Over the past year, my days have been mostly consumed with writing our wine education book, Drink Progressively. It’s been a labor of love, partly because it has allowed me to flex my creative muscles, but also because it has allowed me to learn so much more about the history of wine itself.
Throughout the writing of the book, two enormous historical trends in wine emerged for me. The first was the incredible impact of the two World Wars on the European wine industry. It was fascinating to learn how the vineyards themselves were impacted, and how many vineyard owners had to compromise quality just to get their wine quickly back on the market. Making wine became more about survival than advancing the industry. It really took until the 1970s and 80s for winemakers to feel that their wineries had stabilized enough to go back to more traditional winemaking techniques, that emphasized quality over production. There is a book in here somewhere. Maybe some day I’ll write it!
The other trend that could not be ignored was the impact that immigrants had, and still have to this day, on the history and present day production of American wine. Countless immigrants, no matter where they entered the United States, made their way to California on the promise of affordable land and an industry to be born. Many of the most recognizable names in Napa history are immigrants – Jacob Schram (German), Charles Krug (Prussia), Jacob and Frederick Beringer (Germany), Gustave Niebaum (Finland), Jacob Gundlach (Bavaria) and Charles Bundschu (Germany), to name but a few. Sonoma owes its entire history to Agoston Haraszthy from Hungary, and the 100,000 vine cuttings he brought with him to America. The majority of the work done to clear the land for vineyards was done by Chinese immigrants who faced incredible discrimination throughout America.
Today, the wine industry, like all of the farming industry, could not exist without the immigrants that work in the vineyards for ten months out of the year. From planting to pruning to harvesting, these back breaking jobs are primarily done by immigrant workers, 90% of whom are Mexican. In fact, it was a land grant from the Mexican government to George C. Yount that is considered the most impactful historical moment in the birth of Napa Valley. #ThanksMexico!
Today, the descendants of Mexican immigrants are finally beginning to become winemakers and vineyard owners themselves, thanks to their own hard work and dedication to America’s wine industry. They believe part of what makes their wines special is that they were created from “a lot of struggle and passion.” (NYT, 9/13)
As restaurant workers in Boston and across our country strike today for #ADayWithoutImmigrants, we offer our support and thanks for the enduring legacy that immigrants past and present have had on an industry we love so much. Tonight we ask that you open something American made, and give a toast to the generations of immigrants who helped to make your wine.