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Fall foliage at Napa Valley

November 19th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Readers on this blog know I post pictures from time to time. Today, I was at Napa Valley checking out fall foliage. Below are few taken at the Baldacci Family Vineyards next to Silverado Trail road. There is a China connection too. Napa Valley was a mining town and saw the first wave of laborers from Canton province in the 1860s into California. (More on the Chinese connection later.) Immediately below is a bundle of grapes still hanging on the vine while harvest season is well over now. Wineries in Napa Valley are busy processing grapes; squeezing out the juice, fermenting, and then aging to produce wine.

Fall foliage at Napa Valley, California

Before the grape vines shed their leaves, they turn yellow, orange, and red. Today, I was hoping for the Californian golden sun, but alas it was overcast. The rolling hills of vines neatly in columns with colorful leaves still make for an amazing view. I guess I have an excuse to return until the weather is right.

Fall Foliage at Napa Valley, California

Our eyes naturally find patterns pleasing. Photography oftentimes is about spotting patterns, including finding them near the ground!

Fall Foliage at Napa Valley, California

Okay, so, what’s the interesting ‘Chinese’ connection? According to wikipedia.org:

In 1858 the great silver rush began in Napa Valley, and miners flocked to the eastern hills. In the 1860s, mining carried on, on a large scale, with quicksilver mines operating in many areas of Napa County. At this time, the first wave of rural, foreign laborers from coastal villages of China’s Canton province arrived in California, and at Napa County mines. Global investment bankers and national trading companies, especially British, imported this first wave of cheap workers to do the manual labor needed to build a country. In contrast, the 49ers were often literate Anglo-Americans from the East concerned about the rights of labor. Gold rush wages were high with California enjoying a demand for workers. This condition set in motion a clash that resulted in the White Workingman’s Party movement. Napa Valley vintner Charles Krug was treasurer. The socialist Kearny led the Party to control the State government in the 1870s. These predominately Irish- or German-born newcomers eventually passed the “anti-stick” legislation that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act. The racial prejudices against the Chinese, the end of slavery in Brazil, and the Civil War in the United States, saw the need to recruit a new group for doing the dirty work to expand global trade and commerce. For investors (especially in Northern Europe), this reality changed the source of labor to Southern Europeans, mostly Catholic. The next wave of cheap laborers also came from coastal provinces; but close to the Port of Genova in Italy. In the 1880s, these illiterate young men from the hillside villages of Valbrevenna signed contracts as braccianti with shipping companies for passage to work in Napa County silver mines at Knoxville, Oat Hill, the Sierra foothills and on ranches in Uruguay-Argentina. America was an opportunity for young people to own good land. The wives and family came later. In the history of Napa, the names of Arata, Banchero, Bartolucci, Borreo, Brovelli, Forni, Rossi, Navone, Massa, Nichelini, Vasconi, are surnames of many families who re-planted their roots from Switzerland’s Ticino region, Italy’s Piedmont areas of Lago Maggiore and Cuneo Valley, Genova’s inland hills of Valbrevenna, and along the Riviera Coast from Lucca into France.

The above passage is not exactly clear who was directly responsible for the Chinese Exclusion Act, but it seems to imply it was the Napa Valley vintners. Once the Chinese were excluded, they imported laborers from southern Europe.

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  1. November 25th, 2012 at 23:21 | #1

    Beautiful photos and an interesting bit of history!

  2. November 26th, 2012 at 10:09 | #2

    @Guo Du

    The other thought I had – for in continuation of my post I guess – is that later waves of laborers from southern Europe had their share of discrimination too. The later group fought to be treated equally.

    If we map the trajectory of rights in America, it is easy to see the Anglo Americans got the best deal followed by the other Europeans. Those most ill-treated were the Blacks, Native Americans, and other minorities.

    That says a lot about human nature too. Human beings clique together most with those they think are similar to them – often at the expense of the rest.

