Topic: Bounding Quality: Convention and the Qualification of Organic Production in Southern France
“The organic” is brought into being through boundary-work, the process of delineating and distinguishing not only practices of production but also the qualities of actors and the resulting products. This boundary work entails a process of qualification whereby the extrinsic and intrinsic qualities of wine are reified as forms of singularization. And yet the formation of boundaries through establishment of regulatory, social, ecological and sensory norms results from processes that are contested. And, like all boundaries, these are fluid — negotiated at the intersection of a politics of production, distribution and consumption. In this context, we argue for an understanding of the uptake of organic production (and consumption) that emphasizes process and context, situated within complex historical and institutional geographies. Understanding the emergence of “the organic” as a stable signifier requires substantive attention to these geographies as they constitute broader agronomic, regulatory and aesthetic norms. In this paper, we explore the process of bounding ‘the organic’ through a close study of the region of Occitanie in southern France. This region has undergone significant agrarian transition and wine sector restructuring in recent decades, including a dynamic articulation of independent wine making at the household level and collective or cooperative vinification at the village scale that is refracted through a broader so-called “shift to quality” in regional wine production. We situate an understanding of the emergence of a powerful organic movement within this regional context through ethnographic and qualitative research at various sites of qualification, including cellars, vineyards, cooperatives, trade shows, wine tastings, and retail outlets. In doing so, we reveal how the extension of organic production and boundaries around “the organic” are stabilized in relation to complex socio-regional histories within specific locales.