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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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Rhinefarm and the German-American Market for 19th-Century California Wine

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KATHLEEN NEILS CONZEN AND MICHAEL P. CONZEN

When German immigrants Jacob Gundlach and Emil Dresel began developing their 300 acre Rhinefarm vineyard in California’s Sonoma Valley in 1858, finding a market for the wine they would produce was likely the least of their worries. Their compatriots Charles Kohler and John Fröhling, the 1854 pioneers of California’s commercial wine trade, had shown the profits to be made in quenching the thirst of Gold Rush California, and Rhinefarm’s proprietors could focus their attention on the practical problems of growing wine to the highest standards they had known in Germany1. Two decades later, Rhinefarm was indeed producing some of California’s most award-winning and expensive fine wines2. But ←181 | 182→like other California viniculturists, its proprietors by then were also directly confronting a painful marketing dilemma: with state production approaching 10 million gallons a year, California wine needed a national market. Yet most Americans were not wine drinkers, and those who were – mainly the more affluent – preferred status-signifying imported European wines over their domestic counterparts3.

How then did producers find a market? Who indeed were the consumers of 19th century California wine, and how did it make its way to them? These are questions to which historians of California wine have paid relatively little attention. They have carefully documented winegrowers’ marketing frustrations, the boom-and-bust cycles that this market situation helped generate, the adulteration and false-labelling of wine that it encouraged, and organised efforts to gain governmental support for the...

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