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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Bottling the Past, Planting the Future: Immigrants in Italian Wine Production

  • Author(s): Feinberg, Rebecca Marie
  • Advisor(s): Caldwell, Melissa L
  • et al.
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This dissertation examines the critical roles of immigrants in creating some of Italy’s most cherished heritage landscapes and wines. During twelve months of fieldwork conducted between 2013 and 2016, I lived and worked with small wine producing families in the Southern Astigiano of Italy’s Piedmont region. By moving between the perspectives of multiple actors and stakeholders—winegrowers, enologists, exporters, vineyard managers, harvest workers, public officials, and asylum seekers—I bring a complex world of collaborations and dependencies into view. My analysis focuses on the labor of caring for plants and place, demonstrating how this work transforms the social identities of Balkan immigrants in small rural communities. In particular, the image of the peasant farmer, invoked through the skills and responsibilities acquired by Balkan immigrants through close partnerships with Italian employers, folds foreign-born workers into the narratives of tradition. By working the soil, Balkan immigrants side-step the boundaries of blood and ethnicity that otherwise delimit belonging in Italy today.

Attention to the work of winemaking reverses terroir’s assumed connections between people, place, and product: rather than topography or culture creating a unique wine, the labor required to create a certain product contours landscapes and ecologies, while also shaping communities and crafting subjectivities. In this perspective, the pressures and processes transforming agriculture and winemaking in Italy today—including state regulations, volatile export markets, mobile populations, and climate change—can be analyzed as recent manifestations of much longer processes. Finally, I explore potential futures for this community, considering how collaborations forged through cultivating the land—partnerships that extend across the boundaries of ethnicity, citizenship, and race—offer forms of security and sustainability to multiple groups that state institutions or agricultural technologies do not.

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This item is under embargo until July 24, 2020.