green’ credentials to ever more environmentally concerned groups of consumers (Dans et al., 2019).

All the above points to the great, and increasing, social, societal, cultural, political and economic significance of wine in and across the world today. So, it is particularly remarkable that sociology, which otherwise is meant to be, and is, engaged with the sorts of processes indicated above, barely deals with wine, either now or in the recent past. The absence of much sociological analysis of wine is a notable feature of contemporary sociology, and a peculiar and perhaps rather troubling one too.


Nonetheless, instances of sociological thinking being applied to various aspects of wine, both in terms of production, distribution, and consumption, do exist. These are in the English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian languages (e.g., Chauvin, 2010; Corbeau, 2004; Diaz-Bone, 2005; Fischler, 1999; Germov, 2017; Herzog, 2020; Inglis and Almila, 2019; Navarini, 2015; Pape, 2012; Pinkert, 2017).

It is noteworthy that studies and ways of thinking emanating from particular countries tend to reflect and refract both the wider sociological field in a country, as well as that country’s typical wine production and distribution systems and consumption culture. Thus, sociological studies of wine undertaken in France, and produced at least in part for a French audience, will most likely express certain theoretical and methodological tendencies to be found in wider French sociological circles, while at the same time tending to take production, distribution, and consumption phenomena occurring in France as their main object of study. This makes them rather different, in both epistemological and empirical terms, from, for example, comparable sociological studies carried out in Germany. While trans-national and cosmopolitan wine phenomena may be studied, they will probably be done so through quite nationally specific forms of sociology, and in terms of field-sites and trends that exist within the nation-state in question. That state of affairs raises the interesting question of what a more explicitly and systematically cosmopolitan sociology of wine could look like in the future.

Some sub-fields of sociology do sometimes deal with certain wine-related phenomena, usually as exemplars of more general issues of interest to specialists. Thus, economic sociology – probably the specialism that has had most to say about wine – deals with phenomena such as value judgments and price formation in markets, as well as auction-house dynamics (Beckert et al., 2017; Carter, 2019; Chiffoleau and Laporte, 2006; Karpik, 2010; Ody-Brasier and Fernandez-Mateo, 2017; Zhao, 2005, 2008).

Cultural sociology – which in these matters often overlaps with economic sociology – has dealt with issues of collective classification of wine and wine regions (Allen and Germov, 2011; Fitzmaurice, 2017; Fourcade, 2012), as well as the development of the institution of wine criticism (Rössel et al., 2018), changing configurations of social class and other factors among wine connoisseurs (Howland, 2013; Rössel and Pape, 2014), and the aesthetics of wine labelling (Woodward and Ellison, 2012). There are occasional works in historical sociology which deal with wine matters, such as Rihouet’s (2013) analysis of changing wine glass design in relation to Norbert Elias’s conception of the European civilizing process.

Meanwhile, qualitative empirical sociological studies, of various theoretical persuasions, has deal with questions of wine tasting and appreciation (de Benedettis, 2019; Hennion, 2007; Teil and Hennion, 2004). These overlap with, and could in future take further inspiration from, interdisciplinary qualitative studies of similar matters, both of drinking and appreciating wine (Brighenti, 2018; Ducker, 2011; Hampton, 2012; Latkiewicz, 2003; Michalski, 2013; Silverstein, 2016; Skinner, 2016; Sternsdorff, 2014; Vannini et al., 2010), and of making it (Berkowitz, 2014; Dans et al., 2019; Lukacs, 2002; Stephens and Neil, 2010).

Sociology of consumption, as well as the wider consumer studies field which it contributes to, contains some consideration of wine matters, but perhaps not as much as one might expect, given the increasing presence of wine over the last few decades in the lives of those consumers these studies otherwise touch upon (useful studies that are nor explicitly sociological in nature but which have clear sociological relevance include Groves et al. (2000), Mora and Moscarola (2010), and Zhang (2018)). The work of Smith Maguire, which traverses sociology, marketing, organization studies, media studies, and other fields, has pursued a range of interesting approaches to wine over the last decade and more (e.g. Smith Maguire, 2013, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2019a, 2019b; Smith Maguire and Charters, 2021; Smith Maguire and Lim, 2015), and she pursues a distinctive line of thought about sociology’s relations to wine in this volume.

Issues of gender and gendered inequalities in wine have been dealt with to a certain extent in some disciplinary contexts (Atkin et al., 2007; Barber et al., 2006; Bryant and Garnham, 2014; Kennedy, 2017; Martin, 2001; Matasar, 2006; Mayor, 1994; Nicolson, 1990; Parasecoli, 2010; Russell, 2003), and are beginning to be attended to from sociological perspectives (Almila, 2019; Inglis and Almila, 2022). One such approach is presented in this volume by Almila (2021).

