Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeSpecial Issues: from thematic wor...S14Translations of Terroir: Construc...

Translations of Terroir: Constructing and Marketing a Sense of Place in the Basque Country

Traductions de « terroir » : la construction et la commercialisation de l’esprit du lieu au Pays Basque
Kerri Lesh


A distinguishing and authenticating element of Basque culture is created with the use of its language, Euskara. Key words in this non-Indo-European language are commonly sighted to market local products such as milk, wine, and cider to create value and social distinction through linguistic commodification in the promotion of place. Meanwhile, the French word terroir, which has evolved to encompass both the physical and sociocultural changes in the food-producing regions worldwide, has been slowly integrated into global marketing techniques, to include the Basque case. This article aims to show how the concept of terroir in its various engagements has entered the food-producing sectors of milk, wine, and cider in the Basque Country with the hope of creating the same authenticating and identity-making results as it has for their French-speaking neighbors. Here I develop the concept of “linguistic terroir” as a means of framing how such engagement takes place. Specifically, I use research carried out in the Basque Country of Spain to illustrate the circumstances in which the concept of terroir is being employed to market the identity behind local products. In doing so, I provide a lens for examining and understanding key traits in the formation and marketing of Basque identity.

Top of page

Full text

I would like to thank Dr. Cameron Watson for his help in preparing this article and lending key ideas to the possible conclusions it makes.


1The Basque Country is situated on the western edge of the border dividing France and Spain, creating the Spanish Basque Country and the French Basque Country. These two regions make up what is known in Basque as Hegoalde and Iparralde, the southern and northern Basque Countries, respectively. The Basque language, Euskara, is spoken on both sides of the border, but in greater numbers in Hegoalde. The Basque Country has gone through many defining changes over the last several decades. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, which suppressed the expression of Basque culture, only came to an end in 1975. As Spain became a democracy after 1975, the new Constitution granted more autonomy to the Basque Country and included language rights for Basques. Simultaneously, there were significant changes in the world of Basque gastronomy. Geographical indications for winemakers producing the traditionally made Basque wine, Txakolina, were introduced, tourism began to grow with the inauguration of the Guggenheim museum in 1997, and the nueva cocina vasca (New Basque Cuisine) movement that had started in the late 1970’s led to increasing gastronomic fame for the Basque Country. As a result of the increasing importance of tourism and gastronomy, negotiating the use of Euskara became even more important as food producers made their products accessible for non-Basque speakers. Part of this negotiation entails incorporating and translating the word “terroir,” which is used as a marketing tool to create value through distinguishing place.

2The larger goal of my fieldwork in the Basque Country of Spain was to see how language use was affected by the previously mentioned increase in gastronomic fame and tourism. While there, I noticed a potential—as with other minoritized languages—for the non-Indo-European language isolate to be utilized as a tool to market various local products, creating a perceived distinction and a sense of authenticity within global capitalism (Cavanaugh and Shalini Shankar 2014; Lesh 2019b) through linguistic commodification, or the ways in which language forms part of the symbolic capital that is mobilized in markets (Bourdieu 1977; Heller 2003, 2010; Heller, Pujolar and Duchêne 2014). Meanwhile, the French word “terroir”, which has evolved to justify differences in the wine world at local levels while acquiring social, economic, and political benefits (Demossier 2011: 689), functions as part of this larger idea that “language and food are embedded within economies and polities; across the commodity chain, to operate individually and together as sources of distinction and as resources for adding value” (Karrebæk, Riley and Cavanaugh 2018: 25).

3In this article, I will examine how the use of terroir has entered various Basque food-producing sectors with the hope of creating the same authenticating results, and discuss how its use affects various marketing techniques in Euskara. I provide three types of examples for how the concept is portrayed: all or part of the original word “terroir” itself is used (as in English), it is avoided altogether, or its social components are extracted and reframed through Basque words such as bertako/bertoko, gure/geure, and nortasuna, meaning “local,” the collective “our,” and “character/identity”. The analysis and discussion of these different techniques points to how established and recognized the relationship is between the land, language, and people.


4By the time I was conducting my own research, San Sebastián had been named one of the two 2016 Cultural Capitals of Europe, and Basque Michelin-starred restaurants were making headlines on the list of “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.” I started my fieldwork in the summer of 2016 at an intensive language school, called a barnetegi. It was located in the small city of Lazkao, which is in the province of Gipuzkoa in Southern Basque Country. In total, I enrolled in five, two-week sessions (2.5 months in total) in which we would live and sleep in shared rooms while learning Euskara in a strictly Basque-speaking environment. A typical two-week session included class time for about 8 hours each day, followed by a selected cultural workshop such as kirolak (sports), Euskal dantza (Basque dancing), and a txango luzea (long excursion, hike) to the mountains to finish the two-week stint. I returned in January of 2017 to continue learning Basque while living with Basque speakers and taking additional Basque lessons at two euskaltegiak, typical language schools without living quarters, which offered classes several hours per day, several days per week. By the time I had finished my fieldwork, I had achieved a level B1, which is an intermediate level for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

