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Special issue on local food products and systems/Numéro spécial sur les produits et systèmes agroalimentaires locaux

Local heritage to singularize a wine terroir: the example of pays Foyen (Gironde, France)

Chantal Crenn and Isabelle Techoueyres


Wine, as a cultural and economic product, is today at the heart of local dynamics working towards producing singularity: often under the impulse of neorurals, elements from the local environment and history are selected and used to recompose a heritage which creates an identity, to make up authenticity, therefore to legitimize specific practices. This paper aims at highlighting the current phenomenon of patrimonialization in order to understand how a regional wine turned into a local wine through the observation of a wine terroir, the Pays Foyen (Gironde, France). After theoretic considerations on global/local tensions, we’ll concentrate on spatial definitions and identity construction linked to the promotion of “locality” in the product.

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1Today in a global context groups of actors work towards the redefinition of their local environment. Such highlighting of locality contributes to the dynamic definition of local products and localised production; this is the reason why this paper aims at questioning, from an anthropological perspective, current processes of spatial definitions and identity construction, within a wine terroir: the Pays Foyen (Ste Foy La Grande, Gironde, France), on the fringe of Bordeaux’s more prestigious wines. The wine from Ste Foy, as a cultural product interlinking local and global, offers the observation of mechanisms mobilized by local actors who work at conferring singularity to their wine and therefore to an entire territory.

2Our anthropological approach questions the diverse protagonists’ discourse and actions while taking into account their position in real life. It thus appeared interesting to question the apparent homogeneity of this product, which is necessarily rooted to a territory and the vector of a particular identity, while several authors in the human sciences point to the general trend of patrimonialization serving the definition of specific identities, to counter globalization (cf. Jeudy 1990; Warnier, 1999; Appaduraï, 2001; Bérard et Marchenay, 2004). It is therefore interesting to understand how such a display of local heritage through wine production is experienced locally and how, inevitably, dissent finds expression. This paper will examine hierarchical, economic and symbolic mechanisms in order to observe “re-localization” processes as applied to a wine, a terroir and a territory. More precisely, the problematic of identity construction via the patrimonalization of a wine will be examined taking into account the interpersonal context which makes intelligible the reasons presiding over choices made by some actors, so as to highlight some markers while neglecting others.

3However, although identity is a social construction, it is not a fiction depending solely on actors’ subjectivity. For instance, the identity construction of a terroir takes place within social frames that determine the position of different protagonists in a hierarchical relationship.

4We shall start by showing in what ways the Pays Foyen is an actors’ space, the result of a long lasting and patient effort of construction. Then a scheme of action will be set forward, formed by members of the local society, vineyard owners (some being members of the AOC Syndicate Ste Foy-Bordeaux). We’ll then examine the patrimonialization process developed both by local actors and neorurals on the national as well as international levels. Through the use of the denomination Ste Foy-Bordeaux, we’ll analyze how members of the AOC Syndicate conduct a distinction process in order to meet the global market demands while fortifying local roots.

5At production level, we’ll show how individual routes, collective memory, economic necessities, state regulations, and local political stakes, all link together to give meaning to grassroots actions - meaning “what an actor identifies symbolically as the purpose of his action” (Castells, 1999: 45). Such symbolical value is also to be found in the field of consumption, and several works in wine sociology and anthropology1 stress the importance of imaginary, cultural and symbolic dimensions concerning wine. Buying and appreciating wine are not performed solely according to objective criteria but are motivated by the context, the product personalisation, and the consumer’s representation, that is the need for sharing and for identity connivance.

6This work is based on field work performed by a team of geographers and anthropologists2. The joint project aimed at exchanging our methods and approaches concerning the structure of the Pays Foyen as a territory and the constitution of its identity founded on wine. We have performed several days of fieldwork under the form of formal and informal collective as well as individual interviews with different local actors: grape growers and wine makers, wine cooperative members, members of the AOC Syndicate as well as opponents to it, and councillors, etc.