  3. perspectivehere
    November 26th, 2012 at 16:09 | #3


    There is a great book about attitudes towards Chinese and African Americans in California that you might like to read or browse: Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States by Najia Aarim-Heriot

    From Chapter Two: The Beginning of the Negroization of the Chinese in California, 1850-1853

    By the end of 1849, only a few hundred Chinese had come to seek their fortune in California. In 1851, however, the outbreak of the Taiping Rebellion against the Manchu dynasty plunged China in fifteen years of civil war and social unrest. This rebellion originated in the economic depression that had been plaguing China since the 1839-1842 Opium Wars with Britain. Forced to pay large indemnities to the Western imperialist powers engaged in these wars, the Qing government had imposed heavy taxes on the peasants. Unable to pay, most of them had lost their land and migrated to the coastal provinces of Guangdong (Kwangtung) and Fujian (Fukien). this situation was aggravated by a series of natural disasters that caused food shortages. Emigration became an important safety valve for the growing and impoverished population along the coast. Paralleling these push factors, rumors of easy wealth in California caused a movement of Chinese emigrants from the Guangdong area to the “Golden Mountains”, their name for California. Other destinations for Chinese emigrants were the West Indies and latin America.”

    The chapter goes on to describe how the Chinese were treated much like the African Americans in California, “initiated into the reality of white supremacy and its corollary, the dual or split labor market. Faced with prejudice and discrimination, many African Americans in California had turned to menial trades that were not coveted by white laborers and to which whites referred to as “nigger work,” such as cooking, laundering, and unskilled labor. So long as they opted for such occupations, they were safe from harassment. In 1850, when their number was still small, the Chinese followed the pattern of African Americans’ economic adjustment. They concentrated in the lower-paid activities that did not lead to conflict with white laborers, and it was not uncommon to read positive reportage on them. When the Chinese ventured into mining activities, though, they faced the same opposition as other nonwhite miners.”

    The chapter goes on to describe the first anti-Chinese legislation. This prompted a strong reaction from a Chinese American businessman, Norman Asing, written in 1852. His open letter to then-California governor John Bigler, is a surprising read which explodes many pre-conceptions people have about Chinese at the time:


    I am a Chinaman, a republican, and a lover of free institutions; am much attached to the principles of the government of the United States, and therefore take the liberty of addressing you as the chief of the government of this State.

    Your official position gives you a great opportunity of good and evil. Your opinions through a message to a legislative body have weight, and perhaps none more so with the people, for the effect of your late message has been thus far to prejudice the public mind against my people, to enable those who wait the opportunity to hunt them down, and rob them of the rewards of their toil. You may not have meant that this should be the case, but you can see what will be the result of your propositions.

    I am not much acquainted with your logic, that by excluding population from this State you enhance its wealth. I have always considered that population was wealth; particularly a population of producers, of men who by the labor of their hands or intellect, enrich the warehouses or the granaries of the country with the products of nature and art.

    You are deeply convinced you say ‘that to enhance the prosperity and preserve the tranquility of this State, Asiatic immigration must be checked.’ This, your Excellency, is but one step towards a retrograde movement of the government, which, on reflection, you will discover; and which the citizens of this country ought never to tolerate. It was one of the principal causes of quarrel between you (when colonies) and England; when the latter pressed laws against emigration, you looked for immigration; it came, and immigration made you what you are — your nation what it is. It transferred you at once from childhood to manhood and made you great and respectable throughout the nations of the earth.

    I am sure your Excellency cannot, if you would, prevent your being called the descendant of an immigrant, for I am sure you do not boast of being a descendant of the red man. But your further logic is more reprehensible. You argue that this is a republic of a particular race — that the Constitution of the United States admits of no asylum to any other than the pale face. This proposition is false in the extreme, and you know it. The declaration of your independence, and all the acts of your government, your people, and your history are all against you.

    It is true, you have degraded the Negro because of your holding him in involuntary servitude, and because for the sake of union in some of your states such was tolerated, and amongst this class you would endeavor to place us; and no doubt it would be pleasing to some would-be freemen to mark the brand of servitude upon us. But we would beg to remind you that when your nation was a wilderness, and the nation from which you sprung barbarous, we exercised most of the arts and virtues of civilized life; that we are possessed of a language and a literature, and that men skilled in science and the arts are numerous among us; that the productions of our manufactories, our sail, and workshops, form no small share of the commerce of the world; and that for centuries, colleges, schools, charitable institutions, asylums, and hospitals, have been as common as in your own land.