The racial and ethnic aspects of wine remain radically understudied (exceptions are Crenn, 2015 and Peace, 2006). This is despite the fact that major intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre (2001) and Roland Barthes (2013 [1957]), and, perhaps more obliquely, the eminent sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (Haddour, 2009) had already commented, in the time of the late French imperial period, about the heavy price paid by native Algerians, when the French colonial regime restructured the agriculture of the country to create a huge amount of terrain under vine that would service the demand for cheap, basic wine in metropolitan France. The relative lack of scholarly attention to matters of ethnic biases and inequalities in wine making and drinking will likely change as the Black Lives Matter movement has increased calls for the decolonization of wine, both in terms of professional practices and the languages they operate with, and also in terms of consumption dynamics too (Inglis and Ho, 2022).

How gender, ethnicity and class intersect with age and generations is also another area that marketing literature points towards (Atkin and Thach, 2012), but which the other social sciences have barely touched, as yet. An approach to wine matters informed by the sociology of generations in general, and the sociology of trans-national and putatively ‘global’ generations in particular (Thorpe and Inglis, 2019), would resonate well with issues to do with mass market wine drinking as part of the quotidian lifestyles of generational formations within the so-called ‘global middle class’ (Smith Maguire, 2019a).


So, today there exist some sociological inroads into wine matters, but such analyses have appeared, and continue to appear, sporadically, and not in ways suggestive of the existence of a systematic body of accumulating knowledge or of a well-organised international field of study. Why this relative neglect of wine by sociologists has existed and continues to exist is something of a puzzle. Cognate social sciences, especially geography and anthropology, and the discipline of history – which spans the social sciences and humanities – have seemingly had no such inhibitions about engaging with wine. It is they, rather than sociology, which majorly contribute to the emerging interdisciplinary field of ‘wine studies’ (Black and Ulin, 2013; Charters, 2006; Dutton and Howland, 2019; Harvey et al., 2014; Howland, 2022; Inglis and Almila, 2019; Lachaud-Martin et al., 2021; Morgan and Tresidder, 2016; Patterson and Buechsenstein, 2018). The field is both well represented in, and brought into more concrete and self-conscious existence by, a recent major handbook which offers a synthesis of the field at the present time (Charters et al., 2022).

The nearest discipline to sociology which gives wine issues some sustained consideration is anthropology. To a certain extent, a self-conscious field called the ‘anthropology of wine’ does exist, although it is a relatively small specialism within the wider discipline. The edited book by Black and Ulin (2013) brings together many of the major contributors to this sub-field. Two of the most prominent practitioners are Demossier (1997, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2018) and Ulin (1987, 1995, 2002, 2004, 2013), the former’s fieldwork concerning Burgundy, and the latter’s dealing with the south-west of France. Ulin’s writing brings in neo-Marxist conceptions to understand power inequalities in the wine making areas he is concerned with. Other anthropological or semi-anthropological analyses of wine growing areas and specific industries include Trubek (2008) and Domingos (2016).

Along with sociology, anthropology is one of the contributing disciplines to the interdisciplinary constellation of Science and Technology Studies (STS), and those disciplines in return take up ideas created within STS. Notable STS writing on wine has emerged over the last decade or so, involving analysis of such phenomena as the means by which far-flung producers and consumers become connected with each other (some of it is summarised in Itçaina, Roger and Smith, 2016). It includes the work of the historian of science Shapin (2012, 2016) on formations of wine tasting, the sociologist Hennion’s (2007; also Teil and Hennion, 2004) Actor-Network Theory-inspired and pragmatist analysis of tasting practices (intended as a sharp critique of Bourdieu’s (1984) understanding of wine as primarily a marker of social status), and Genevieve Teil’s (2012) analysis – which is also a contribution to economic sociology – of the collective work involved in creating terroir (also Teil et al., 2011).

The strongly relational epistemology of STS studies – concerned to understand how human-to-human and human-to-non-human relations operate – are clearly close to sociological considerations, and stand in contrast to the sometimes more human individual-oriented approaches to the sensations of wine developed in psychology, although these may also contain valuable insights into how brains react to and make sense of wine’s chemical properties (Perullo, 2021; Shepherd, 2017; Siegrist and Cousin, 2009; Solomon, 1990).

Other work coming from STS includes Phillips (2016) on how tastes are ‘assembled’, and Pont and Thomas (2012) on the socio-technical networks that make wine happen. Such thematics resonate with approaches to wine developed in geography. Geography is perhaps the social science which engages most with wine matters, perhaps an unsurprising fact given the centrality of wine production to the agricultural and symbolic economies of major wine producing countries. French geographic studies have been particularly important in developing understandings of the historical development of wine-making in that country, with such major figures as Roger Dion (1959; also Delay and Chevallier, 2015; Dion and Timoner, 1994) and Jean-Robert Pitte (2000, 2013) profoundly contributing not only to analysis of the central role of wine in the French countryside, but also to shaping broader French public debates and self-understandings of the place of wine in the national culture and society (Dutton, 2019).

