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Wine, Networks and Scales

Intermediation in the production, distribution and consumption of wine

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Edited By Stéphanie Lachaud-Martin, Corinne Marache, Julie McIntyre and Mikaël Pierre

Wine as a product arises from human connections in know-how and trade as much as from the natural environment in which grapes are grown. At each stage of decision-making about growing grapes, making wine, selling and drinking it, people with different roles are networked together into systems of production and distribution. The authors in this collection offer new studies of the individuals and groups who act as connectors in these networked systems, intermediating in the delivery of wine from growers’ vines to consumers’ glasses. These actors operate at multi-layered scales of geography or within multiple regimes of governance, all the while taking account of arbitrations of quality and taste. This collection highlights how intermediators in many different wine countries and periods of history are, and have been, significant agents of continuity and change in the wine industry.

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Guardians of Trade Secrets: Brokers and Wine Distribution in the United Provinces in the 18th Century

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ANNE WEGENER SLEESWIJK

Various 17th and 18th century writers of merchant handbooks have drawn attention to the key position of brokers in Dutch wholesale and intermediate trade1. French writer and merchant Jacques Accarias de Sérionne [1768], reports for instance: “Ce sont des agents dont le commerce ne peut se passer, principalement dans les grands entrepôts, tels que Rotterdam et Amsterdam. […] C’est chez eux qu’on trouve en même temps tous les prix relatifs de chaque article: ils en connaissent l’abondance et la disette sur place, ils sont les dépositaires de la demande, & pour ainsi dire, du secret du commerce”2. Accarias’ words refer to brokerage in general, but in reality, brokers were particularly active in certain services and in sectors of commerce, where product differentiation was large, such as the wine trade. In the United Provinces, hiring a broker when selling or purchasing wine was not mandatory, but widespread both for locals and foreigners. Wine brokers mediated in various positions within the distribution channel: between wholesalers but also, and probably more often, in semi-retailing between importers and specialised wine merchants and sometimes between wine merchants and retailers. Some ←95 | 96→of them had a wide range of activities: they were not just matchmakers, but also provided all kinds of services and specialised information3.

Traditionally, brokerage was a municipal office that was supposed to be awarded free of charge by the mayors to the people “most qualified” for the job. In many towns,...

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