    That our people cannot be reproved for their idleness, and that your historians have given them due credit for the variety and richness of their works of art, and for their simplicity of manners, and particularly their industry. And we beg to remark, that so far as the history of our race in California goes, it stamps with the test of truth the fact that we are not the degraded race you would make us. We came amongst you as mechanics or traders, and following every honorable business of life. You do not find us pursuing occupations of degrading character, except you consider labor degrading, which I am sure you do not; and if our countrymen save the proceeds of their industry from the tavern and the gambling house to spend it on farms or town lots or on their families, surely you will admit that even these are virtues.

    You say ‘you desire to see no change in the generous policy of this government as far as regards Europeans.’ It is out of your power to say, however, in what way or to whom the doctrines of the Constitution shall apply. You have no more right to propose a measure for checking immigration, than you have the right of sending a message to the Legislature on the subject. As far as regards the color and complexion of our race, we are perfectly aware that our population have been a little more tan than yours.

    Your Excellency will discover, however, that we are as much allied to the African race and the red man as you are yourself, and that as far as the aristocracy of skin is concerned, ours might compare with many of the European races; nor do we consider that your Excellency, as a Democrat, will make us believe that the framers of your declaration of rights ever suggested the propriety of establishing an aristocracy of skin.

    I am a naturalized citizen, your Excellency, of Charleston, South Carolina, and a Christian, too; and so hope you will stand corrected in your assertion ‘that none of the Asiatic class’ as you are pleased to term them, have applied for benefits under our naturalization act. I could point out to you numbers of citizens, all over the whole continent, who have taken advantage of your hospitality and citizenship, and I defy you to say that our race have ever abused that hospitality or forfeited their claim on this or any of the governments of South America, by an infringement on the laws of the countries into which they pass. You find us peculiarly peaceable and orderly. It does not cost your state much for our criminal prosecution. We apply less to your courts for redress, and so far as I know, there are none who are a charge upon the state, as paupers.

    You say that ‘gold, with its talismanic power, has overcome those natural habits of non-intercourse we have exhibited.’ I ask you, has not gold had the same effect upon your people, and the people of other countries, who have migrated hither? Why, it was gold that filled your country (formerly a desert) with people, filled your harbours with ships and opened our much-coveted trade to the enterprise of your merchants.

    You cannot, in the face of facts that stare you in the face, assert that the cupidity of which you speak is ours alone; so that your Excellency will perceive that in this age a change of cupidity would not tell. Thousands of your own citizens come here to dig gold, with the idea of returning as speedily as they can. We think you are in error, however, in this respect, as many of us, and many more, will acquire a domicile amongst you.

    But, for the present, I shall take leave of your Excellency, and shall resume this question upon another occasion which I hope you will take into consideration in a spirit of candor. Your predecessor pursued a different line of conduct towards us, as will appear by reference to his message.

    I have the honor to be your Excellency’s very obedient servant, Norman Asing”


    Norman Asing sounds like he would be a blogger on HH if he were alive today.

  4. November 26th, 2012 at 22:17 | #4

    Appreciate the compliment for the blog. And thanks for always digging up so much interesting stuff for us and readers here.

    Btw, I checked out the web site in your last link, and on the ‘Chinese’ section, I thought it interesting when it narrated China’s 1800’s condition this way:

    China was a nation in chaos in the first half of the 19th century. Between the 1850s and 1864, civil war killed millions, and millions more were forced from their homes. When news of the discovery of gold in California reached the embattled country, many Chinese made the long journey east to try their luck in the place they called Gum Saan, Cantonese for Gold Mountain. Like many foreign miners before them, the Chinese faced hostility and discrimination when they arrived.

    Notice what’s missing? It completely ignored the Opium Wars and Western imperialist powers for playing a part in China’s miserable condition which precipitated the immigration. Not sure if it is done on purpose, but one way or the other, this is how the Western world brainwashes its people of history – through omission.

  5. November 26th, 2012 at 23:57 | #5


    Thanks! And bravo Asing! I bet you no one could have expected a picture of vine leaves to foster such interesting discussions. This is a truly special blog.