In English-speaking geography, both Dan Stanislawski’s (1975) and Hans de Blij’s (1983; also Hiner et al., 2014) work helped to set out wine as a major research agenda, as did Tim Unwin’s (1991) magisterial overview of the long-term history of wine’s changing geographic dynamics. This work has clear resonances with, and uses for, sociology, as it is not narrowly focused only on physical geography but on matters of social and cultural geography too, and with the socio-spatial aspects of wine, considered in a broad sense.

Contemporary studies of wine within geography are many and manifold (e.g. Dickenson and Salt, 1982; Dougherty, 2012; Jones, 2003; Sommers, 2008; Unwin, 2017), many providing interesting analyses of vexed issues of terroir (Barham, 2003; Gade, 2004; Moran, 1993;) and legal definition and protection thereof (Parrott et al., 2002), and also appreciating the role of such industrial phenomena as value chains, agro-industrial conventions, regional wine-making clusters, regulatory regimes, and forms of competition and collaboration between companies (Beebe et al, 2013; Guthey, 2008; Haughton and Browett, 1995; Patchell, 2008). There are also contributions to the sub-disciplinary areas of economic geography (Cassi et al., 2012; Hayward and Lewis, 2008; Rainer, 2016, 2021; Turner, 2010;), human geography (Brabazon, 2014; Lagendijk, 2004), and cultural geography, which considers, among other things, representations of terroir matters in professional and popular media (Hill, 2018, 2021). Most geographical studies concern primarily the production and distribution of wine, although they have implications for consumption trends (Gwynne, 2008), especially in terms of Fairtrade and other ethical initiatives in locations like South Africa and Chile (Hastings, 2019; Herman, 2018, 2019). A particular focus of some economic geographers is on globalization of production methods and customer orientations (Rainer, 2016), especially in relation to the restructuring of wine making since the 1980s through processes of neo-liberalization (Corby, 2010). Overall, there is enough geographic study of wine to allow for some geographers to talk of the ‘geography of wine’ as a sub-field in its own right, in a way that sociologists cannot yet speak of regarding a ‘sociology of wine’ field.

The historical and economic foci of many geographers place their work close to that of economic historians (e.g., Anderson and Pinilla, 2019; Nelgen et al., 2017; Taplin, 2011) and political economists. In terms of the latter, the classical political economists of the 18th and 19th centuries often had interests in wine, especially in terms of how the collective reputation of a region could generate economic value for producers in that region (Chaikind, 2012). Karl Marx, critic of orthodox political economy, was highly attuned to wine matters, having grown up in the Mosel valley, and having witnessed the struggles of the local wine makers against the punitive policies of the authorities of the time, his reporting on such matters being one of his first endeavours in politicised journalism (Goldberg, 2013; Lubasz, 1976). Research today is particularly concerned to connect wine production and distribution to the broader dynamics of the global capitalist economy, with a focus on empires and imperial political economies in research dealing with times before WWII (Pinilla and Ayuda, 2002; Simpson, 2011), and dealing with trans-national neo-liberal political economy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries (Banks and Overton, 2010; Howson et al., 2019; Itçaina et al., 2016; Overton and Banks, 2015; Overton and Murray, 2013, 2016, 2017).

Political economy is in most cases closer to sociological considerations than is economics, although the sociologist of wine must attend to the work of economists too. Journals which traverse the space between academic economists concerned with wine and professionals in the wine industry include the Journal of Wine Economics, the Journal of Wine Research, and the International Journal of Wine Business Research. Major works in the self-styled field of ‘wine economics’ include the following texts concerned with market dynamics, collective reputations, and the impact of wine critics on prices, among other economic issues (Ali et al., 2008; Anderson, 2004; Ashenfelter and Storchmann, 2010; Castriota, 2020; Castriota and Delmastro, 2015; Centonze, 2010; Cross et al., 2011; Duncan and Greenaway, 2008; Gergaud and Ginsburgh, 2008; Storchmann, 2012; Ugaglia and Cardebat, 2019). Some work in economics has clear sociological resonances (e.g., Diaz-Bone, 2017). There is also a plethora of wine research in the overlapping fields of business, management and organisational studies (Franco and Martins, 2020; Humphreys and Carpenter, 2018; Kwon and Constantinides, 2017; Simons and Roberts, 2008; Smith et al., 2013; Voronov et al., 2013; Zhao and Zhou, 2011).

Much of the wine marketing literature is aimed at wine industry audiences, creating knowledge that is meant to be useful for pragmatic marketing purposes, but some of it has clear sociological interest in terms of how producers aim to connect to consumer groups and in doing so create categories of consumers (Charters and Pettigrew, 2006; Lorey, 2021; Yang and Paladino, 2015), while also tending to present vineyards and wine making in highly idyllic ways which may erase uncomfortable social realities to do with labour exploitation and other problems in the wine industry (Beverland, 2005; Beverland and Luxton, 2005; Charters and Pettigrew, 2006). Some studies of wine tourism collude in such myth-making, while others may puncture it (Carlsen and Charters, 2006; Kruger et al., 2013; Ravenscroft and van Westering, 2001).