5I had chosen to prepare myself and continue to learn the Basque language during my fieldwork so that I might be able to communicate with the Basque speakers in both Euskara and Spanish. Outside of class, the majority of 2017 was spent conducting formal and informal interviews with food producers and language activists to get a sense of how language was being used to promote gastronomic products. Most of those I interviewed were producers of drinks: cider, milk, wine from Rioja, Txakolina, and beer. I chose these drinks to compare the process of commodification that occurs with each, as well as how Euskara was incorporated into each drink’s marketing strategy. In addition to conducting interviews, I documented photos of labels and the linguistic landscape—both online and in daily public spaces—and observed and participated in gastronomic fairs, traditional celebrations, and conferences.


6The evolution of the definition of terroir from that which simply refers to the non-human, physical components of the earth—such as soil and climate—to a concept that encompasses the human hands of vinification, provides a foundation to illustrating why terroir may or may not be used in Basque marketing. As Amy Trubek mentions in The Taste of Place, “people are a large part of the story of terroir and goût du terroir, even if rock, soil, slope, and sun may seem to be the central characters” (2008: 10). This acceptance of the word terroir is seen by Arceño, Jones, and Lally (this issue) to include the nonhuman and human aspects of how we have come to understand terroir in English, while using it as a tool for analysis on a global scale.

7Other scholars, some of whom have worked more locally in the Basque Country, reaffirm that wine is a socioeconomically important product with a high sociocultural interest (Belda et al. 2017). They state that “wines with distinctive autochthonous properties have a great demand among consumers and collectors, causing important economic consequences. It is well known that physical (climate) and biological factors (soil, grape variety and fauna), as well as viticulture and oenological techniques (human factors) work together to determine the sensory-characteristics of a wine from a particular region, establishing the concept of terroir” (Belda et. al 2017).

  • 1 Txakolina or Txakoli is the name that was traditionally used for a house-made wine. Historically, t (...)

8The 15 months (2016-2017) I spent conducting anthropological fieldwork in the Basque Country were spent interviewing various food producers, as well as language activists. One particular group I interviewed were the Txakolina1 wine producers, who were responsible for making and marketing this traditional, iconic Basque wine found in Spanish Basque Country. While conducting interviews, I found that these producers were often unfamiliar with the word “terroir,” especially if they had not become oenologists through formalized training or a certified program. The Denominaciones de Origen (DOs), or geographical indications for this traditionally made Basque wine were established in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The comparatively recent integration into the global wine scene, along with the notion that Basques were in general somewhat insular (as Basques themselves would assert), could be a major factor in explaining the absence of the use of the word “terroir” to market Txakolina. While there were a number of bodegas that were beginning to employ formally trained oenologists, many were utilizing the traditional production methods passed down through family generations. It could be, then, that this lack of exposure to more globalized techniques also prevented wine producers from coming into contact with the common phrases and concepts taught in such formalized training.

  • 2 The earlier prevalence and visibility of terroir in Rioja DOCa marketing strategies could be attrib (...)

9I compare this situation to the Basque winemaking zone of Rioja Alavesa, a part of the larger Rioja Denominación de Origen (DOCa) in Spain. This winemaking area is located south of the Txakolina-making area of the Basque Country, further south from the French border next to the rest of Castilian-speaking Spain, where Basque is used less and had established more visibility for using terroir for marketing purposes2. In general terms, though, among most Basque wine producers, the word “terroir” was not commonly mentioned or used in written marketing strategies that denoted a “sense of place.”

10As the Basque Country becomes more globalized, the word terroir becomes more commonly integrated into marketing strategies that engage with the global market. This increase in usage highlights a shift in how value is asserted, created, and defined for wine in this autonomous community. However, before this global shift to use terroir may inevitably increase, we should investigate how sense of place is formed in places where terroir itself is absent, and what parallel concepts are engaged in its place. In the case where key recurring Basque words are used in place of the French word “terroir”, marketing place for local Basque products occurs by tapping into the sociolinguistic identity of the region.

11The words commonly chosen to market a Basque sense of place - in this case, bertako/bertoko, gure/geure, and nortasuna (“local,” “our,” and “character” or “identity”) -emphasize the social and linguistic components over the physical traits of place. These frequently used Basque words, which create a distinction of place through language, are mobilized as a potential means for the prosperity of Euskara: the Basque-speaking consumer may feel an increased sense of linguistic belonging and attraction to the products when viewing words that reify the link between local gastronomic products and language. Today, commodities such as wine, milk, beer, and cider are marketed using these Basque concepts to create a sense of place, each reinforcing a sense of authenticity while contributing to linguistic commodification.