Globalization helps in producing local

7The term “globalization” in the wine world of the Ste Foy-La-Grande area, just as in many places, is a synonym for acute competition and business failure, and arouses anxiety. “Market segmentation has given rise to the proliferation of referential appellations and promotional exhibitions for craft industry products which, often in roundabout ways, claim they fit within that frame.” (Delbos, 2003: 13). However, does the choice made by the Ste Foy-Bordeaux Syndicate to exhibit the singularity of the “terroir” only come from this “merchandizing the difference” trend? Does this trend which finds expression in the term “terroir” have also imaginary meanings, invented in order to meet the demands of an international market, but also to answer the necessity to establish itself locally or find local legitimacy?

8We have first examined whether such a change in scale, the increased circulation, and such a “merchandization of culture” (Warnier, 1999: 16 ) reveal the standardization of ways of living and thinking in the wine society studied here. Next, facing the recent reactivation of the AOC Syndicate Ste Foy-Bordeaux, we have questioned the reasons which make some actors exalt their difference, their belonging to a place, their past, their “History”. What forms of belonging can be identified in this geographical space, and how do they coexist with the economic constraints that characterize the contemporary context? The industrial logic of production, distribution, and consumption, in the abstract field of merchandise exchange, interferes with individual stories and with a local wine culture long committed to a considerable effort of modernisation.

9Beyond the acknowledgement that globalization contributes to the “emergence of local” (Appadurai, 2001: 50 ) as well as to the “invention of difference” (Warnier, 1999: 97) and the production of social distinction – and in order to better grasp the probable articulation between social distinction processes and marketing requirements – we’ll start by discussing the idea that in our societies, face to face relations have disappeared to leave only abstract relations between individuals reduced to “economic functions”. We recognize a compromise between symbolic and economic resources, between local, national and international spheres. Following Manuel Castells (1999) (who has studied several human societies in the world, including the Indian population in the Chiapas around Major Marcos in Mexico), we notice that in a wine area also, local networks and territory overlap. In this sphere, the relationship to what some of our informants call their “terroir” wine is a social production which reveals permanent cultural, political, economic and social reconstructions. As underlined by Christian Bromberger (2003: 5): “the French never have had such identical behaviours (even though some diversity persists), yet never has ‘difference’ been so much put in the limelight”. Rural territories such as this wine sphere are often idealized as places where the sense of belonging is expressed and brandished, and are regarded as identity strongholds. Yet what is really going on there? What is at stake economically and symbolically?

What specificity for Pays Foyen?

10Since its foundation almost eight centuries ago, the Bastide of Ste Foy-La-Grande has been at the heart of an area situated today on the border of three administrative departements (Gironde, Dordogne and Lot et Garonne). The Pays Foyen, 60kms from Bordeaux, is not easily identified; inhabitants sometimes refer to the Périgord, other times to the Gironde, or even both at once. The wine appellation Bordeaux-Ste Foy, created in 1937, then only qualified white wines. The Syndicate was dissolved during a few decades then reinvested in the 1990s; it now consists in a voluntary union around the appellation, renamed “Ste Foy-Bordeaux”, in order to be more distinct from the other local appellations, Bordeaux and Bergerac-Monbazillac. The AOC today includes the three wine colours and covers 19 villages on 7 000 hectares. Members include 38 owners of private cellars and 36 cooperators. Yet this AOC only represents a minority among the total number of grape growers in the area, these preferring the use of the all-encompassing appellation Bordeaux.

11Our intention here is to analyze the relations between the geographical space and the men and women who live off the vine and wine. Local people stress the specificities of the “Foyen wine terroir”, meaning that the Pays Foyen possesses geological, pedological3 and meteorological qualities which make it a unique terroir. Yet geographical researches do not sustain this claim: this area has the same characteristics as the Bordeaux terroir: the same pedological and meteorological characteristics and identical landscapes. Wine makers have simply made the most of this “gift of nature” and given it a denomination (AOC).