Wine is thoroughly tied up with legal phenomena. The disciplines of law and legal studies show how legal regulations and classifications operate at national, international, and transnational levels (Cavicchi, 2013; Maher, 2001). Legal disputes about who has the right to name particular wines in specific ways are common, and such struggles are bound up with trade disputes, both between countries and between trading blocs (Mahy and d’Ath, 2017; Robertson, 2009; Veseth, 2012).

Wine is nothing if not highly political and often politicised, in various senses (Colman, 2008; Veseth, 2012). While the discipline of political science has barely touched upon wine matters, policy studies can yield insightful accounts of how law and politics interpenetrate in wine production (Roger, 2010). More common are analyses of the cultural politics of wine (Certomà, 2011). France is especially well covered in this regard (Barthel-Bouchier and Clough, 2005; Smith, 2016; Waters, 2010). A range of academic writings about French wine politics (Trubek, 2006) came out in the wake of the worldwide popularity and notoriety of Jonathan Nossiter’s polemical documentary Mondovino (2004), which controversially portrayed a story of southern French resistants ranged against the foreign behemoths of the international wine industry. How wider political controversies feed into, and are represented through, wine, has been a recent focal point for scholars working in various disciplinary traditions (Handel et al., 2015; Monterescu and Handel, 2019).

The disciplines of archaeology and history traverse the social sciences and humanities. Archaeological work on the origins of wine has been pioneered in particular by McGovern (2003) and McGovern et al. (2017). With ancient history and classical studies, there is a long-standing scholarly engagement with wine matters (Brun, 2003; Dietler, 2006; Lissarrague, 2016; Lutz, 1922; Maniatis, 2013; Papakonstantinou, 2009; Russell, 2003; Sealey, 2009; Wilson, 2012;).1 This includes work which traces ancient legacies on modern drinking patterns, including the millennia-long association of wine with civilization and beer with barbarity (Engs, 1995; Gautier, 1997; Nelson, 2014), which continues to resonate with present-day attempts to legitimize beer as being as serious a drink as is wine (Koontz and Chapman, 2019). Theology and religious studies offer materials which contribute to the long-term religious framing and uses of wine, especially in Christianity; Jesus famously turned water into wine, and in early Christianity he was often conflated with Dionysos, the Greek god of wine (Bacchiocchi, 2001; Friesen, 2014; Fuller, 1996; Inglis, 2022; Kreglinger, 2019; Younger, 1966).

Within historical studies of more recent times, historians tend to produce, on the basis of archival research, monographs concerned with wine in particular times and places. Post-medieval England and France are particularly well represented in this literature (Bohling, 2018; Campbell, 2004; Guy, 2003; Harding, 2019; Heath, 2014; Holt, 1993; Hori, 2008; Ludington, 2013; Parker, 2015; Smith, 2016; Whalen, 2009; White, 2017). Other locations covered by historians include various other European countries (Conca Messina et al., 2019), the trans-Atlantic wine trade (Hancock, 2009), the Americas (Cinotto, 2012; Hannickel, 2013; Hendricks, 2004; Huber, 2011; Peck, 2009; Pinney, 1989), Australia (Brady, 2018; McIntyre, 2012), South Africa (Fourie and Von Fintel, 2014; Nugent, 2011), and other locales (e.g., Pankhurst, 2006). The discipline of cultural history has also examined changing cultural representations of wine (Brennan, 1989; Classen, 2017; Garrier, 2002; Hilgard, 2008; Varriano, 2010).

The humanities disciplines offer a range of approaches to wine. Literary studies have considered the presence of wine in literature in various national contexts (Anderson, 2018; Bruera, 2013; Del Puppo, 2016; Mayer-Robin, 2008). Cultural studies yield critical readings of wine-related phenomena in ways which are familiar to cultural sociologists (Cappeliez, 2017; Dutton, 2020), while media studies concern the representation of wine across multiple media (Schirmer, 2014; Smith Maguire, 2019a; Smith Maguire and Lim, 2015). Linguistics and other disciplines concerned with language offer analyses of how wine vocabulary operates (Langlois et al., 2011; Lehrer, 1975; Lindstrom, 1975; Tiefenbacher and Townsend, 2019), phenomena which sociologists would want to connect more thoroughly to issues of social power and inequalities (Inglis, 2019a).

