In closing the essay ‘Le Vin et le Lait’ (from the classic book Mythologies), Roland Barthes agrees that while wine is ‘a beautiful and good substance…its production makes a large contribution to French capitalism, whether it is the maker of a Grand Cru or one of those big Algerian colonialists who impose on the muslims a culture they have nothing to do with while at the same time they lack bread’.
Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of wine is that it is hard to find examples of its international propagation that are not related to conquest and colonisation. Imagine the smallholder sitting with his rye and chickens on a small hill in Pauillac when along comes a Roman legion… Then a few villas pop up and before our peasant knows it, a local equite comes along and asks him to plant grapes. What on earth does a peasant, who has done just fine without grapes for the last thousand years, want to plant grapes for? You get my point. It’s the same as Barthes’.
New Zealand is no exception. The first white colonies settled around the Bay of Islands; guess where the first grapes were planted…
But lets not make an issue of it. Fast forward to now and it seems clear from my own experience (I must emphasise that this is personal experience here, not fact, and I would be gracious and happy to be told I was totally wrong) that cellars are the domain of middle class white boys and girls. Rarely, and I mean really rarely, have I met someone of Maori or Pacific Island origin in a wine cellar.
Now you could say that it is a cultural thing but I’d point to the observation (again, I underline ‘observation’ – if anyone has any facts on this, I’d love to hear and publish them – even if I’m wrong) that there are clearly lots of Maoris, Pacific Islanders and immigrants working in the vineyards. Why is it that only the white kids can touch the wine?
It would, of course, be ridiculous to single out New Zealand here. The same observations hold just as well in France or the United States where immigrants (eastern europeans and hispanics) work in the vineyard but the white boys and girls run the cellar. Although I admit that when I worked in Burgundy, one of the few permanent guys in the cellar was Muslim.
So there are clearly exceptions. And before people reading this shrug their shoulders a say ‘well, that’s just the way it is’, it might be worth remembering that that attitude did not get women the vote.