Daniel Monterescu’s IMéRA residency in 3 questions

The anthropologist Daniel Monterescu answers our questions about his IMéRA residency from February to July 2021.

Daniel Monterescu is Associate Professor of anthropology at the Central European University at Budapest/Vienna. He is Holder of the EHESS/IMéRA Chair on Transregional Studies, on the research project : Food and Borders: Transnational Terroir Across Territory in Europe and the Middle East?

What motivated your choice to come to IMéRA to work on this research project: Food and Borders: Transnational Terroir Across Territory in Europe and the Middle East?

My current research centers on the globalization of the notion of terroir in the wine and food world. From olive oil produced in Tunisia and sold in France as “Terroir Méditerranéen,” through “microbial terroir” in Japanese fermenting culture of koji and miso, Malaysian Durian marketed as a unique Geographical Indication, “terroirs aquatiques” (merroir) protected by fishing communities in Senegal, and artisanal cheese in the USA — terroir is a global cultural fact. Working in France, the source of these new sensibilities, was crucial to discover how place-based authenticity is produced and protected. IMéRA was therefore the best place to engage with other scholars working on the Mediterranean space from a multidisciplinary perspective. The ongoing conversion with other historians, anthropologists and sociologists allowed me to collaborate with the EHESS and IREMAM where I presented my ongoing project and developed new ones. With MuCEM – Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean — I participated in a project entitled “Terroir-isme” where I explored the political uses and abuses of terroir. In Marseille I also contributed to the Manifesta project “Rue d’Alger”. Publishing and deliberating with my French colleagues allowed me to fully explore my two professional identities as a wine scholar and an urban anthropologist. Marseille from this perspective is a fascinating sociological laboratory to explore processes such as ethnic diversity, gentrification and urban identity that have guided my previous work in Palestine/Israel (Jaffa) and Central Europe (Budapest). 

 “Le vin français en Algérie” par Fischer (Oran, 1933). Dating back to 1933, the poster illustrates the link between wine and colonialism resonating with the socialist and fascist aesthetics of the time. The powerful statement “French Algeria: Force, Joy, Health,” and the reiteration of “France” in the message “Wine from Algerian France. French Customer Drink this French Wine” — both labor to merge metropole and colony into one undivided entity.

What process do you follow during your residency at IMéRA?

As a trained sommelier and a wine anthropologist, committed to ethnography, I have benefited from my position at IMéRA to visit and interview winemakers throughout France. The unmediated experience and intimate discussions with local vignerons in the Midi is an invaluable source of inspiration for me. During the second part of my stay at IMéRA, I was also exposed for the first time to the fascinating story of Algerian wine under French colonization. The story, which links the institutionalization of the “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” system (AOC) in 1935 to the politics of decolonization, will hold an important place in the book I’m writing. Algerian wine which “saved” the metropole from the Phylloxera epidemic grew in the interwar period to be the world’s fourth largest producer of wine and the world’s largest wine exporter until the 1960s. The ambiguous place of terroir in this contested economic and cultural history will hold an important place in my forthcoming book. 

What outcomes do you plan to give to your research project by the end of your residence?

The fellowship at IMéRA allowed me to finally complete a manuscript I’ve been working on for two years now. The book analyzes the divergent cultural histories of two etymologically related concepts: terroir and territory. While terroir designates the palatable characteristics of place as a branded story of geographic distinction, territory imbues the soil with political meaning. The book traces the different constructions of terroir in contested regions by highlighting the differences between “border wines” straddling well-defined political territories (such as Tokaj in Hungary and Slovakia and Steiermark between Slovenia and Austria) and “frontier wines,” stretching across contested colonial territories (such as Algeria and Israel/Palestine).  Endorsing a transnational perspective, the book criticizes the notions of  “terroir essentialism” and “environmental determinism.” I propose a typology of terroir as a geopolitical configuration, emerging in colonial and imperial contexts. The dangerous liaisons between terroir and territory are made visible when we examine the quality-space of wine across two border formations: imperial frontiers retreating into national borders in the Old World and expanding frontiers in New World settler colonies. The first is “terroir contraction” which exemplifies in the case of Tokaj and French Algeria a strategy of patrimonialization and nationalization of wine in nation-states emerging in the shadow of the Austro-Hungarian and the French Empires. The second strategy of “terroir expansion” characterizes settler colonial projects of taming the wilderness in the aftermath of the British Empire (Israel/Palestine and Australia). The dialectic of expansion and contraction reframes the relations between borders of different scales (natural, national, imperial, colonial) and the power of wine to define collective identity.

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