In terms of the natural and medical sciences, there are vast literatures in multiple fields. Medicine and public health consider the health impacts of wine drinking (Johansen et al, 2006), as do, in other ways, interdisciplinary alcohol studies (Törrönen and Maunu, 2017). The practices of viticulture, viniculture and oenology, and the sciences, such as microbiology, which underpin them, are also very significant areas of study (Belda et al., 2017; Matthews, 2016). There is also a large literature in environmental science, an especially crucial topic area as climate change increasingly changes established patterns of vine maintenance and wine making (Almaraz, 2015; Nicholas, 2015). Such changes have stimulated much debate about how to make the wine industry more ecologically and socially sustainable (Forbes et al., 2020).


Sociology can have multiple relationships with the disciplinary and sub-disciplinary formations and their respective literatures which have been indicated above. First, sociologists can draw on and refer to empirical data generated by them. Second, the best work in each area can serve as an inspiration for the formulation of specifically sociological questions about the sorts of wine-related phenomena other disciplinary specialists have already engaged with. Third, certain kinds of theory, which sociology shares with other disciplines, can be taken in more explicitly sociological directions, while forms of sociological theory hitherto barely applied to wine matters can be deployed, therefore extending the theoretical reservoir open to the emerging field of interdisciplinary wine studies. Fourth, sociology can both learn from and contribute to that area.

Fifth, wine today is usually examined within the standard conceptual, thematic, and methodological apparatuses of disciplines, each one processing wine matters in its customary ways, highlighting some phenomena, while underplaying or ignoring others. By and large, specialists from each discipline focus on those aspects of wine that one would expect them to focus on. Thus, where disciplinary orientations seem too narrow to capture the full range of possibilities inherent within a particular set of wine-related phenomena, sociology can extend the analytical purview of studies of such phenomena, in like manner to the way that both anthropology and economic sociology have broadened the purview of more narrowly focused studies of matters such as wine price formation.

Sixth, and more generally, despite the promising emergence of an interdisciplinary field of ‘wine studies’, that field remains largely organised in disciplinary terms. Today there is still too little truly trans-disciplinary thinking and research which brings together the diverse phenomena concerning the many and manifold aspects of wine, taken in all their abundance and plenitude. Sociology is well placed to encourage such thinking: after all, it is the social science that seeks to deal with all possible types of phenomena, be those referred to conventionally as ‘cultural’, ‘political’, ‘economic’, or whatever. Of course, there should be more sub-disciplinary studies of wine, by areas of sociology that already do so (such as economic and cultural sociologies) or could in future do so (political sociology, historical sociology, postcolonial sociology, sociology of ethnicity, sociology of genders and sexualities, and so on). All of that is necessary but not sufficient to develop a sociology of wine field and associated sociologies of wine in the plural.

There lies a potential in sociological thinking and research practice to try to connect as many different sorts of wine-related phenomena which until now have been left relatively disconnected and mainly dealt with in disciplinary and sub-disciplinary silos. Sociology’s connective capacities can be deployed to bring together wine-related things that are usually, but unsatisfactorily, defined as either macro-, meso- or micro-level in nature. Illustrating how all of these may interpenetrate and inform the others can be sociology’s over-riding concern. Connections must be made that range imaginatively across time and space (e.g. showing how the neo-liberalization of the wine-making regime in Chile has gone together with the cultivation of new drinking practices in Lapland). Sociological analysis of wine should be self-consciously cosmopolitan in cultural and geographical scope, and also deeply historical, ranging across the centuries, taking in not just very recent developments, but grasping the whole of wine history in its total 8,000-year span.

Both geography and anthropology have made strides in these sorts of directions, but sociology can aim to make such connections – especially those that are not obvious and may operate in more subterranean fashions – in its own distinctive ways too. That can and should be the ambition for those working sociologically on wine, while learning from wine at the same time, and thereby possibly challenging their own habituated ways of thinking and researching into the bargain.


This special issue aims at constructing a sociology of wine, just as, for example, a sociology of arts and artists had to be self-consciously constructed thirty years ago and more (Zolberg, 1990). We wish to explore what sociology as a discipline, and as a set of multiple, overlapping concerns, perspectives, and theorisations, can bring to the understanding of wine. ‘Sociology’ is a broad set of endeavours, with loose and porous boundaries to other disciplines. Still, we can inquire as to which sorts of added value sociology can bring to wine analysis. We can consider which types of phenomena may be understood more profoundly than before if they are subjected to sociological scrutiny. We may think about which connections and linkages can be made by sociology which have hitherto remained obscure or have been conceived of in other, non-sociological, terms. We can reflect on what happens when wine is, as it were, poured into a sociological decanter. We can see what transpires when sociological analysis is poured into wine.2

For the purposes of constructing a more capacious interface between wine and sociology than has existed before, we propose a research agenda which will in future involve providing multiple, possibly overlapping, and possibly contradictory, but still compelling, answers to the following four sets of questions:

Theory, Foci, Methodology, and Methods

  1. Which resources, either more- or less well-established, in sociological theory (and in broader social and cultural theory, or any other kind of theory) can the sociology of wine draw upon, as well as contribute to and subject to critique?

