Tradition or Control? Change of Product Categories in the Italian Wine Industry
25 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2008
Some form of categorization is always needed for the working of markets. Decision making of market actors is critically supported by the structure of the information available. Categories are essential to this structure: the convergence of supply and demand in exchanges requires shared sets of categories that simplify the choices of customers and suppliers, and foster their consistency. While shared categories can be regarded as structural givens, the dynamics of their definition and change deserves great interest in the study of markets' functioning. This is especially true when both the evaluation of functional/technical features, and the quality of exchanged goods, cannot be defined on objective grounds and become the object of social construction and political competition among industry actors. This study addresses the evolution of the Italian market of quality wine across the decade 1997-2006, by focusing on the change of product categories. This market is undergoing deep transformations, that can be summarized as a pressure to move from a traditional to a mass-market orientation, and are reflected in the change of the categories that give orientation to both production and consumption of wine. We document this change based on the ratings of products by the most important wine guides, the main industry media. In this work we draw on extensive datasets obtained by coding 10 years of the most prominent Italian wine guide: "I vini di Veronelli". We document that the DOC/DOCG classification of wines looses part of its significance in determining the quality status of wines as revealed by the ratings of the guides, while the association with prominent enologists and the adoption of certain wine aging practices are increasingly important.
Keywords: product categories, categories' change, market structure, denomination's system, wine guides, quality's evaluations, Italian Wine Industry
JEL Classification: O17, L66
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