12This sociolinguistic facet for the value of terroir sheds light on how the use of similar, yet different, French and Basque concepts affect the ability to create economic value for various products, while referencing the social and physical importance of distinction, localness, and identity. This self-conscious reassertion of the distinctively local, for the purpose of creating value and a sense of place, is what Wes Flack describes as “neolocalism” (Flack 1997). Though, in most cases of the Basques, this may not have begun for economic profit, but rather sociolinguistic and cultural distinction. To better understand the social circumstances and conditions in which the word “terroir” has been used for marketing, I will describe the three cases mentioned above (maintenance of the original word, avoidance of any reference to the concept, and translation of the idea into Basque).

Unchanged Translations of Terroir

13While in most cases the visibility of the word “terroir” was rare in Basque culture, there were cases within Rioja, as mentioned previously, where terroir was present. In preparation for my first year of fieldwork in the Basque Country, I had observed the ongoing struggles that had been occurring in the wine-producing region of Rioja that consisted of three separate subregions, now called zones—Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Oriental (previously Rioja Baja). Of the three zones, producers from Rioja Alavesa had developed a case for differentiating the zone by giving it its own Denominación de Origen (DO) (Gil 2017). Rioja Alavesa is culturally distinct from the other two zones of Rioja in that it is also the only zone within the larger Rioja Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa), that pertains to the Basque Autonomous Community. It also has great potential for differentiating itself from the larger DOCa due to the calcareous clay soil composition found in this area north of the Ebro River; the other zones are composed with mixtures of alluvial and ferrous soils. These calcareous soils arguably produce wines with better aging ability (Puckette, 2015).

14The recent movement was based on the terroir notion to create distinction among the various wine-producing zones, reflecting the different terroirs and plots of land where grapes and wine was produced, classifying quality and soil differentiation. The use of the word “terroir” has become more prevalent in the Basque winemaking zone of Rioja Alavesa with producers like Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri Bodega leading the pro-terroir movement. This movement is rooted in creating a hierarchy of vineyards based on quality by clearly identifying and marketing if the wine comes from “single vineyard” classifications or a particular parcel or soil composition. This process distances itself from the current system that was designed in the 19th century and uses barrel ageing as the primary mark of quality (Mileham 2017).

15A “milestone in history” occurred in August of 2017 when the Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa (ABRA, or Association of Bodegas from Rioja Alavesa), a group of Rioja Alavesa producers, finally made progress toward the acceptance of a labelling strategy that was approved to differentiate wines from that particular zone of Rioja (Blog de Rioja Alavesa, 2017). While not all producers of Rioja preferred to make the move from more traditional ways of production to producing wine from single-vineyard estates, a concerted effort has been made by Rodriguez and others to create distinction in this process. The intended result is to make terroir not simply a word, but a category for knowing and discerning wine (Trubek 2009: 15). Whether in Basque or Spanish, translating the word is a key step to using it as a category for distinction.

16Outside Rioja in October that same year, I attended the 20th annual San Sebastian Gastronomika-Euskadi Basque Country Congress. While perusing the list of tastings and presentations given by famous chefs from the Basque Country, I noticed Pedro Subijana was scheduled to give a presentation titled in English: “Pedro Subijana: The Complex Passion for ‘terroir.’” Most of the program titles were translated into several languages, including Basque. The translation was interesting as it read “Pedro Subijana: “’Terroir’ edo Lurragatiko Pasio Konplexua” (Agenda San Sebastian Gastronomikan 2017). Although the translation retains the word “terroir” in the title, an explanation of its meaning follows in Basque with “edo Lurragatiko Pasio Konplexua,” meaning, “or Complex Passion for the Land.”

17This Basque translation suggests a lack of familiarity with the term terroir by following its use with an explanation that focuses on the physical component of land “lur” from “Lurragatiko” followed by the rest of the phrase translated literally with “Complex Passion.” Bringing the two components of the physical land together with the human emotion of appreciation for it mimics the sentiment given with the use of terroir, but demonstrates that this concept might be unknown, with a meaning that denotes only the physical (land) components of the terroir concept.

  • 3 “…el concepto de "vinos de terroir". Un término complejo que, a partir de la existencia de un viñed (...)

18The untranslated word terroir can also be seen in Spanish at a 2017 wine fair titled “Vinos Naturales ‘de terroir’” (as seen in Figure 1). Much like the previous example, the Basque word lur is used as the root to explain it in Euskara. The translation on the advertising pamphlet was “Lurrardoak,” from lur (land) + ardoa (wine), which would be more literally translated as “the earth wines.” As in this example, it is sometimes the case in the Basque Country that the title of an event will be translated to represent both co-official languages—Spanish and Euskara—while the remainder of presentation or text may be given solely in Spanish. This was the case for the announcement by the organizing company, Bizkaivinos, as either “Vinos Naturales ‘de terroir,’” or simply “terroir,” was translated into the Basque equivalent of “Lurrardoak,” while the remaining event’s description was left untranslated from Spanish. Interestingly enough, the Spanish explanation of “vinos de terroir” (“terroir wines”) was included and described as climatic factors to include the techniques and culture of the viticulture3. The translation of terroir to “lurrardoak” shows, as seen in the previous example, an emphasis for terroir to refer to the physical land, though without a direct standardized translation.

