Soft Soil, Black Grapes – The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California by Simone Cinotto, teacher of history at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy. New York University Press, 2012.
Early Italian immigrants arrived in California during the Gold Rush from Northern Italy, primarily Liguria, Tuscany, and Piedmont. They were seeking their fortunes in gold but soon saw opportunities to establish influential businesses and financial communities. Ethnicity was important and highly sensitive in those early days. These immigrants used their identity to establish an ethnic niche in the wine industry although few came with wine growing or winemaking skills.
They formed Italian schools, churches, and communities based on their former village and regional identities. They hired fellow Italians to make pasta, olive oil, and chocolate in local factories and to work in canneries, dairies, on fishing boats, and in agriculture, orchards and vineyards. They built a narrative as hardworking new Americans with a work ethic that led land to ownership, naturalization, and independent occupations as farmers and winemakers.
The Piedmontese became dominant in the wine industry starting in the 1880s and 1890s. They shaped the development of the California wine industry as founders, winemakers, and growers. The Italian communities nationwide were their major consumers enhancing sales and national recognition.
The author highlights three of the largest historic wineries: Italian Swiss Colony, the Italian Vineyard Company, and the E&J Gallo Winery.
Simone Cinotto is also the author of The Italian American Table: Food, Family and Community in New York in New York City.