12Thus the claim for the uniqueness of the Foyen wine is really a recent construction which finds its roots in ancient legitimacy conferred by the AOC Bordeaux-Ste Foy, turned into Ste Foy-Bordeaux, and in the existence of the Pays Foyen throughout ‘La Grande Histoire nationale’. While the neighbouring wine areas of Bergerac4 and Duras5 have had to fight6 for decades to establish their own singularity, wine makers of Pays Foyen didn’t feel the need to differ from the Bordeaux appellation, until recently. Winemakers of Pays Foyen whom we met explain this lack of insight by the financial comfort they enjoyed thanks to the fame of Bordeaux wines. Yet today, in the shade of ‘big brother Bordeaux’, difficulties exist; belonging to the Bordeaux area does not guarantee good sales.

Imaginary dimensions shape a territory in formation

The importance of neorurals in the renaissance of the Ste Foy-Bordeaux appellation

13Since singularity is not obvious for Foyens inhabitants, it needs to be created” claimed the Mayor of Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. According to members of the Syndicate, the rebirth of the appellation Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux is not only the result of local will. It was made necessary by newcomers who worked hard at making it visible in the public space. One former president of the Syndicate underlines the important role played by a neorural Mrs B., “coming from the communication business” who was able, because of her profession but also because of her outsider position, to point to the marketable qualities of the Foyen wine. As is often the case, the positive view from outside upon this wine territory aroused local consciousness of their heritage: as A. Bensa (2001: 5) puts it, “nothing is possible without the patrimonial prophet…” The wine world, just like the agricultural world in general, is not wholly introspective. Encounters between natives and outsiders often activate transformation processes.

14In our case, the patrimonialisation process has been intensified by the coming together of Mr D., whose family has been rooted here for several generations, with Mrs B. Mrs B. played the part of the ‘transitional actor’, as described by geographer Di Meo (1991), who takes a new look at her adoptive place and who strengthens local people in their will for change and innovation. Mrs B. even takes advantage of the work of experts from Bordeaux University in order to “accomplish her task for the development of Pays Foyen.

15The conditions presiding over the formation of this Syndicate are interesting to unravel. Following the general trend in residence of neorurals, and their personal involvement locally, the population of the Pays Foyen has changed in character since the 1990s. One can even say that the Ste Foy-Bordeaux Syndicate is the result of common interests of ancient and new; descendents who have recently come back to their land and neorurals. The development of the terroir they share, Pays Foyen, has been the object of negotiated decisions for which innovation and local knowledge are core preoccupations. One can notice that local Protestants7 have played a major part in setting together such a network of wine professionals, while they had to compromise with newcomers.

16Both of the neorurals and the ‘natives’ are persuaded that putting rituals and some elements of local history in the limelight should attract the “benefits of locality that some have hoarded too long” (meaning the dominant Bordeaux/Bordeaux Supérieur syndicate), for Foyen wine makers. It is now time to take one’s development in hand; whereas mass production was the previous generation’s value, Quality is the new reference point. Most members of the Syndicate denounce the vast majority of local grape growers who stick to the Bordeaux appellation to produce generic wines. Such an attitude, they say, prevents Ste Foy being recognized on the international market for the excellence of its wine. Competition with wines from the New World is seen as a danger to confront. Mr D., Who calls himself a ‘vigneron’, a wine maker not a grape grower, explains: “because of wine production in many parts of the world, we need people from outside to help us evolve and strengthen our own identity”. Researchers and experts are more and more often approached by local actors – such as our team of geographers and anthropologists. The question is how to make singularities visible to all; not only to tourists but also to other locals who still need to be persuaded by the use of the AOC.

The making of an adjustable ‘authenticity’ between ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘ancestral terroir’

17According to wine makers in the Ste Foy-Bordeaux appellation, wine produced in the Foyen area has been deeply altered by past transformations. It is therefore necessary to go back to “terroir origins, original purity and Montaigne times”, in order to find again this unique and identifiable wine. According to such wine makers, “in order to exist on the international scale, we need to know who we are, where we come from8. And, to confer the benefits of such a history to their wine, wine makers need to link geology, inherited knowledge and local history to the uniqueness of the production area. Debates among members of the AOC reveal that the terroir is ‘historicised’ and ‘ecologised’. The AOC imposes regulations in terms of mastering productivity, plant density, etc. in order to gain quality. The inscription in a geological time coupled with the cultivation of singularity is particularly pertinent when one adopts Agriculture Raisonnée, meaning production that limits the use of pesticides, to produce at once an environment friendly wine organoleptically recognizable. “Within the frame of our study on the typicity of Ste Foy-Bordeaux wines, the objective of which is to identify on a scientific basis the organoleptic characteristics of our wines, M.C., coordinator of the tasting panel, delivered his report in December 2002: ours are wines with superior colour intensity with a strong fruit taste where cherry and Morello cherry are dominant, vegetal components being light or even nonexistent, with medium to strong complexity” (Mrs B. in the Syndicate Annual Report 2002).