    With the benefit of more than a century of hindsight, it amuses me to look at the irony of history with a touch of philosophy though. Back then, the sun never set on the Union Jack, hoisted by gunboats and deceit. A few generations later, the United Kingdom is struggling to retain Scotland. On the other hand, China’s boundary was consolidated by astounding defeats, suffering huge casualties. They brought Mongolia, Tibet and Manchuria etc. Technically, “China” is a part of these territories, but not seeking independence. In the long run, “conquering” with “defeat and civilisation” is perhaps more viable than force.

    The Opium War was the despicable act of a pirate nation. I suppose that’s why it is being “phased out” of “Western” history. The colonial powers have since become more self-respecting, even self-righteous. It is hard to imagine them trading drugs so blatantly these days, even well versed in double-standard. Imperial China, never short of self-respect on the other hand, would not have stooped that low even in her darkest and lowest days. But it helped to wake the country up. Without it, China could still have an emperor. But of course history is no place for big IFs.

    Meanwhile, Britain became dependent on the wealth generated by opium and guns, and gradually lost its industriousness and productivity. Easy money generated by force is more addictive than opium, and just as enervating. Is the US similarly hooked?

    Imperial China needed that wakeup call. We owe Britain a big “thank you gentlemen” for having delivered it just in time. China had a vast civilisation base. It had no excuse for losing to a bunch of seafaring pirates. In many ways, it was the Qing Dynasty, not the Europeans, that defeated itself.

    I feel more sorry for the Africans, and the native Indians who were naive enough to watch more than 800 signed (or fingerprinted) treaties filed in the garbage bin, got pumped full of bullets while watching, then caricatured and vilified in Cowboy-and-Indian movies. They were raped, then called prostitutes until recently. They did not have a base to resist the god-fearing invaders; and most were permanently uprooted.

  6. perspectivehere
    November 27th, 2012 at 09:02 | #6


    I agree. Omission, whether deliberate or inadvertent, gives an incomplete picture which calls out for remedy.

    Thanks for posting about Chinese contributions to Napa Valley’s wine heritage.

    Even though Chinese were a significant force in California’s economic and cultural development in the nineteenth century, we know very little relative to all that they did. I’m hopeful that more historians will do research to restore some of these stories for future generations to appreciate, like this one: The Bing Cherry, the most produced variety of sweet cherry in the USA.

    According to Wikipedia, the Bing cherry “was created as a crossbred graft from the Black Republican cherry in 1875 by Oregon horticulturist Seth Lewelling and his Manchurian Chinese foreman Ah Bing, for whom the cultivar is named. Ah Bing was reportedly born in China and immigrated to the U.S. in about 1855. He worked as a foreman in the Lewelling family fruit orchards in Milwaukie [Oregon] for about 35 years, supervising other workers and caring for trees. He went back to China in 1889 for a visit. Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 he never returned to the United States. Sources disagree as to whether Ah Bing was responsible for developing the cultivar, or whether it was developed by Lewelling and named in Bing’s honor due to his long service as orchard foreman.”

    What a great story. I appreciate the Lewelling family for recognition of Ah Bing’s contribution. While there were many hateful, white-supremicist types of Americans, there were also white Americans who welcomed the Chinese and provided homes, education, care and services to Chinese. It seems like the Lewelling family is one of the latter ones.

    This August 1973 article from East West gives some more interesting details about Ah Bing. He started out in gold mining, but when he moved to Oregon he learned to cook and worked for Seth Lewelling as a cook and nurseryman. Ah Bing became a successful amateur horticulturalist and eventually became Mr Lewelling’s foreman. Lewelling’s stepdaughter, in a 1936 interview, recalls that Ah Bing was over 6 feet tall. Mr Lewelling employed 20 to 30 Chinese workers. During the Anti-Chinese riots in Washington and Oregon, Lewelling protected the Chinese by having them live in his home.

    There is more to this story. Seth Lewelling’s brother, John, did not join his brother in Oregon, but settled in the St Helena district of Napa Valley in 1864, and started a vineyard there. The Lewelling Wine Co. on Olive Avenue is still an active winery, about 11 miles from the Baldacci Family Vineyard where you took these lovely photographs.

    St Helena has an active historical society which has done quite a bit of historical research on Chinese there. A lady by the name of Mariam Hansen has spent many hours poring over old microfilm newspapers and records to document the history of the Chinese heritage in St. Helena.

