From attribute to quality signal - and back again? The adoption of screwcaps on fine wines, 1970-2012

Malte Doehne, ZU Friedrichshafen - Sociology
More than 400 million bottles of wine are adversely affected by faulty cork closures each year. Premium winemakers are well aware of the problem and a solution long exists in form of the screwcap. Used on table wines since the 1930s, it eliminates two of cork’s major potential flaws: cork taint and premature oxidation. In recent years, a premium screwcap for use on expensive wines has been gaining market shares in some winemaking regions but not at all in others. The explanation commonly offered for non-adoptive behavior is that consumers associate screwcaps with wines of low quality and that premium winemakers must therefore use corks to signal the high quality of their product. While intuitive, this explanation fails to address the conditions under which adoption behaviors change and upon whose initiative such changes take place when they do. In this paper, I address these questions and their implications for understanding the diffusion of innovations on markets. I develop my argument as an empirical application of Harrison White’s ‘Markets from Networks’-approach. Drawing on a dataset of 35,000 wines made by 650 winemakers in 10 winemaking regions of Germany, I examine the adoption of screwcaps across multiple market contexts. I find evidence that variation in screwcap adoption is indicative of underlying differences in both local market structure and the relative market position of adopters. In presenting my findings, I demonstrate how 'Markets from Networks’ can be made fruitful for empirical analysis.
March, 25 2014 | 12:30 - | 230E Gross Hall

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