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Book
Turning Water into Wine: The Political Economy of the Environment in Southern California's Wine Country
Graduate Theses and Dissertations
  • Jason Simms, University of South Florida
Date Approved
1-1-2013
Graduation Year
2013
Document Type
Dissertation
Degree
Ph.D.
Degree Granting Department
Anthropology
Major Professor
Kevin A. Yelvington
Keywords
  • development,
  • environmental anthropology,
  • natural resources,
  • neoliberalism,
  • Temecula,
  • viticulture
Abstract

This dissertation examines questions of water sustainability in contexts of wine production and state-led neoliberal development in the Temecula Valley, southern California, where wine tourism is at present being harnessed as an engine of economic growth. Natural and anthropogenic forces, such as global climate change, desertification, urban development, and the marketization and commodification of natural resources, affect the distribution and availability of water throughout the globe. As a result, the use of water, and associated political and environmental processes and consequences, in the production of global commodities, including wheat, citrus, and coffee, recently have come under increased scrutiny. Given wine's importance as a global commodity, and the concurrent growth of wine tourism as a worldwide phenomenon, local and regional water systems experience increasing strain to meet heightened demand for wine and the associated influx of tourists.

This dissertation presents an ethnographic account of water use in the production of wine in Temecula, a desert-like setting already deficient in water that faces increasing human-induced pressures on its limited supply. Despite its social importance, very few dedicated ethnographies of wine and winemaking within the United States exist.

This dissertation also describes the waterworld of Temecula, using (and critiquing) the model presented by Ben Orlove and Steven C. Caton that examines water in terms of value, equity, governance, politics, and knowledge systems, showing how these elements manifest in three "sites": the watershed, the water regime, and the waterscape. In Temecula, the winery serves as a central locus within the waterworld, a contested representation of the interests, goals, and perspectives of primary actors and stakeholders, while also serving as an important vector of landscape transformation through time. Despite this, no anthropological treatment examining water and winemaking within broader frameworks of the political economy of the environment and historical ecology is extant, a lacuna that this dissertation addresses.

Throughout 2012, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork including archival research, interviews, and participant-observation. For the majority of my fieldwork, I spent time at an established winery in Temecula, during which I participated in many tasks related to wine production, with a focus on water use. Throughout this process, I interviewed dozens of people, including long-time residents, early pioneers in the Temecula wine industry, winery and vineyard employees, water management professionals at local and state levels, environmental service technicians, and many others.

This dissertation demonstrates that under conditions of neoliberal development in challenging economic times in Temecula, environmental concerns such as water availability and sustainability are suppressed or downplayed in order to prioritize goals related to economic growth and development. Ultimately I suggest that developers and local business leaders are guiding this political legerdemain, even if only implicitly, above the din of objections from at least a good number of area wineries, vineyards, and residents. Also, I suggest that as an applied outcome, the totality of potential costs and outcomes at all scales, including regional, must be considered, rather than obfuscated, simplified, or restricted to a local boundary, especially in terms of natural resources and their governance, when such areas lie within locales inexorably connected within a delicate ecological web.

Citation Information
Jason Simms. Turning Water into Wine: The Political Economy of the Environment in Southern California's Wine Country. (2013)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jlsimms/1/