Figure 1 : Vinos naturales “de terroir lurrardoak

Figure 1 : Vinos naturales “de terroir” lurrardoak

Source :​

19In translations by Txakolina producers into the Basque language, one producer uses it as a loan word with a Basque agglutination and a description of his txakoli: “Ardo hau egitean Terroir-aren eta barietatearen nortasuna gorde nahi izan dugu beti…” meaning, “In making this wine, we have always wanted to keep the identity/personality of the Terroir and variety…” The Spanish translation incorporated the word without further explanation, simply written as terroir, indicating that the concept did not need much of an explanation. The Basque translation similarly needed no explanation, but had been translated differently than the previous examples offered in this article with the aforementioned agglutination (Ameztoi, 2019).

20A final translation of the word “terroir,” for Txakolina producer Itsasmendi Bodega (as described on the Bizkaia DO website4), uses the French concept as a way to describe the local grapes in Basque by saying,Terroir izaerako bertoko barietateen erabilpenak, Ondarrabi Zuri eta Ondarrabi Zuri Zerratie diren bezala, Naturak ematen duen aberastasuna areagotzen du…” translated to, “The use of local varieties of the “terroir” nature, such as Ondarrabi Zuri and Ondarrabi Zuri Zerratie, increases the richness that Nature provides.” This direct translation to English from their website describes terroir as being in part derived from the local varietals, Ondarrabi Zuri and Ondarrabi Zuri Zerratie (Itsasmendi Upategia, 2017).

21These examples, respectively, show the transition that Basque winemaking sectors have begun to incorporate terroir into their marketing story through various translations. The lack of consistent translation points to it being an unfamiliar term that needs to be explained, alongside other descriptors that incorporate the physical or social components of Basque territory. In other cases, it has been incorporated to the point where it has become more directly translated into the Spanish and Basque languages with little explanation. In most all these cases, terroir is used to denote the physical and environmental components of the concept.

Avoidance of Terroir Translations

22The Basque word nortasuna, meaning “personality, identity, character” (Elhuyar, 2019) can be often seen alongside or as a translation of the word “terroir” for the same marketing purposes. Bodegas Ostatu (meaning “inn, or tavern” in Euskara) of Rioja Alavesa, had their website5 translated into Basque, English, German, and Spanish. The word “terroir” appeared as such in English, as terruño in Spanish, and then into Basque with lursail, or “parcel, plot, land” in one place on the webpage, and then simply avoided in another, left to the description that preceded it that contains the word nortasunako as shown here: “Gure mahasti bakarretatik dozten berezko nortasunako ardoak.” This description translates roughly to, “Our wines with their own intrinsic identity come from single vineyards.” (Bodegas Ostatu, 2017). The inclusions of the word “nortasuna,” which were commonly used in conjunction with a translation of terroir, as seen in several of the previous examples, create an anthropomorphized and social quality by using Euskara to define the vineyards and wines. Interestingly, since this research was originally presented at an academic conference, Bodegas Ostatu’s website6 has now been redesigned to include several translations of “terroir” in English, to “terroira” in Basque (Bodegas Ostatu website, Accessed June 2020). This change over the last few years since I started working on this article may demonstrate an increased level of comfort in using this concept.

23Another example of avoiding the translation of terroir is provided by the website marketing a Txakolina, called K5, developed in part by famous Basque-speaking chef Karlos Arguiñano. In the English version of the webpage, a description using the word “terroir” is included between tasting notes and food pairing suggestions: “We feel our wine truly represents the greatness of the Hondarribi Zuri grape varietal and the true terroir of the Basque Country.” (K5 Arguiñano Txakolina - English version, Accessed June 2020)7. However, when selecting the Basque translation for the webpage8, this sentence is completely missing between the tasting notes and food pairings translations (K5 Arguiñano Txakolina website - Basque version, Accessed June 2020).

24In my survey of producers’ websites, I chose these two examples of avoidance to represent cases from both the Rioja Alavesa region, as well as a Txakoli from Gipuzkoa, due to their linguistic identities associated with place. Ostatu is a Basque bodega in a zone where very little Basque is spoken due to its proximity to the rest of Castilian-speaking Spain, and yet where foreign wine tourism is prevalent for the well-established winemaking area. Argiñano’s K5 Txakolina, however, is located in the heart of the province most closely associated with Basque speakers. The reluctance to use the word “terroir” (or indeed a Basque synonym) in both examples shows similarities within a wider spectrum of linguistic identities. Another potentially interesting extension of this research would be to consider neighboring areas such as the other two zones of Rioja and the winemaking areas of French Basque Country. However, due to the more limited scope of this paper and restrictions of space, I will have to consider the former for another time.

