Terroir-ism

A Glocal Threat.

A gondolier without a gondola is not a gondolier. A gondola without Venice is not a gondola. Venice without a gondola is not Venice. — Venetian maxim

1. Pardon My French: The definition of terms.

“Not fully naturalized in English.” — The Oxford English Dictionary

Terroir, n. a) Territory. b) Soil.

Terroir, adj. Winemaking. Designating a wine or brandy produced from grapes grown in a specific area and having the distinctive flavour associated with the growing conditions (in early use, esp. the soil) in that area.

Goût de terroir, n. Winemaking. The distinctive taste of a wine or brandy, viewed as deriving from the growing conditions in the region from which the grapes originate. Also in extended use.

goût de terroir refers to the character or style or personality a certain vineyard site gives to its wine.” Food & Wine Magazine, October 1998.

“literally, ‘taste of the earth.’” The New York Times, 6 May 2007.

Secondary meaning: “indicative not only of the place... but of the name... and the excellence of the thing manufactured or produced.” French Republic v. Saratoga Vichy Spring Co., 191 U.S. 427 (1903).

As a noun, an “ism” is

A form of doctrine, theory, or practice having, or claiming to have, distinctive character or relation: chiefly used disparagingly, and sometimes with implied reference to schism.

According to the OED, “-ism,” evolved as a suffix

affixed to national names, with the sense to act or ‘play’ the people in question, and hence to act like, do after the manner of, practise the habits, customs, or language of, side with or adhere to the party of, those people.

Applied abstractly/intellectually, it means “forming the name of a system of theory or practice.” The latest addition to the definition, in 2004, shows a logical evolution that returns “-ism” to its original human focus, but with an acquired negative normativity.

a. Forming nouns with the sense ‘belief in the superiority of one — over another’; …
b. Forming nouns with the sense ‘discrimination or prejudice against on the basis of —’

Glocalization refers to the interaction of the global and the local, a cooptation of the global and the local, and the conflation of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies.” Disneyland Paris: A case analysis demonstrating how glocalization works. It is a push-pull of homogenization and heterogenization that results in “difference-within-sameness.” Consumer Culture: A Reference Handbook.


2. The Start Of The Heart Of The Matter

Identity is rooted in the land. “We are what we eat,” some say. If not identity itself, what we eat, drink, and wear — what we consume (called by some the “sumptuary code”) — at least identifies one of us from another. Hence the worldwide fight for the right to recognition. The fronts on which this battle is fought are as encompassing as the issues with which it is fraught: cultural, ethnic, legal, national, religious, and so on.

Terroir represents a relationship between a product and its specific origin — a “somewhereness.” This is premised upon the notion that the product can and does express a specific place. Since places in turn represent people and culture, terroir becomes an extremely loaded thing. Terroir is neutrally valued (though most people use “terroir” as a positive). The concept of terroir is pretty intuitive (though for some countries and palates more than others). But terroir’s current evolution (devolution) into conviction (which has become so forceful that it has permeated and problematized the legal world) might be more a product (a product) of French wine brokers trying to make a buck in the late 1700s. Whatever its roots, “terroir” is the term of art in the wine world and now, somehow, a buzzword du jour in legal scholarship.

Moments of disentanglement, however fleeting, suggest that there is a path through the jungle. However clear, the path may be windy and winding, and the author cannot locate nor guarantee an end. But if it will help: the stalking nag of a question behind the lovelier waving others is: What’s in a name? It seems to the author that this question fore- and backgrounds the discussion, which could be seen as an attempt to answer.