  2. Which units of analysis should the sociology of wine construct and deploy?

  3. Which methodological orientations, and which specific research methods, can the sociology of wine deploy, both in terms of more established and more novel orientations and techniques?

  4. How might sociologists of wine carry out studies of wine-related phenomena on various scales (‘local’, ‘sub-regional’, ‘regional’, ‘national’, ‘continental’, etc. etc.)?

  5. How can research projects carried out at various scales be connected?

  6. How might comparative research be conceptualised and organised?

  7. What might be the established and emerging areas of ethical concern that sociologists of wine must navigate in their research practice?

  8. Which social, societal, cultural, political and economic wine-related phenomena should the sociology of wine be particularly concerned with today?

  9. Which geographical areas (both ‘real’ and ‘imagined’), social actors, social groups, and other sociological entities, should the sociology of wine study?

  10. Which phenomena in wine industries, worlds and cultures are already quite well covered by analysts, either within or without sociology, and which phenomena are important but under-researched?

  11. How might the sociology of wine draw upon, and contribute to, previous, current and future analyses of food and other drinks, both alcoholic (such as beer, including novel “craft” versions thereof) and non-alcoholic (including tea and coffee)?

Disciplinarity and Beyond

  1. What would the (or a) core of a ‘sociology of wine’ look like and involve?

  2. Is constructing such a core possible or desirable?

  3. Who would construct it?

  4. Who would challenge and critique it?

  5. Should or can there be a sociology of wine, or instead ought there it be multiple sociologies?

  6. Should sociological analysis of wine be understood as sociology of wine, or rather, as Jennifer Smith Maguire’s paper in this volume proposes, sociology from wine?

  7. Is there a meaningful and/or productive difference between sociology (or sociologies) of wine, and wine sociology (or sociologies) and similar terms, such as oenological sociology?

  8. How might sociology of wine relate to various established general sub-fields of sociology, such as cultural, economic, political, and health sociologies, as well as more bespoke areas, such as the sociologies of food, alcohol, agriculture, rurality, and so on?

  9. Is an inter-, trans- or pan-disciplinary social science of wine possible, and if so, what is sociology’s potential role(s) within that, as one specialism among others, or as a unifying and synthesizing exercise, or as something else?

  10. Is it possible or worthwhile to create a synthetic and panoptic (social) science of wine in all its various aspects?

  11. How can the sociology of wine make productive use of studies and approaches coming from other disciplines?

  12. How can and should it work with scholars from other social science disciplines, as well as those from the humanities?

  13. How may the sociology of wine interact with diverse practitioners of the environmental and natural sciences, ranging from, for example, wine scientists to those concerned with climate change?

Politics, in the Broadest Sense of the Term

  1. How might the sociology of wine connect wine-related phenomena to broader issues of sociological and political concern, such as power dynamics, inequalities, and exclusions based on a host of social factors (class, gender, ethnicity, locality, religion, sexualities, disabilities, etc. etc.)?

  2. How might sociological accounts of wine and power relate to, overlap with, replicate, and differ from, accounts of power in wine industries, cultures, and worlds offered by other types of social scientists?

  3. In what ways might the sociology of wine contribute to the broader politics of wine? Which wine-related groups might sociologists of wine wish to ally with, or set themselves against?

  4. What may be the ways that sociologists of wine engage with more powerful and less powerful actors in wine industries, cultures, and fields, including industrial, political, and professional groups?

  5. Is it possible or desirable for the sociology of wine to make value judgments, such as those concerning vexed issues like that of terroir (Teil, 2012), or of the alleged superiority of some wines or wine-producing areas over others?


  1. What might be the likely funding sources, and other forms of support, for sociological studies of wine, and how can funders be encouraged to take such research seriously?

  2. How might international, cross-border and cross-regional cooperation among sociologists of wine, as well as with cognate others, be fostered and managed?

  3. How can the sociology of wine be grown in and through journal publications, books and book series, blogging, vlogging, social media, and other means and mechanisms?

  4. How should sociology contribute to, and learn from, interdisciplinary wine studies? Could sociology help transform that from an interdisciplinary formation to a transdisciplinary constellation?


The papers in this special edition seek to answer some, but not all, of these questions. They may be understood as initial and tentative, but also imaginative and productive, attempts to start to fill out what sociology can say about wine, involving analyses that hopefully will be variously useful, thoughtful, and sometimes striking. While each specific contribution studies, and proposes the study of, wine in different ways, they all in one way or another point out that wine is neither fixed nor stable. It is possessed of multiple qualities and affordances, and it is subject to many different ways of bringing it into being and putting it to work, while at the same it also makes things happen and moves many things around.