Basque parallel concepts of terroir

25While the concept of terroir is slowly taking root in the various wine-making regions of the Basque Country, a handful of words in Euskara are being used in a similar way to create a distinct identity and sense of place. Just as identity formation within contemporary applications of terroir marketing have become significant as a way of asserting resistance or belonging, the use of language, and in this case, Euskara, is mobilized to do the same. In Basque, words such as nortasuna, bertako/bertoko, and gure/geure are utilized to refer respectively to the words “local,” the collective “our,” and “character,” all of which are commonly seen serving this purpose.

26As previously stated in the example with Bodegas Ostatu, the word “nortasuna” has also been used for the marketing of milk. For the website9 of one milk producer, Iztueta (“Todo el ciclo”, 2017), nortasuna is translated into Spanish as identidad or “identity.” Nortasuna is its own heading on the website that, when clicked, talks in detail about the cycle of production, describing details that begin with the nutrition of the animals and end with the client, product in hand. The narration includes the quality of the grass that is fed to the animals to produce their product, the raw materials that are used, and the care provided by people to produce it (Esnekiak Bikainak, 2019). This assembly of descriptions makes up the identity or the character of the advertised product and, in doing so, addresses the natural and human components for marketing just as the concept of terroir does.

27The words bertoko and bertako are dialectal variances referring to “the local,” or something being from “(right) here,” and are words often used to describe Basque gastronomic products, as I will demonstrate through the marketing of beer and wine. The particular usage of these terms for the local craft beer company BOGA not only references the localness of the product by using bertoko, or “from here,” to describe the origin of the primary ingredients used to brew this brand of beer, but also employs this Basque word pertaining to localness as a term to include the local economy and gastronomy that it sustains (Hasiera 2017).

  • 10 BOGA beer coop’s website:

28Having learned a standardized form of Basque in the province of Gipuzkoa the summer prior, in 2016, I had only come across the word bertako to describe “local.” One of the founding members of BOGA later explained that using the word bertoko invoked a greater sense of localness by referencing their provincial dialect of Basque from the province of Bizkaia to further emphasize that it was not only local to the Basque Country. When looking at the Spanish translation of this text on their website10, the degree of localness advertised there can only be understood by Basque speakers, as there is no such differentiation in Spanish. In BOGA’s description, the word bertoko not only combines the concept of natural and human factors to define its localness, but the added dialectal variation further demonstrates the localness of the product by indexing the local dialect. Using this dialect, I argue, has the same, if not more, sociolinguistic value for the local Basque-speaking consumer as the word terroir does for the wine connoisseur. It may also hold more economic value, in turn, through processes of linguistic commodification.

29Another word I often come across in the marketing of Basque products that shares the same social connotations as terroir is the word “gure.” Gure, as author of The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky, says, is the most important word in Euskara. It means “our,” and he notes that “our people, our home, our village. Cookbooks talk of our soups, our sauces…gure is at the center of Basqueness, that feeling of belonging inalienably to a group. It is what the Basques mean by a nation, why they have remained a nation without a country.” (Kurlansky 2011: 326). The use of the collective “our” as a marker of cultural and gastronomic distinction is similar to the Bergamasco local concept of nostrano (our), mentioned by Cavanaugh (2007) that denotes a sense of gastronomic authenticity and shared social connection.

30The intensive pronoun “geure” is another version of this word that adds emphasis to the subject or make it reflexive (Hualde 2003: 620). Additionally, “geuria” is a variant of geure and is the word used as the name for a supermarket, advertised as the “only supermarket where more than 99% of the products are from Euskal Herria [the Basque Country]” (Supermercado 2019). Petritegi cider, a popular cider house located in the province of Gipuzkoa, also advertises using the phrases “geure produktoak” and “geure sagardo” to emphasize respectively “our” products” and “our cider” (Petritegi, 2019).

31These words have the capacity to create and add value through linguistic commodification by marketing to exclusive populations within the Basque Country: those who can speak or understand Basque, or those who do not, but may even simply associate positive product value with the language through minority language fetish, or using languages for symbolic purposes rather than utility (Kelly-Holmes 2015: 187-188). Through the reference of land and localness (as in the case of lur and bertoko), this strategy markets to those that live in a certain physical area of the Basque Country by localizing and creating authenticity (Pietikäinen et al 2011). By using the word “our” or gure, the aim is to create parameters that encompass a specific sociolinguistic group, namely, the Basque speakers who live in the Basque Country, or those who have an appreciation for the values associated with Basque products.

