Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Communication and Information

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Dr. Chike Anyaegbunam

Second Advisor

Dr. Douglas Boyd

Abstract

The Kentucky wine industry has grown from six wineries in 1999 to more than sixty wineries as of 2013. However, the industry has reached a crucial point in its development as funds allotted from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement ended in 2014. As a result, Kentucky wine producers must navigate the demands of local, regional, national, and international wine markets without the same amount of economic support provided in the early stages of the industry’s development.

The purpose of this study was to investigate (1) how Kentucky wine producers use cultural associations to manage their brands, (2) communicate with multiple stakeholder groups in varying contexts, (3) determine the structure of the industry, (3) analyze how the industry’s organization affects stakeholder communication, and (4) identify the most pressing challenges affecting the industry.

A conceptual framework was constructed in order to answer the following research questions: (a) what are the cultural meanings produced through the communicative interactions of Kentucky wine industry producers and stakeholders, especially consumers? And (b) how do Kentucky wine industry businesses use brand management to position themselves in wine markets? A qualitative study involving participant observation, website analysis, and interviews was conducted.

Analysis revealed similarities between the Kentucky wine industry and Bourdieu’s description of a field of cultural production. Cultural associations were determined by local geography, local culture, and individual winemaker life experiences. Cultural associations were integrated into brand management strategies with interpersonal communication, particularly wine tastings and winery events, as the primary channels of stakeholder interaction. Websites were used as a channel for information dissemination. Future brand management concerns involve the establishment of a Kentucky terroir, availability and quality of local grapes, and the cultivation of partnerships with other state alcohol industries and state universities.

Implications suggest that the cultural production of wine functions in the same manner as the aesthetic fields of art and literature. Also, wine is a postmodern product in an industry demonstrating postmodern communication. The study expands the use of Rothenbuhler’s ritual communication and demonstrates the value of secondary texts for identifying the cultural position of a phenomenon as Oriard predicted.