The overview piece by David Inglis begins with reflections on the relations between the sociologist and wine as the object of study. Drawing on parallels with the sociologies of music and of art, Inglis depicts some of the pitfalls involved when the sociologist has a love of wine but must submit it to the vagaries of sociological analysis. He then considers the manifold processes that wine is caught up in, and which it makes possible, suggesting that these should be scrutinized in very long-term historical perspective. Focusing on the -ization processes that have been at the conceptual core of sociology since the time of the classical sociologists, Inglis reflects on how sociology can provide a capacious vision of the whole history of wine, and across the whole range of societies where it has been made and drunk. On his view, a sociology of wine needs to be highly ambitious in terms of trying to capture the interplay between factors of all sorts, factors that other disciplines typically treat in isolation. More hidden connections and resonances are thereby brought to the fore that might otherwise not have captured the attention of the more narrowly focused analyst. In this understanding, sociology of wine is a historical sociology in a deep sense, covering not decades or centuries only but millennia, and casting its eye over the whole planet, tracking wine’s mutations as it travels hither and thither across the ages. On this view, sociology provides a generalizing science of wine in ways that other disciplines cannot or will not attempt.

Jennifer Smith Maguire is likewise focused on various processes to do with wine, in an approach she calls vina aperta, a sociology from wine. Her argument is that three kinds of foci and perspectives are needed for a rounded sociological understanding of wine. First, wine must be understood as processual, involving both long-term processes and specific moments within those. Second, wine is interconnected with(in) the world, in the sense that its autonomy as a system is always relative, and it involves a diversity of heterogenous connections between humans, things, and multiple materials. Third, wine is also interdependent, with the physical world, between humans, and within an individual human and their embodied senses. In her approach, Smith Maguire considers it essential that a sociology from wine avoids the traps of limitations and closedness that the creation of any sub-field in academic research is prone to. She thereby rejects the idea of a sociology of wine. She stresses that wine – a manifestly interdependent field – may be ill suited for limited sociological or historical approaches. Thus, she agrees in some ways with Inglis, but differs in other regards, for what she rejects – a sociology of wine – he embraces. (Let us hope that this dispute can be resolved amicably over a bottle of wine, the precise kind being chosen consensually between the disputants.)

Anna-Mari Almila’s starting point also stresses openness and flexibility in analysis, but her focus is very different. She considers how wine has been and remains highly gendered in various ways. In a methodologically flexible approach – namely using different illuminative vignettes to explore the deeply engrained nature of gender boundaries and constructions regarding wine – she illuminates how matters which are seemingly trivial may bring such structures more clearly into view. Dealing with topics ranging from rosé wine to menstruation, and from musical hall songs to perfume, Almila takes apparently trivial phenomena and uses them, in the manner of Georg Simmel, to draw out much wider patterns of significance which reoccur throughout history, although with novel features as time goes on. While wine’s alcoholic character is central to its perceived ‘danger’ as regards gender boundaries, wine is also always much more than just alcohol. It is deeply symbolic, powerful, and also vulnerable to gendered forms of pollution. In Almila’s Mary Douglas-inspired analysis, wine’s gendered cultures are shown to variously demonstrate, challenge, adapt, re-construct, and accommodate existing and emerging social and cultural systems of gender.

The recent rise of China as a major power, both in the buying of foreign wines (Capitello et al., 2016; Ho, 2019; Kjellgren, 2019; Zhang, 2018), and in the development of a national industry to meet local demands (Howson and Ly, 2020; Zheng, 2019), has been well documented by authors from various disciplinary perspectives over the last decade. Building on research about wine in Hong Kong (Ho, 2021b), Hang Kei Ho endeavours to widen the analytical lens somewhat. His focus is not only on China, which has risen to spectacular levels of prominence in various wine-related matters over the last two decades, but also East Asia more widely. He considers wine in the wider alcohol cultures of the region, and also as a luxury product which has become ever more important in the societies in question. He recognizes a number of influences that have led to the emergence of wine consumership in East Asia, such as forms of European and Asian colonialism, Westernization processes, influential ideas regarding the high cultural status of European wine in general and French wine especially, the increasing disposable economic capital of the higher reaches of the middle classes and social elites, the aspirational cultural capital of more middling players, and the activities of local cultural mediators in educating the expanding ranks of willing and curious consumers. He stresses that despite the often-mentioned changes in wine cultures in East Asia, many traditions and beliefs nevertheless survive, shaping the variety of local consumption habits.