  • 11 The specific terminology of this concept grew organically from my work researching wine and languag (...)

32One could ultimately argue that referencing the combination of the physical space with the sociolinguistic reference would be the closest way to advertise terroir in Basque. “Gurelur” is a store in the Basque Country dedicated to supplying farmers with the necessary products for plant and animal nutrition (Cooperativa 2019). By combining the linguistic use of lur (land) and reiterating the social term gure (our) in Basque, these products link the social, human, sense of place with the non-human physical land where food products are produced to create what I define as linguistic terroir11. This concept of linguistic terroir allows us to distinguish the sense of place as dictated by practices of language use (Lesh 2019a: 47). In this view, it is an area in which the language likely forms the lines of demarcation for, or instead of, slopes, minerals, or bacteria. I use the term linguistic terroir in this sense ultimately to connect two defining features—language and land—that are united to distinguish a commodity grown and produced within these linguistic parameters.

33The idea of using specific Basque words to sell local products reinforces the sociolinguistic cohesiveness of the linguistic terroir, which complements Landry and Bourhis’ concept of linguistic landscape, or the visibility and salience of languages on public and commercial signs for a given territory or region (1997). Within the linguistic terroir, language functions as a human, cultural factor that demarcates land, making it distinct in some way from that which borders it. More recently, the idea of the semiofoodscape (Järlehed and Moriarty 2018) also combines language and food to examine how value is created. This latter concept is embedded in the political economy, while in contrast the concept of linguistic terroir reveals language practices as they most naturally occur independent of official languages set by political boundaries. The application of the terroir concept to linguistic boundaries would be difficult to pursue if Basque culture had not been so historically and inextricably linked to both language and land. This example is demonstrated perfectly by considering how the term “The Basque Country” is expressed in Euskara. The Basque translation is “Euskal Herria” and literally means “land of Basque (language).” This pairing of language and land, after all, is the combination that over time has made the Basque culture appealing to anthropologists, linguists, and lovers of gastronomy alike.


34Just as people outside of France reference terroir, which creates value by indexing a language and culture known for its viticulture practices, Basque marketing employs the use of key Basque words that target a linguistic minority amid majority languages. In doing so, especially with products of commodified value such as wine and cider in the semiofoodscape (Järlehed and Moriarty 2018), additional differentiation occurs creating a higher social value for a product for those to whom such marketing tactics are directed. When the word “terroir” is not translated directly into Basque, other words are used in working toward the same means of distinction. By having the emphasis on the land, localness, and social group bound by the Basque language, Euskara, the sociolinguistic component becomes integral in the translation of terroir. In turn, it provides a lens into the Basque culture for measuring value for these non-physical components of the originally French concept. What remains to be seen is whether the use of terroir will increase, and if so, how it will be translated to reflect the human and non-human concept. Perhaps the Basque use of terroir will continue to include and emphasize the human elements. On the other hand, should the use of terroir increase to stress physical elements without any attempts to include the social descriptors, this may result in diminishing the importance of the sociolinguistic and cultural factors in such marketing.

35Marion Demossier states that terroir is “a tool used to engage in a global market, and…is about asserting and justifying differences at local and even micro levels …ultimately about acquiring social, economic, and political benefits from such claims.” (Demossier 2011: 687-689) This is exactly what occurs as the Basque Country becomes engaged in using this “tool” of terroir. However, another opportunity arises in using the minoritized Basque language to describe the distinctiveness of wines, in that additional value for local products may be created with Basque descriptions to more accurately reflect the physical and social components of the region. After all, without the social value ascribed to either the physical or the social components, the terroir concept would not carry much value.

36The use of the word “terroir” in Basque culture is present in unchanged translations, avoided in others, while parallel uses denote emphasis on sociolinguistic connections to food and land. This comparison reiterates the complexity in attempting to translate the French concept into other languages with a simple word. However, in other examples when terroir is present in one language and not translated into Basque, it presents an opportunity to analyze what takes its place instead. All the examples can be telling.

37Based on the examples provided, when terroir is translated directly or by merely adding agglutination, the meaning generally refers to a simple reference to the land and grapes grown from the land, versus overly complex arguments about soil composition or how the social aspects of culture contribute to the concept. In cases in which the word is avoided when translating from English to Basque, those omitting it entirely might assume that the word is valued as a marketing tool in English, while not so commonly used in Basque. It is quite possible that these omissions point to the redundancy of promoting terroir in a place that already has a well-established relationship with the land - such as the Basque country - albeit on a more linguistic level. This would reinforce the idea of linguistic terroir, or the sense of place as defined by Basque speakers, and their relationship to the land in which value is assumed and awarded through sociolinguistic processes versus one that details the more physical and climatic factors. In this way, it would then make sense as to why Basques commonly engage with paralleled social concepts that emphasize a sense of place by using anthropomorphizing words (nortasuna) that can equally imbue both physical and social qualities to place, provincial dialectal differences (bertoko/bertako and geuria) to imbue sociopolitical attributes to place, and words that bind people to place through a collective sociolinguistic identity (gure/geure).

