Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California

Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California

Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California

Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California

Synopsis

From Ernest and Julio Gallo to Francis Ford Coppola, Italians have shaped the history of California wine. More than any other group, Italian immigrants and their families have made California viticulture one of America's most distinctive and vibrant achievements, from boutique vineyards in the Sonoma hills to the massive industrial wineries of the Central Valley. But how did a small group of nineteenth-century immigrants plant the roots that flourished into a world-class industry? Was there something particularly "Italian" in their success? a In this fresh, fascinating account of the ethnic origins of California wine, Simone Cinotto rewrites a century-old triumphalist story. He demonstrates that these Italian visionaries were not skilled winemakers transplanting an immemorial agricultural tradition, even if California did resemble the rolling Italian countryside of their native Piedmont. Instead, Cinotto argues that it was the wine-makers' access to "social capital," or the ethnic and familial ties that bound them to their rich wine-growing heritage, and not financial leverage or direct enological experience, that enabled them to develop such a successful and influential wine business. Focusing on some of the most important names in wine history- particularly Pietro Carlo Rossi, Secondo Guasti, and the Gallos- he chronicles a story driven by ambition and creativity but realized in a complicated tangle of immigrant entrepreneurship, class struggle, racial inequality, and a new world of consumer culture. a Skillfully blending regional, social, and immigration history, Soft Soil, Black Grapes takes us on an original journey into the cultural construction of ethnic economies and markets, the social dynamics of American race, and the fully transnational history of American wine

Excerpt

Italians have played a major role in shaping the California wine industry, as is clear by the profusion of vowel-ending names among the state’s wineries. In fact, many of the Italian American wineries that now dot the map of California’s wine regions are third-generation immigrant operations whose heritage goes back to men and women who left Italy for the Golden State at the turn of the twentieth century. Italian grape growers and winemakers have not been alone in making California wine a quintessentially immigrant industry: when they first started arriving in the 1880s, they joined already established German, French, and Scandinavian immigrant winemaking ventures. In the century that spanned from the 1880s to the 1980s, however, Italians almost single-handedly transformed the American wine market from a reserve of immigrant groups and urban Europhile elites into the mass national market it remains today.

Soft Soil, Black Grapes explores why, of all the many ethnic and immigrant groups in turn-of-the-twentieth-century California, Italians were the ones who came to dominate one of the state’s most . . .

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