This week we bottled the 2014 vintage of Deliverance, our flagship dry red blend. Deliverance has been with us from the beginning – it was a wine I’ve always wanted to make and a wine that I’m consistently proud of. There are plenty of things I love about Deliverance: the nose consistently has aromas of strawberry jam that I love, the acid is always tight and refreshing, etc. But on of the things I’m most proud of, and most stand behind, is the name.
Deliverance the wine is, unapologetically, named for the movie. For those unfamiliar, Deliverance was a 1972 film starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight based on the 1970 novel by Georgia native (and poet laureate) James Dickey. The movie was critically well received, heralded by reviewers and critics as a unflinching examination of ideas of masculinity and man vs. nature.
The trope of “man vs. nature” can be traced throughout film history, up to and including 2015’s The Revenant. What makes this trope problematic in Deliverance is Dickey’s and director Jon Boorman’s conception of the inhabitants of this dangerous wilderness as a part of nature, rather than a part of humanity. The residents of Deliverance’s fictionalized North Georgia community are portrayed as animals – communicating in accents that could pass for growls, living in shacks that resembled doghouses. Boorman draws no distinction between the inhabitants of the community and the animals that exist in its wilderness. Indeed in what may be Deliverance’s climactic scene (and definitely the scene most associated with the film), the inhabitants are portrayed as animals to their very sexuality, with an assault scene staged with animalistic grunts and the famous “squeal like a pig” line. This scene was so memorable, and Deliverance such a widespread cultural phenomenon, that the North Georgia mountains were tarnished by this depiction for decades.
Of course, this portrayal of Appalachian culture was nothing new. Indeed, the portrayal of Appalachians as uncivilized outsiders has a long history in the United States, and is often deployed in order to exploit the natural resources and land controlled by “hillbillies.” This was perhaps most blatantly shown in the annexation of over 500 families’ homes to form what is today Shenandoah National Park. The park commission argued to Congress that annexing this land and relocating the families would be doing them a favor, describing the inhabitants as “Steeped in ignorance, wrapped in self-satisfaction and complacency, possessed of little or no ambition, little sense of citizenship, little comprehension of law, or respect for law, these people present a problem that demands and challenges the attention of thinking men and women…” The motion was passed and 500 families were evicted from their land, now a park accessible to paying tourists from nearby Washington, D.C. We still see this exploitation today, though perhaps not as blatantly, with mountaintop removal coal mining, the rural drug epidemic, and the spiralling cycles of poverty that still grip many Appalachian communities.
In 2009, when we first planted Hightower Creek Vineyards, I was living in Boston. When I would tell peers that I was from Hiawassee, Georgia in the North Georgia Mountains, they would invariably respond with the familiar “Dueling Banjos” theme. It was the first time I had felt that my origins played a role in how I was perceived – as if I was seen as a “hillbilly” first and myself second. I was studying literature at the time, specifically postcolonial literature – the ways in which colonized people resisted their colonizers and formed distinct identity through writing. I began to identify more and more with postcolonial strategies of resistance, of reclaiming and subverting stereotypes to undermine the hegemonic culture’s beliefs and legitimacy.
I carried this back to Georgia with me, and remembered this when Deliverance was suggested as the name of one of our wines. Deliverance – a word that had so many connotations in rural North Georgia, that had defined a generation of mountain residents as depraved and uncivilized – would be our flagship red, a wine that I hoped could compete toe-to-toe with wines from more established wine regions. Each time a guest tastes Deliverance and remarks “I had no idea that wines like this were being made in this area,” it’s a victory for us, replacing a negative connotation of Deliverance with a positive one and allowing us to tell the area’s story on our own terms.
Deliverance is still a fraught term, and the film’s cultural impact is exponentially wider than our wines can reach. However, it’s been 44 years since that film was released. It’s time for us to reclaim Deliverance as our own and take responsibility for defining our region for ourselves.