Simone Cinotto has a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Genoa. He teaches U.S. and Italian history, as well as food history, at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, where he also directs the Masters Program in Food Culture and Communication. As a visiting professor, he has taught extensively in the U.S., including Columbia, Cornell, and New York University. 
In Soft Soil, Black Grapes, Simone Cinotto has made an original contribution not only to California wine-making history, but to the history of immigration in the U.S. before WWII.  His work focuses on the winemakers Andrew Sbarboro, the founder of Italian Swiss Colony Winery, Ernest and Julio Gallo, and Secondo Guasti, founder of the Italian Vineyard Company in what is now Rancho Cucamonga. But Cinotto’s study is not just another historical account of the development of winemaking in California.
Rather, he argues that the three early winemakers succeeded by exploiting the growing ethnic economy in America through social and cultural capital.  The radical implication of his work is that their successful exploitation of the ethnic economy can serve as a template for all immigrants in America.
Cinotto explains that his book “explores why, of all the many ethnic and immigrant groups in turn-of-the-century California, Italians were the ones who came to dominate one of the state’s most important agricultural industries; why a small minority of recent immigrants . . .  had the vision and the resources to accomplish such a task.” He goes on to explain that “Within California’s articulated ethno-racial structure . . . a group of Northern Italians managed to actively transform their middle-ground racial status into a crucial factor for the development of an ethnic niche.”
Cinotto argues that “The social and cultural capital that stemmed from the racial identity of these ethnic entrepreneurs allowed them to attract a nation-wide Italian American consumer base and develop their commercial networks.”  Yes, they worked hard. But Cinotto demonstrates that without the dynamic Italian immigrant market that purchased their products, wine, grapes, and grape products, they would have never succeeded. During Prohibition they were able to exploit loopholes in the law to continue to reach their Italian immigrant market.
Cinotto’s history is well researched. He used archives from Northern California to Southern California in 
his richly description of Sbarboro’s, the Gallos’  and Guasti’s wineries. It is widely known that the original Italian immigrants to Nort-hern California came from northern Italy: from A. P. Giannini, Marco Fontana, Domenico Ghirardelli, and Giovanni Pedroncelli, to Robert Mondavi,  Giovanni and Lorenzo Cella Secondo Guasti, the Gallos and Andrew Sbarbaro.
What distinguishes these Northern Italian immigrants is that they came not as peasants looking for work, but as businessmen looking to exploit the new markets that they imagined would be awaiting them in America. Some, such as Ghirardelli and Guasti, immigrated first to South America and Mexico, where they began their New World business careers, before they migrated to America.
They brought with them their business experiences and also a higher degree of literacy than their southern Italian counterparts who ultimately would make up the vast majority of the Italian immigrants coming to America, before the Johnson-Reed Exclusion act in 1924 reduced Italian immigration by nearly 99%.  
 As Cinotto explains, the three winemakers could not have become successful without the labor of those southern Italian immigrants, as well as other immigrants, that came West.
In fact, Cinotto explains that by statute, Italian Swiss Colony actually “reserved jobs for Italian immigrants: fifty of them worked at the winery year-round, but at harvest time and other peak periods a full two hundred were employed.” The unique contribution to immigrant studies that Cinotto makes in Soft Earth, Black Grapes is how the immigrant economy, what he calls “social and cultural capital,” worked for Sbarboro, Guasti, and the Gallos, as well as his workers.
In the exchange of what Cinotto calls social capital, the winemakers hired Italian immigrants at a lower and, it could be argued, even an exploitative pay scale. But in return the laborers had a more secure working environment. He argues that there was between co-ethnics a certain reciprocity: lower wages, perhaps, but greater job security. I have discovered in my research that this was a pattern among other ethnic groups, Japanese for example, throughout the West at the time. Such a relationship resulted in an immigrant group’s ability to compete in the open market. In addition, all the winemakers as well were able to exploit Italian immigrant sources of investment money to finance their enterprises.  From A.P. Giannini to a plethora of smaller Italian investors, share holders in the wineries felt that they could trust their co-ethnics, Sbarbaro, Guasti, and the Gallos.
Further, in probably the most intriguing pages in the book, Cinotto explains how, through the network of social and cultural capital, Sbarboro, Guasti, the Gallos, and other Italian winemakers, were able not only to survive Prohibition but to turn the Volstead Act (1919) to an even greater economic advantage in the marketplace. In the first place, Italian vintners were allowed to continue production of sacramental wines for the Catholic Church.  
The production of sacramental wines meant that Italian vintners’ wineries and vineyards could remain productive. Home winemakers, largely Italian immigrants, were able to make wine for home consumption. As a result, though wine production diminished under Prohibition, Italian winemakers had an ethnic market for their grapes. They turned their investment dollars towards grape production.
 Guasti, for example, who by 1920 had over five thousand acres of vineyards, sent wine grapes by rail throughout the U.S. and Canada. Orders would come to the winery via telegraph, and the winery would telegraph the buyer when his wine would arrive at the station.  In the place of refrigerated cars, Guasti’s workers packed the grapes in sawdust for shipping.  As Cinotto points out, by 1914 Italian Swiss had established an international market and shipped millions of gallons of wine abroad, to South America, China, and Japan.
As Cinotto explains, though it is impossible to verify, there was certainly a black market for wine. Guasti never believed that Prohibition would last and never really stopped producing wine in large volumes. What we do know is that with the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, the Italian Vineyard Company had more than one million gallons of wine in storage.  His continued production for an Italian immigrant market allowed Guasti to maintain his Mexican and Italian work force while the vast majority of California wineries, over 75%, were forced to close.
Italian vintners not only survived the Prohibition era; when it ended they were in a position to dominate winemaking in California. In his 1964 unpublished dissertation, Italians in California Agriculture, Hans Christian Palmer explained, by 1965 Italian vintners controlled more than sixty-five percent of wine cooperage in California.  In addition, as Palmer explains, the major Italian winemaking families had also intermarried. Ethnic social and cultural capital was at the basis of their overwhelming success in the wine industry.
The real value of Soft Soil, Black Grapes is that it is not just a window into Italian ethnic capital. Rather, Cinotto has created a model that applies to all immigrant communities in America, not just before World War II but into the twentieth-first century as well. Those communities, such as China Towns, Little Italys, Little Saigons, and Barrios, are not ghettoes, as they are more commonly described, but rather vibrant economic enterprise zones. They are all based on the principles of social and cultural capital that has always allowed immigrants to succeed in America.
We must hasten to add, however, such opportunities were never made available to Native Americans and African Americans. This is where Cinotto challenges contemporary politically correct constructions of race. There is no entity in social, cultural, or economic reality that constitutes “people of color.” There is, however, an immigrant narrative that is distinct from the African American and the Native American narratives.
While race matters for African Americans, it has never served as a barrier to success for immigrants who have always operated and succeeded under the model of the immigrant economy.  For the careful reader, Cinotto’s nuanced and well-researched study is an important contribution to the discourse over race in America.  He has opened an important door to further studies on how all immigrant communities succeed in spite of nativist resistance, historical and contemporary, to their settlement in America.
Ken Scambray’s most recent works are The North American Italian Renaissance: Italian Writing in America and Canada , Surface Roots: Stories, and Queen Calafia’s Paradise: California and the Italian American Novel .

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