carrot doesn’t jump out of the ground and land on your plate, Charlotte.” It was a much needed reminder from an Elder that when I want something, it doesn’t just drop out of thin air.
I can’t remember why the carrot came up—we were discussing burnout, after all—but I couldn’t get the image of it out of my head. I realized later that day that the carrot was a symbol of land and farming, and the fact that we consume so much without ever really understanding how it got to us in the first place.
Take for example land acknowledgements. Commonly mentioned at formal events and award shows, they are statements that recognize the traditional territory and treaties with Indigenous peoples who called the land home long before the arrival of settlers.
I remember the first time I encountered mention of one. I was sent a video of Anne Hathaway giving an acceptance speech for her Hollywood Walk of Fame star. Hathaway started by saying the land on which the stars rest is land of the Tongva people. She went on to talk about how they were the original caretakers of the land on which her namesake would rest, and how they are still with us in spirit today. These terse, concise words baffled me. While I appreciated the acknowledgement, the speech was laced with metaphors for imperialism: marking a piece of Indigenous land with a plaque bearing your name. It just didn’t make sense to me.
These small speeches have always been an interesting phenomenon to me, mostly because they are not mandated by any governing body, yet have become somewhat expected at many modern-day ceremonies. We start most events where people come together with them, and as expected as they are at these events, they haven’t made their way into the hospitality industry—a community that thrives off of togetherness and menus exploding with locally-grown everything.
Without an understanding of land and the connection to the people who have inhabited it in the past or present, is to simply underappreciate terroir at all.
The study of land has always been a core component to the wine industry in particular. Sommeliers wax poetic on the concept of terroir, romanticizing the idea of a place to help guide your imagination while you savour a sip of Cabernet. These same sommeliers attend wine tastings, they take notes, and even quiz each other on history and facts (I know because I’m one of these people). They celebrate knowledge to the highest degree, some even begin to shape their identity around the study of wine itself. Many have spent late nights painstakingly studying books on regions, wine laws, tracing maps, soil types, and just about everything to do with the fermentation process. They immerse themselves in the history of wine, how borders shifted from wars, and the ways that may have affected the wines’ profile. They learn about new generations of wine making and forward-thinking wine makers that have completely wiped some of the tired, old practices of the wine world. They delve deep into the regionality of food and how proximity to water or trade routes shapes cuisine. Through all of these studies, they seem to fall short in understanding the full picture of history as it relates to North America. Wine here cannot be divorced from its connection to Europe: a product of colonial and imperialist history.
When anyone delves into the history of wine, they may discover new regions. And while we often learn the history of a region, its wine, and even the winemakers, we rarely learn about the past colonization, imperialism, and the acts of violence leading to how that land came to be available. We almost never mention the people that were removed, displaced, or eliminated well ahead of the Cabernet plantings that followed. To leave so much out of the actual history of the land is to continue the erasure of the Indigenous People and aid in the dispossession and dislocation of those to this land.
As an Indigenous woman who works in the hospitality industry, this baffles me just as much as Anne Hathaway’s speech. There is work being done to bring land acknowledgements and this act of reconciliation into winemaking, recognizing that the land they are on now was not always producing Pinots and Baco Noirs. For example, Benjamin Bridge Winery in Nova Scotia includes this on their website:
What came to be known as the vineyards of Benjamin Bridge in 1999, are in fact a part of Mi’kma’ki - the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq Nation and home to the Peace and Friendship Treaties. Consistent with the essence of these Treaties and as allies, we wish to humbly acknowledge our friendship with Glooscap First Nation, with whom we’ve begun a lifelong relationship of reconciliation, with an annual public event at the vineyard featuring food, storytelling, and learning.
This small shift in acknowledging the Mi’kmaq Nation and that the lands they occupy are unceded creates a radical dialogue when discussing the wines produced. We are given a fuller picture of where these wines come from, and it forces us to confront the history of colonization in our food and beverage industry.
How can we talk about terroir, and the wines that come from it, without talking about the full history of those lands?
Then there is Nk’Mip Cellars from British Columbia, Canada’s first Indigenous-owned winery. Nk’Mip Cellars is owned by The Osoyoos Indian Band and serves as a reminder of the indomitable nature of Indigenous People. To create wines on Indigenous-owned land with European grapes—that were likely brought to that region years ago by settler populations—serves as a reclamation of land and terroir. The wines produced therefore encourage us to think about the country’s history of colonization, and to celebrate the Indigenous folk who have hands in the creation of them.
By bringing these concepts of land into our conversations about terroir in food and drink, we shift the dialogue away from one of ownership and into stewardship instead.
Discussing something as locally sourced without truly understanding that locality creates a gap in our ability to understand the actual history of it, which continues the erasure of Indigenous people past and present. When we bring land acknowledgements into these same conversations, we shift away from a memorized collection of phrases and words and into a moment of reflection: who we are, how we got here, and the complexity of a bottle of fermented grape juice. A study of Canada’s wine history, when including indigeneity in this way, allows us to understand our own relationship to the land we are on in a way that is genuine.
The wine in our glass came from somewhere and they brought that somewhere with them. We import wines and drive them across these colonized lands. We produce them here, on lands that hold a history long before the vines took root.
When I daydream about the future of wine education, I imagine the inclusion of colonization and Indigenous history when discussing terroir. Wine has long been beloved for its ability to connect people, but much like the carrot that didn’t just land on my plate, the wine we all love to drink did not fill its glass on its own.