    Ms Hansen gave a talk on June 14, 2011 entitled “Canton to St. Helena – Chinese Immigration to Napa Valley” together with Chinese Historical Society of America historian Philip P. Choy.

    Here is a transcript of that talk: The Chinese Heritage of St Helena, Napa Valley.

    “In 1868 the Napa Valley Railroad construction crews reached St. Helena. They needed large amounts of gravel from our gravel quarry to lay down the base for the tracks.

    Although a few Chinese were previously living in Napa, the need for a large labor force to move gravel brought the first large group of Chinese immigrants to the upper Napa Valley. They were housed where they worked, next to the gravel pit, which is now owned by Harold Smith & Sons.

    In the economic downturn of 1873, wine sales dropped. Vineyardists wanted to cut costs and have a large labor force available whenever needed. A request to a labor contractor in San Francisco would bring a train car load of men on the next day’s train.

    In 1872 it was written “grapes in the northern portion of the state are picked by Chinamen, who will pick an average of 1500 pounds a day. They board themselves and are paid $1 a day” (Overland Monthly Jan 1872 p41). During a time of huge increase in vineyard development here, a large farm labor force was needed to clear land and plant vines.

    The contribution of Chinese to the wine industry was not publicized in those days. When Harper’s Weekly published a drawing of the harvest of 1878 showing Chinese stomping grapes with their feet, the industry was outraged. Partially because of the clean image, but also because grapes were in fact crushed in a press.

    Only when an accident or death was reported, were vintners who employed Chinese named in the newspaper. A man got his finger caught in a grape crusher owned by St. Helena’s first mayor Henri Pellet in 1876.
    Chinese also worked in fields, hopyards and mines. Some were household servants, cooks, laundrymen, merchants and clerks. They dug the caves at Beringer and Schramsberg. About 100 Chinese worked on the railroad between Napa and St. Helena in 1880. The Sage Canyon Road, now hwy 128, was being graded by 125 Chinese in 1886.

    There were some who spoke English, became labor contractors, and developed good relations with grape and hops growers, mining companies, builders and quarries. Quong Goon Loong was one and he also sold tea, sugar, rice, slippers, and bamboo hats. Wah Chung was a prominent labor contractor in 1875. At harvest time he had 300 men waiting to harvest grapes and hops, so many that the 3 wells went
    dry in Chinatown. Wah Chung had business cards printed by the St. Helena Star printers.

    The ghetto was located on what is now West Charter Oak Avenue, set back from Main Street and parallel with it, described as a smoky dragon. It was the first thing a visitor would see on approaching St. Helena. Home to about 400 men at its height, there were open sewers and slaughtering between the shacks.

    Chinese were not allowed to own property, so their landlord was John Gillam, who provided rude, hastily thrown up shacks made of scrap lumber. By 1870 there was a China store and Cantonese restaurant (Dillon p224). By 1884 there were boarding houses, a hotel, more stores, the employment office and a Taoist temple.
    Ginger’s China Store was in business for 25 years and contracted labor. His ad in 1877 read “Chinese help furnished-San Sing at Ginger’s will furnish all kinds of Chinese help. Good men at cheap prices.” Mow Hing advertised “Charley’s Wash House” on Oak Avenue every week in the newspaper in 1875, promising “no mistakes.”

    In 1882 the delinquent tax list included a long list of locals, but also Ah Jim, Hop Wah &Co, Mow Fung, Yee Kay, Quong Yuen Lung, and Quong, Wing & Co.

    Chinatown’s Taoist temple was completed in 1891, located at western end of the ghetto. A grand dedication was held with entertainment by a Chinese band from Napa. During the three days 10 roast pigs were consumed by the over 100 attendees. The newspaper described the interior: “ a large table with a bronze pedestal topped by a gold-mounted dragon, surrounded by four bronzed vases and several incense burners. On both sides of the room were two long boards artistically painted with the names of the Napa and Calistoga members engraved there on. The building cost $5000, all donated.

    White locals objections stemmed from the bad impression visitors got from Chinatown’s location at the approach to town. But it also stemmed from Chinese willingness to work for lower wages and longer hours than whites, plus they did not expect room and board. Local merchants were incensed that Chinese only shopped in Chinese stores.