Geneviève Teil’s previous work, deploying and extending pragmatist sociology and resonating with thematics of Actor-Network Theory, has already yielded highly original accounts of both the collective elaboration of terroir by winemakers and multiple other actors (Teil, 2012), and also of the practices of wine appreciation (Teil, 2021; see also Teil et al., 2011). Her article shifts away from conventional foci concerning the wine economy and wine’s various economic regimes. She argues that wine is not just one kind of an economic market, but instead there are two kinds of market logics at play, each targeting consumers who have differently operating tastes and taste preferences. She starts from the understanding that ‘quality’ is an agreement rather than an absolute factor, and that quality indicators and guarantees, such as those elaborated in and through the French AOC system, are not absolute but rather operate in a deeply contested terrain of understandings of quality. In this sociological pragmatist approach, which examines how wine phenomena emerge through intertwining processes, Teils looks at winemakers’ understandings of consumer tastes and desires, and the economic consequences thereof. She concludes that while a ‘standard’ wine market regime operates with notions and practices of stabilized quality, involving constant monitoring of customer tastes, and discreetly handled changes to wine tastes and styles, another market regime also exists. This is ‘exploratory’ and is based around variety, change and the constant emergence of new customer tastes and styles, serving committed but open-minded wine enthusiasts. She ends her article with some reflections as to what extent wine production can be said to have gone through processes of ‘artification’, where the winemaker emerges as an artist-like creator of ever transforming innovative wines and winemaking.

Peter Howland – in an article introducing a highly innovative, and greatly amusing, way of writing about wine, which takes the form of a self-interview – argues that sociologists should not forget ‘the obvious’ when analyzing wine, especially in terms of economic matters. Such an ignoring of blatant economic forces, he claims, often accepts capitalism as a de facto unchanging and unchallengeable condition, rather than critically analyzing and evaluating the extremely unequal economic and labour conditions established in the (capitalist) wine industry worldwide. He also recognizes further issues to do with sociological approaches to wine. The research focus often is on small-scale production, which may involve apparently charming people making lovely wines. The researcher’s need to gain access to the field – in this case, the vineyard and so-called ‘boutique’ winery – may unintentionally end up taking the focus away from the more obviously capitalist-industrial end of the wine-making scale, while also hiding multiple economic, labour exploitation, and ecological problems persistent also in independent small-scale production. For any industry-facing wine research, identifying and overcoming these kinds of problems are highly relevant. Howland suggests that sociologists should take care to ‘follow the money’, paying attention especially to luxury wine production (as does Ho’s paper), but also to the economic failure of some vineyards and wineries. He also recognizes that while economy must be at the heart of sociological research on wine, wine is nevertheless a set of material and scientific phenomena too, and these must not be forgotten by the sociological investigator. Grape wine is both a very specific thing, a world unto itself, a domain interpenetrated in many ways by globalized capitalism and its various attendant ills, and all sides of it should be explored by the sociologist.


We hope that the reader enjoys the special issue as a whole, as well as its constituent parts. If you read it while sipping a glass of wine, that would seem an appropriate response to what we have offered to you: a series of texts which request that you savour them and that you hopefully extract some forms of productive – or indeed constructive (Douglas, 1987) – pleasure from them.

  1. One of the greatest historians of Western antiquity, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, was a very serious wine drinker. ‘“A great deal too much wine”, in Gibbon’s estimate, “was near two bottles apiece”, but he sometimes drank much more. When Gibbon went on his Grand Tour he exhibited a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome: the scholarly young man of fashion would change to one who, he confessed to his diary, was looked on “as a man who loved wine and dissipation” and who would, when outside of a couple of bottles of wine, indulge in “unparalleled impudence” with the more permissive ladies of Lausanne. Thus, early in life Gibbon became an alcoholic, and Madeira and plenty of it soon became essential for his health’ (Foster, 1979: 1634).

  2. Given mainstream Western sociology’s roots in classical European philosophy, if sociology itself were to be de-Kanted, all that would be left would be some Hegelian sediments.

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AMA 10th edition
In-text citation: (1), (2), (3), etc.
Reference: Inglis D, Almila AM. Introduction to the Sociology of Wine—The Sociological Decanter: Pouring Sociology into Wine, and Vice Versa. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change. 2021;6(2), 08.
APA 6th edition
In-text citation: (Inglis & Almila, 2021)
Reference: Inglis, D., & Almila, A.-M. (2021). Introduction to the Sociology of Wine—The Sociological Decanter: Pouring Sociology into Wine, and Vice Versa. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change, 6(2), 08.
In-text citation: (Inglis and Almila, 2021)
Reference: Inglis, David, and Anna-Mari Almila. "Introduction to the Sociology of Wine—The Sociological Decanter: Pouring Sociology into Wine, and Vice Versa". Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change 2021 6 no. 2 (2021): 08.
In-text citation: (Inglis and Almila, 2021)
Reference: Inglis, D., and Almila, A.-M. (2021). Introduction to the Sociology of Wine—The Sociological Decanter: Pouring Sociology into Wine, and Vice Versa. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change, 6(2), 08.
In-text citation: (Inglis and Almila, 2021)
Reference: Inglis, David et al. "Introduction to the Sociology of Wine—The Sociological Decanter: Pouring Sociology into Wine, and Vice Versa". Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change, vol. 6, no. 2, 2021, 08.
In-text citation: (1), (2), (3), etc.
Reference: Inglis D, Almila AM. Introduction to the Sociology of Wine—The Sociological Decanter: Pouring Sociology into Wine, and Vice Versa. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change. 2021;6(2):08.
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