18Wine growers who are not members of the Syndicate (only 74 members among 453 wine growers registered in this area in 2000) are accused of being individualist and paradoxically to carry on an environmentally destructive production mode which their fathers have passed on. The symbolic violence of such accusations makes it difficult to join the Syndicate at a time when the less fortunate cannot find customers.

19According to Syndicate members, the current international context requires a revision of grape cultivation modes. They refer to ‘Nature’ as to a founding myth. Perceived as trans-historical, social, and cultural (Jeudy, 1990), Nature calls for consensus when it comes to protecting it; thus they support the new norms for traceability and environmental protection. Such reflexivity (which has always existed yet which is particularly exacerbated today) is inherent to changes in practices and is not within anybody’s capability, thus excluding those who cannot modify their methods of production.

20The management of natural resources implies a ceaseless interplay between adaptability, cultural identity and the economic dimension. Terroir management presupposes the malleability of local identity so as to avoid confinement within a fixed heritage, and the ability to counter the new wine geo-economy. Some wine makers underline the need to combine a unique and ‘healthy’ terroir, while using the Internet, tractors, biological and all modern technologies applied to grape treatments and wine making.

 The use of local history in a globalized context

21Why turn the Pays Foyen terroir into a singular local patrimonial object? According to Syndicate leaders it is necessary, for economic reasons, to claim the sense of belonging to a particular place. Creating distinction, to be different from Bordeaux wines but also from wines from the New World, elevates terroir into a ‘special place’, “We have to be different in order to sell” is the leitmotiv repeatedly heard by the anthropologist. Therefore, local history is called forth to turn the wine space into a unique territory, so that the suggestive power of the place can be passed on, narrated to local inhabitants, also tourists and other potential consumers. According to some neorurals, “the Pays Foyen is different from the Bordelais, it is Montaigne’s country up to Castillon…”. Syndicate members take part in the display of local peculiarities within the Bastide walls. In fact they take part in all festive local events: the Franco-British week in 2006, the 2006 Félibrée, the Bastide’s 750th Anniversary in 2005, yearly Heritage Nights9, etc.

22The aim of these wine makers is to give consistency to local identity using selected elements from the past, and to inject riches into the local economy in order to be recognised as legitimate members of this marginal territory. With this purpose, some members of the Syndicate have invented the ‘Vituriales’ which are, according to Mrs B.’s own words: “the grapes festival, the summer wine fair is a communication space for the Pays Foyen towards its visitors. Sainte-Foy-La-Grande gives way to local wine makers every year on the first weekend in August, and the entire town takes part in the festivities since everyone celebrates our vineyards”. On the 1st Saturday in August, which is also market day in Ste Foy, the winemakers’ stalls occupy the whole town hall square in the heart of the city. Anybody can come and taste local wines, after members of the Brotherhood have paraded in the streets wearing their long yellow, red and blue dresses.

23The public winemakers’ banquet under the ancient arcade puts an end to the ‘Vituriales’ events. Wine professionals seek local recognition in order to legitimate their action. Making the dates of the grape harvest banquet coincide with Heritage Nights10, even though seasonal grape harvesters have been replaced by machines, all partake of the same phenomenon creating links between members of the local society and being identified as locals from the outside. Local councillors, who have brought culture to the fore in the Pays Foyen Charter, also take part in the promotion of such actions. For the 750th anniversary of the city, the council financed the new Syndicate brochure and opened the ceremonies under the aegis of the Brotherhood.