    The Anti-Chinese movement spread throughout California. In 1877 slumlord Gillam received a letter threatening to burn down Chinatown if he not stop employing Chinese workers. The letter was printed in the newspaper, written by a barely literate agitator.

    The St. Helena Star contributed to the hysteria by writing things like “tallow colored rat eaters of the celestial kingdom are buying many guns in Napa” and “the filthy den of disease breeding Chinamen”. A group of St. Helenans attended a speech by Denis Kearney, the labor rabble rouser, in Napa in 1878, riding there in a rail car decorated with a banner declaring “Chinese must go!”

    Editorials often espoused hiring white men and boys for farm labor instead of Chinese. In December 1885 300 locals met at city hall and formed an Anti-Coolie league. Vintners cautioned that the grape harvest would not happen without Chinese labor. The Knights of Labor passed around a petition in 1886 in support of restricting Chinese immigration.

    By February 1886 the Anti-Coolie league decided the best way to remove Chinatown was to buy it. Four members, Sciaroni, Simmons, Logan and Davis, pooled funds and obtained title from John Gillam. The Chinese Six companies almost beat them with a higher price. The four had acquired another property elsewhere and requested all Chinese to move there within 30 days, offering free rent for 99 years. Merchants proved they had valid leases, hired a Napa lawyer, and refused to move. The case went to US District Court, was drawn out for several years, during which time no rent was paid and the tenants stayed.

    The Chinese were very willing to share their culture. Ginger organized the Chinese New Year festivities for several years, providing fireworks and inviting the whole town with an ad in the newspaper. Local residents often attended the elaborate funerals. When Lee Hau, a prominent St. Helena resident, was killed by a falling tree at Niebaum’s farm in 1894, his extraordinary funeral was attended by many locals. After a long service in Chinatown, the body was conveyed to the cemetery with a procession consisting of a wagon filled with foods for the afterlife, a hearse accompanied by six Chinese men and 50 men wearing bands of red and white. There were about 10 vehicles and another band at the end. A Chinese section at the cemetery had a large number of plots near the creek. It was important to every Chinese man to be buried with his ancestors. The bodies of those who could afford it were exhumed later and sent home.

    There are several reasons the large Chinese population of St. Helena disappeared. The violence and discrimination throughout the state made many feel vulnerable and they moved to larger cities. About the time Chinese were demanding higher wages, Italian immigrants began to arrive in the early 1880s. They replaced the Chinese for another reason too: grape vines began to be planted with the trunks pruned to waist height to protect delicate vines from frost and heat. A taller man could harvest the crop without stoop labor. (Heintz p176).

    A series of fires damaged Chinatown and finally destroyed it completely. The 1884 fire started in the upper floor of Quon Loong High China Store, which was a sleeping quarter. The big fire lit up the whole night sky and was in a line of “four old rookeries sitting back from the street”. Three Chinese stores and lodging houses with their contents were destroyed. The landlord was uninsured, but quickly rebuilt the stores at the tenants’ urging. The 1898 fire was caused by a resident who, after cooking his dinner over an open fire, left the fire burning
    unattended. Half of the ghetto, 8 buildings, was completely destroyed. Four stores lost everything, including cash on hand. The responsible party was ejected by his angry neighbors. Finally in 1911 the last fire burned the eight remaining buildings, causing $7000 loss. The landlords who bought the property with the intent of evicting the residents in 1886, finally got their wish 25 years later.”

    So much one can learn from old stories and photographs. The online file of the talk transcript also has some interesting photographs, artwork and records from the period that is worth looking at.

  7. November 27th, 2012 at 22:24 | #7

    Sweet! Cherry is my favorite fruit. Come May next year when I go cherry picking in Brentwood, I am going to have to come back to your materials for a post! I’ll have fresh photos then.

    You are right – there are a lot of good people, including the Lewelling family who had positive impact on the Chinese. They deserve recognition, and importantly, not lumped with the bigots and racists who did the opposite.

  8. perspectivehere
    November 28th, 2012 at 08:04 | #8


    Thanks. One of the propensities of Chinese culture is the love of telling (and hearing) stories about one’s family. I suppose all cultures have this, but Chinese people seem especially fascinated by this. I mention this because a Chinese American gentleman named Jack Jue Jr. attended the Mariam Hansen talk on June 14, 2011 entitled “Canton to St. Helena – Chinese Immigration to Napa Valley” and wrote about it the next day on his “Jue Joe Clan History” blog, which is a family history blog about Chinese immigrant Jue Joe and his descendants.