38In the case of the Basque language, selling a concept comparative to that of terroir is accomplished by using words that reference the physical land, localness, and sociolinguistic belonging. The fact that these concepts together incorporate the climatic and human factor shows that they are also valued in the marketing of Basque gastronomic products. The difference is that the value of the climatic components is taken as a given, and that the social or human factor becomes the driving force for creating value with these local products through commonly used words. For the Basques living in northern Spain, it is avoidance of translation and the meaning gleaned from these key words in Euskara that create value through a reiterated linguistic commonality. The use of these Basque words in marketing directly stresses the importance of land through the social and linguistic boundaries, creating value in the same way as terroir does in other contexts (whether in France or elsewhere, including the English-speaking world).

39One might assume that the sociocultural elements of terroir, especially for the purposes of marketing, will continue to remain an important, if not an increasingly utilized component to demarcate the physical aspects of terroir. Motivation behind such movements might be more likely to occur in places where distinct communities and cultures seek to define themselves politically, economically, linguistically, beyond just the physical boundaries. But we should explore, too, what happens when loan words such as “terroir” are integrated into marketing strategies. Will their increased prevalence replace the sociocultural buzzwords that are currently being used to create a sense of place? Will additional emphasis on the physical and climatic components increase to include more details about slope, soil composition, and latitude? Should this be a trend, it may reveal a decreased value for linguistic terroir in place of the original French concept, minimizing—in the Basque case—the sociolinguistic relationship to the land.

Top of page


"Agenda San Sebastian Gastronomikan." San Sebastian Gastronomika, accessed 10 November 2017:

Ameztoi, Txakoli. Txakoli Tinto (Stimatum), accessed 18, 2019:

BAILEY R.W. 2010. "Michigan English." In Michigan Today, accessed 17 February 2019:

BELDA I., ZARRAONAINDIA, I., PERISIN, M., PALACIO, A., & ACEDO A. 2017. “From Vineyard Soil to Wine Fermentation: Microbiome Approximations to Explain the “terroir” Concept”. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8, 821

“Bizkaivinos” Accessed 2017:

Blog Rioja Alavesa. 2017. “Acuerdo histórico” accessed August 2017:

Bodegas Ostatu. Accessed November 2017:

Bodegas Ostatu. Accessed 5 June 2020:

BOURDIEU P. 1977. “The economics of linguistic exchanges”. International Social Science Council. 16(6):645-668

CAVANAUGH J. 2007. “Making Salami, Producing Bergamo: The Transformation of Value”. Ethnos 72(2):149-172.

CAVANAUGH J., and SHANKAR, S. 2014. “Producing Authenticity in Global Capitalism: Language, Materiality, and Value.” American Anthropologist 166(1):1–14.

"Cooperativa San Isidro Mungia (Bizkaia)." Gurelur, Accessed 20 November 2017:

DEMOSSIER M. 2011. "Beyond terroir: territorial construction, hegemonic discourses, and French wine culture." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17, no. 4 685-705. Accessed April 2017. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2011.01714.x.

Elhuyar Hiztegia. Accessed 18 December 2019:*/E/Heu145434_0/.

“Esneki Bikainak.” Iztueta Esnekiak, accessed 18 December 2019:

FLACK W. 1997. "American Microbreweries and Neolocalism: "Ale-ing" for a Sense of Place." Journal of Cultural Geography 16, no. 2 p.37-53, accessed 19 November 2017. doi:10.1080/08873639709478336.

GIL A. 2017. "Así se clasifica el nuevo Rioja." Lo Mejor del Vino de Rioja - La Rioja, accessed 20 November 2017:

“Hasiera.” Boga Garagardoa. Accessed November 20 November 2017:

HELLER M. 2003. "Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of language and identity." Journal of Sociolinguistics 7, no. 4 473-92. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2003.00238.x.

HELLER M. 2010. “The Commodification of Language”. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 39, pp. 101-114, SSRN: accessed 20 May 2020: ; or .

HELLER M., PUJOLAR, J., and DUCHÊNE, A. 2014 “Linguistic commodification in tourism,” Journal of Sociolinguistics 18(4), 539-566.

HUALDE J.E. 2003. A grammar of Basque. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

"Itsasmendi Upategia." Bizkaiko Txakolina, accessed 20 November 2017:

JÄRLEHED J. and MORIARTY M. 2018. “Culture and class in a glass: Scaling the semiofoodscape”. Language and Communication 62. 26–38.