24However, the political commitments in favour of the Syndicate do not meet with general agreement: other syndicates existing on the same territory denounce this ‘flaunted preference’, and some Foyens11 question the historical references used by the Brotherhood. Besides, what meaning do Pays Foyen inhabitants give to public exhibitions such as the Brotherhood’s, or references to Montaigne? In fact one realizes that, in order to shape a local identity, wine makers have selected signs independently from the local population; these signs are not co-produced; they are consumed or rejected but are always imposed. Looking closer, the Pays Foyen population is plural, with many people working outside the wine making field, while others depend on wine making but cannot recognize themselves in this exhibition of the past.

Local heritage as the object of symbolic conflict and exclusion.

25The patrimonialization of local wine making, developed by those who want to be considered as the wine elite, enables the ethnologist to unveil the process of identity production in a global context - to which she might take part if she isn’t careful. The very subject of investigation is caught in a fiction which might reveal only one single local wine culture (cf. G.Althabe, 1990: 271). Such an identity construction process creates imaginary worlds in which actors are trapped under one single identity which only really exists because of a few people’s needs. In fact, the niche wine of Ste Foy-Bordeaux is sold and drunk in accordance with representations and usage shared only by members of the social class which tries to distinguish from the mass of basic local wine producers. By using a glorious past, including Montaigne, which links local to La Grande Histoire, some Syndicate members attempt to create a unique and different product of symbolically high standard. They thus wish to be compared to “Bordeaux Grand wines” while leaving behind generic Bordeaux wines. As C. Fischler said, since the 1990s one notices “the escalation of up-market products with more and more sophisticated varieties and brands, at more and more selective prices: elite products and brands capable of distinguishing symbolically their consumer, to enrich and feed, if not their wallet, then their ambition and social identity” (Fischler, 2001: 21).

26In such a globalized context, symbolic power is at stake; the local importance of members of the Syndicate is not equal. Some members can claim to be ‘un notable’, though the relevance of this accolade is diversely perceived. Struggles to impose historic legitimacy over the present are taking place. In fact history is less the problem than is contemporary society; less the past than the present. Some wine makers, who claim their belonging to this once renowned Protestant territory, are proud to refer to a more ‘genuine’ history than the one produced by the neorural president and her Catholic acolytes. Backed by family archives, they consider that they possess concrete and visible roots: their ancestors’ tombs which occupy their garden since the XVIth century or guard their vineyards. Who needs Montaigne when one is the remote cousin of Paul Broca (a renowned anthropologist of his time) or Elisée Reclus (an anarchist geographer)? To these people it is pointless to exhibit publicly their belonging to the excellence of the terroir: it is obvious that “ours is no table wine!” The artificial aspect of the Brotherhood and of the Vituriales is just an artful trick compared to their own ancient occupation, their historical commitment to the local in favour of quality wine production and the cooperative movement. Thus, belonging to the local elite is understood. As the anthropologist G.Althabe used to say (1990: 269), ‘the notion of heritage is not a chance meeting’. Heritage is an artefact, here the result of some wine makers’ political and economic will to power, hierarchy and centrality.

27Nevertheless, beyond internal divergence, this patrimonial production is not only internal and ‘une identitaire’, or shared culture being accomplished within the frame of local collective identities, but it is also external and commercially oriented. The creation of the Maison des Vins12 and the wine routes of Pays Foyen, associating other local AOCs such as Monbazillac, Saussignac, Montravel and Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, are designed for potential customers. Syndicate members, either neorurals, Catholics or Protestants, aggregate when it comes to selling. Competition with Australian, Chilean and American wines prompts each of them to explore narrower market niches, and this requires singling out both production and markets. Mrs B. didn’t hesitate to sell her own production ready bottled, “the bottle under cover, carried confidentially like a rare object”. Mr C. explains how he travels across Europe with his bottles from house to house. He says he is welcomed like an artist at his customers’ tables (cf. Warnier, 1999).

28Wine production through this quest for roots, for a terroir, for a ‘fantasized’ history (e.g. Montaigne, Reclus) is an invention taking place within the wider frame of the quest for social distinction in relation to market demands and local power. Carried by innovation and change, the wine makers we met produce local identity. The making of a specific wine carries with it a meaning which produces real as well as imaginary effects on wine makers. Such a wine, labelled Ste Foy-Bordeaux, feeds imagination as much as culture because it reveals at once both local and international social and economic relations.

