Rachel Eden Black, assistant professor and academic coordinator of the Gastronomy Program at Boston University, led the Human Ecology Forum on Tuesday, February 25 entitled, “Shaping a taste landscape: cooperation, wine and social change in Carema, Italy.”
Black’s ethnographic journey started in 2011 when she and her husband decided to stop by the “tourist forgotten” region of Carema, Italy after a day of skiing and hiking in the French Alps. With its amazing vineyards, the close knitted community of Carema in the sub alpine agricultural region quickly charmed Black. Ever since then she has been working on various concepts to investigate the taste landscape based on her case study.
“Wine doesn’t get taken seriously,” she said. “Wine is good to think not just good to drink,” she added.
As she progressed with her research, she recognized the outmigration of the region’s younger population to be the greatest threat to the social, environmental, and cultural aspect of Carema. The local inhabitants are worried about the extinction of their intangible cultural heritage. They are worried about not passing on the skills and knowledge of building dry stonewalls, roof structures, terraces, and the skills to grow fruits the traditional ways.
Carema has 772 inhabitants with 17 hectares of agricultural region. The region’s majority of nivole grapes are all grown in the hillside. The wine production is monitored by Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema, the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC), which means controlled designation of origin. In other words, the DOC “police” the quality of wine as well as sells it. It manufactures around 40,000 bottles per year in Carema.
Black was surprised to find that the endangered wine culture is being sustained by the local industry, thus keeping the cultural heritage alive in the face of current economic, environmental, and demographic crisis. The DOC offers training, incorporating heritage preservation, and helps fundraise for the community.
“It takes a lot of human intervention from planting to pruning to harvesting, hence humans help adapt plants to grow fruit and shape that landscape,” she said.
She believes anthropologically, given that producers engage in shaping the cultural narratives of sensorial experience, humans play a vital role in connecting a specific taste to place. Black believes that human engagement is vital for the creation of natural landscape; making culture and nature deeply entwined.
“In history, wine was grown as a part of festivals, nutrition diet, and well being,” Black said.
Black relied on extensive historical and geological researches along with on field interviews of the locals and officials. She went back in 2012 for half a year and interviewed officials in the cooperative and ended with 16 interviews to use in her research. She learned about various different signs and techniques, which helped her embody the physical effort that’s put into the vineyards.
Black is also the author of Porta Palazzo: The Anthropology of an Italian Market (University of Pennsylvania Press 2012), co-editor of Wine and Culture: Vineyard to Glass (Bloomsbury 2013) and editor of Alcohol in Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood 2010).