Wine and Identity in Interwar Italy
As one of only a few uninterrupted practices between the ancient and modern Mediterranean worlds, viti-viniculture is commonly identified, by both contemporary winegrowers and consumers alike, as one of Italy's "living heritages." Showing up frequently in Greek and Roman literature, as motifs in medieval earthenware and architecture, and in the purportedly timeless practices of a tradition-oriented Italian countryside, grape vine cultivation and winemaking appear, to many, as a static agro-cultural continuity between the Italy of the Caesars and the Italy we know and love today. This slippage between the wines of antiquity and those of modern industrial-scale producers is, of course, systematically exploited by many contemporary winemakers. Any casual glance at a modern Italian wine label illuminates the highly selective histories, heritages, and traditions many producers and merchants purposefully highlight in marketing their wines to prospective and unsuspecting consumers. Invariably, none of these histories include the Ventennio nero during which, my monograph-in-progress demonstrates, so much of the industrial and commercial foundations of Italian winemaking, as well as the socio-cultural framework for "Italian" identity, were firmly established.
During the interwar years, Italy's Industrial Wine Lobby (IWL)—a small but influential group of pro-fascist luxury winegrowers, merchants, and industrialists, mostly from the country's prosperous North—worked feverishly to rehabilitate the beverage's downtrodden public image, specifically among the peninsula's wayward salaried and privileged classes. Stemming from a combination of decreasing wholesale prices for common wines and rising wages for the country's factory laborers during the opening decades of the twentieth century, the popular classes had gradually become, in the anxious words of one contemporary, "the great mass of drinkers in Italy." The immediate post-World War I years, however, only accelerated these worrisome developments. Wine's various roles in the country's cost-of-living riots in the summer of 1919 and, shortly thereafter, the violent clashes between labor union leaders, rank-and-file workers, and Benito Mussolini's squadristi in Italy's popular wine taverns and saloons during the subsequent years, merely served in reinforcing the beverage's associations with physical and moral degeneration among the laboring masses. In response to these commercial challenges, Fascist Italy's pro-wine lobbyists launched a series of wide-ranging public relations and collective marketing campaigns which were designed to inform domestic consumers about the myriad benefits of moderate wine consumption and, equally as significant, recontextualize the peninsula's typical wines as the country's hygienic, family-friendly "national beverages."
In making these claims, my research engages with a wide range of interdisciplinary scholarly debates regarding the various contributions made by the fascist regime's nationalization and mass mobilization campaigns within the construction of a shared sense of italianità during the interwar decades. Between 1922 and 1945, the Duce's regime mobilized the Italian masses towards the formation of what many Blackshirts frequently referred to as a "new order." Intended to forestall purportedly degenerative social, cultural, and economic trends among the body politic, Fascism's project of national regeneration was designed to stimulate a widespread feeling of collective belonging among the peninsula's regionally fragmented populations and facilitate the regime's inter-related campaigns of political, commercial, and colonial expansionism. While significantly expanding our understanding of Fascism's impacts upon Italians' mentalités and collective practices, however, the majority of scholarly research on Italian Fascism has largely overlooked the inconspicuous but nonetheless influential roles played by intermediating agents, groups, and organizations, such as the IWL, within the shaping of the foundations of a distinctly Italian national consciousness during the 1920s and 1930s. By analyzing the varying ways in which the IWL, in partnership with Mussolini's dictatorship, sought to rebrand the peninsula's typical wines as the country's "millennial" beverages, therefore, this study intends to significantly expand upon our understanding of the complex dynamics of political agency and culture-shaping power in Fascist Italy.
- "Bacchus among the Blackshirts: Wine Making, Consumerism and Identity in Fascist Italy, 1919–1937," Contemporary European History 29:4 (November 2020): 394-415
- "'He Who Drinks Wine Never Dies': Wine, Beer, and the Battle over ‘Italian’ Taste and Style in Fascist Italy" (in progress)
- “(Inter)National Spirits: On the Cultural Politics of the Cocktail Craze in Mussolini’s Italy, 1920s-1930s,” in David Inglis and Hang Kei Ho, eds., Drinks in Vogue: Understanding the Interplay Between Fashions and Beverages (forthcoming with Routledge)
- Cultivating Fascism: Wine, Politics, and Identity in Mussolini's Italy (in progress)
A multi-publication research project on the relationship between industrial-scale winemaking, the totalitarian politics of the Duce’s twenty-year dictatorship, and the formation of a shared sense of “italianità” (Italianness) in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s.