In conclusion

29The emergence of a Foyen wine terroir illustrates the patrimonialization process of local food products in a global context, and points to one of the paradoxes of our contemporary societies. On the one hand, socio-spatial mobility leads to multiple, sometimes superficial, territorialisation. On the other hand, attachment to a wine terroir necessitates sedentary territorialization ‘centred upon chosen places’ (Di Méo, 1996: 276). For instance, the Protestant family graveyards situated at the heart of the vineyards symbolize such roots. Through the rebirth of the Ste Foy-Bordeaux Appellation are revealed the creations and recreations of so-called “terroir” products which members of the Syndicate produce using diverse inherited and / or invented means. The foundation of the Foyen wine territory (Maison des Vins, Route des Vins – the Brotherhood parading through the City, the Vituriales on the town hall square and the banquet under the Bastide arcade) produce a social group defined by its closed environment: the vineyards. Even though the Syndicate is founded on historical incoherence and rivalry, as well as the current economic crisis in the wine sector, its members try to produce a common past capable of resolving the present socio-territorial contradictions (i.e. the invisibility of the Foyen wines).

30The patrimonialization of Foyen terroir is a process shaped by tangible modalities which owes nothing to chance. The winemakers’ choice depends on creating recognition and distinction according to new political and economic logics. A patrimonial strategy is implemented to address the random circumstances of local economic development because of the wine crisis. The symbolic and economic, being intimately linked, each reflects the hope of a present and future wine development. Yet those who are called grape growers, in opposition to wine makers, are no dupes particularly those who have strived to pull this activity out of marginality, and even more those who come from a traditional background. The patrimonialization process initiated by councillors and members of the Ste Foy-Bordeaux Syndicate is felt as a negation of their immense effort for modernization…pride in the accomplished work is relegated to a mere stereotype from the past. The image of a Pays Foyen fixed in the past reduces winemakers to the role of extras in the free market, ‘des figurants’, while they have to cope with enormous financial difficulties, conform to stringent quality requirements, and face the decline in wine consumption. This work shows that patrimonialization has become, in the globalised context, a new consensual category in the public space that is used to avoid analysis of the real political stakes of economic and social restructuring, which is currently taking place in the wine world and elsewhere.

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1 e.g. Demossier, 1999
2 Fieldwork was performed within the frame of the Contrat d’Objectif “Lieux, Territorialités, Mémoires” of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux 3 university.
3 Pedology is the study of soils.
4 Bergerac wines and their various appellations promote tourism and associate their terroir to local heritage sites: the Monbazillac château for example.
5 As early as 1990, wine makers in the area of Duras (Lot et Garonne) have used the Château of Duras to identify their terroir: “such a great vineyard in the palm of the hand”, representing the château surrounded by vineyards nestled in somebody’s hand.
6 At the beginning of the XXth century, the hostility of Gironde producers to accept Bergerac and Duras wines under the Bordeaux appellation was mostly caused by an overproduction crisis.
7 The denomination is commonly used to differentiate between Calvinist and Catholic communities living in the locality.
8 From different speeches by former Syndicate President, Mrs B.
9 Night festivals celebrating historic buildings in the town.
10 In memory of Pays Foyen inhabitants, the grape picking period remains an important time for identification to the wine world. Festivities, conviviality, inter-relations prompted because of newcomers’ presence, and the break in daily routine are some of the many elements which have an impact in people’s narrations.
11 Inhabitants of Pays Foyen
12 Maison des Vins: an exhibition hall and commercial outlet for local wines.
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Electronic reference

Chantal Crenn and Isabelle Techoueyres, “Local heritage to singularize a wine terroir: the example of pays Foyen (Gironde, France)”Anthropology of food [Online], S2 | March 2007, Online since 20 April 2007, connection on 01 October 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Chantal Crenn

Université de Bordeaux 3, France

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Isabelle Techoueyres

Université de Bordeaux 2, France

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