K5 Arguiñano Txakolina. “Txakolina” K5Arguiñano, accessed 20 June 2020: (English translation)

K5 Arguiñano Txakolina. “Txakolina” K5 Arguiñano, accessed 20 June 2020: (Basque translation)

KELLY-HOLMES H. 2014. “Linguistic Fetish: The Sociolinguistics of Visual Multilingualism.” In David Machin (ed.) Visual Communication. De Gruyter Mouton : 135-151.

KURLANSKY M. 2011. The Basque history of the world. New York: Penguin. Vintage Digital.

LANDRY R. and BOURHIS, R. Y. 2017. "Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality." Journal of Language and Social Psychology16, no. 1 (1997): 23-49. Accessed 20 November 2017. doi:10.1177/0261927x970161002.

LESH K. 2019a. “Through the Language of Food: Creating Linguistic and Cultural Value through Basque (Euskara) Semiotics to Market Local Gastronomic Products.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

LESH K. 2019b. Basque gastronomic tourism: Creating value for Euskara through the materiality of language and drink. Applied Linguistics Review 0(0): Retrieved 15 Dec. 2019, from doi:10.1515/applirev-2019-0101

MILEHAM A. 2017. “Rioja's Winemakers Positive about DOCa's Recognition of Terroir.” The Drinks Business, accessed 12 December 2018:

“Petritegi Sagardotegia.” Sidrería Petritegi, accessed 18 December 2019:

PIETIKÄINEN S. and KELLY-HOLMES H. 2011. "The local political economy of languages in a Sámi tourism destination: Authenticity and mobility in the labelling of souvenirs1." Journal of Sociolinguistics 15, no. 3 p.323-46. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00489.x.

PUCKETTE M. 2015 “The Seven Valleys of the Rioja Wine Region.” Wine Folly. Accessed 5 June 2020:

“Supermercado De Productos Naturales De Euskal Herria.” Geuria Merkatua, accessed 18 December 2019.

"Todo el ciclo." Iztueta, accessed 20 November 2017:

The soils of the vineyards of the Rioja Region. Accessed November 20, 2017.

TRUBEK A. B. 2008. The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Top of page


1 Txakolina or Txakoli is the name that was traditionally used for a house-made wine. Historically, this wine has been made with various grape varietals that were available at the time and place of production, but is now primarily made from the indigenous and now signature varietals, Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza. The methods of production have produced wines that were previously perceived as poor quality and likely to give the drinker “buruko mina,” or headaches. The taste profile was typically acidic and rather bitter, illustrating the conditions of the local terroir. Depending on the Denominación de Origen’s regulations for making the wine, methods now sometimes involve the integration of other varietals and aging the wine on the lees. These modifications have changed the taste profile of Txakolina over the last decade or so, producing wines that can be labeled “Berezia” (“special”) to denote these newer methods of production (Lesh 2019a).

2 The earlier prevalence and visibility of terroir in Rioja DOCa marketing strategies could be attributed to several factors, including the fact that the geographic indication was established much earlier, and also because of its winemaking ties to Bordeaux and other French producers.

3 “…el concepto de "vinos de terroir". Un término complejo que, a partir de la existencia de un viñedo propio, habla de un vino único y singular como combinación de múltiples factores como clima, orientación, suelo, sol, precipitaciones, altitud... y las técnicas y cultura propias del viticultor” which translates to “…the concept of “terroir wines.” A complex term that, from the existence a particular vineyard speaks of a unique and singular wine as combination of multiple factors such as climate, orientation, soil, sun, precipitation, altitude…and the viticulturist’s own techniques and culture” (Bizkaivinos, 2017).


5 When verifying this source during the editing process, Bodegas Ostatu no longer had the operational webpage described as they previously did in 2017 via

6 The newly constructed website for Bodegas Ostatu:

7 K5 Arguiñano Txakolina website-English version:

8 K5 Arguiñano Txakolina website-Basque version:

9 Iztueta website:

10 BOGA beer coop’s website:

11 The specific terminology of this concept grew organically from my work researching wine and language in the Basque Country (Lesh 2019a). In searching to see if it had been used before I found that linguist Richard Bailey used this term more casually in an article ( describing it as “the stuff that lets us know where we are” (Bailey 2010), giving several expressions in English to distinguish Michigan from other places. He uses it more as analogy to describe language in place, but does not involve gastronomic components as part of its meaning.

Top of page

List of illustrations

Title Figure 1 : Vinos naturales “de terroir lurrardoak
Credits Source :​
File image/jpeg, 141k
Top of page


Electronic reference

Kerri Lesh, Translations of Terroir: Constructing and Marketing a Sense of Place in the Basque CountryAnthropology of food [Online], S14 | 2020, Online since 31 July 2020, connection on 30 May 2023. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the author

Kerri Lesh

Phd, and Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), instructor at University of Nevada, Reno,

Top of page



Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Top of page
  • DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • Journal supported by the Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales (CNRS)
    CNRS - Institut national des sciences humaines et sociales
  • OpenEdition Journals
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search