    Jack Jue Jr. is the great grandson of Jue Joe, a Cantonese who landed in California in 1874 as a teenage boy. Joe eventually made his way to St Helena – Napa Valley and worked there as a vineyard worker from 1878 – 1887. He later moved away due to anti-Chinese violence to Los Angeles, where good fortune and good interpersonal skills brought him into the employ and association with some up-and-coming LA businessmen, such as Otto Brant of California Land Title and Trust, and General Harrison Gray Otis founder of the Los Angeles Times. Jue Joe eventually became a successful businessman in his own right, and for awhile he was known as the “Asparagus King of Los Angeles”. Quite a fascinating story of personal perseverance and overcoming great odds to not only survive but thrive and leave behind many descendants. Over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself fascinated and inspired by his feats.

    Stories like Jue Joe’s are first a personal triumph, and a source of pride for his descendants and friends. But the story is also a source of wonderment, encouragement and wisdom for other Chinese in and outside America, as his story offers lessons and hope. And his life story presents something about the reality of the world then and now. We understand the journey that not only Jue Joe, but all Chinese went through, as China-the-country suffered through its “Century of Humiliation”, an ordeal that had its impact on the lives of men such as Jue Joe who had to flee the poverty and disorder of China and seek a life characterized by abuse and hardship, which many did not survive.

    Reading about Jue Joe’s past led me to this wonderful piece of artwork showing Chinese vineyard workers from the 1870’s – see how those purple grapes look similar to the grapes in your photographs!

    The artwork also led me to this neat blogpost The Chinese Roots of California Wine at the Vinography.com wine blog site.

    The blog post refers to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Chinese beginnings of the California wine industry, but the link is dead. If you manage to locate it, please post!


    By the way, if you go to Sonoma, be sure to visit this place: Haraszthy Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma, Sonoma County

    “In 1857, Chinese workers employed by “Colonel” Agoston Haraszthy, reputed father of the modern California wine-growing industry, dug a tunnel into a hillside on his Buena Vista vineyards in order to store some 5,000 gallons of wine. They built a second tunnel in 1858, and a third in 1862. In an article in the San Francisco daily newspaper Alta California, July 23, 1863, a reporter observed “Chinese grubbing out oak saplings” at the Buena Vista winery so the vineyards could be enlarged. In the champagne cellar, he saw “four Chinese, filling, corking, wiring, etc. champagne bottles.” He also mentioned, “There are now in progress, three new cellars, close to the press house. These are all being blasted and excavated by Chinese. They are to be twenty-six feet wide, thirteen feet in height and three hundred feet long.” Chinese workmen were furnished to the Buena Vista Winery by Ho Po, a San Francisco labor contractor. They often plowed the soil, pruned the vines, and excavated tunnels at night, if the heat of the day was too oppressive.

    It is estimated that viticulture in California would have been set back 30 to 50 years without Chinese vineyard workers. Although grape vines are now pruned to waist height, they were originally pruned to a foot and a half above the ground. This forced the picker to kneel or to bend his back to a painful angle. Many non-Chinese laborers could not or would not perform stoop labor. About 1890, pruning customs changed, and there was much agitation to replace Chinese workers with White laborers.”

    Napa also has several wine cave cellars that were created with picks and shovels hand labor by Chinese, that are still in operation today, like the Del Dotto built in 1865, one of the first wineries to appear in the Napa Valley, and is currently one of only six still in existence.

    From Wikipedia “Wine Caves”:

    “The history of wine cave construction in the United States dates back to the 1870s in the Napa Valley region. Jacob Schram, a German immigrant and barber, founded Schramsberg Vineyards near Calistoga, California in 1862. Eight years later, Schram found new employment for the Chinese laborers who had recently finished constructing tunnels and grades over the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the Union Pacific Transcontinental Railroad. He hired them to dig a network of caves through the soft Sonoma Volcanics Formation rock underlying his vineyard.

    Another Chinese workforce took time away from their regular vineyard work to excavate a labyrinth of wine-aging caves beneath the Beringer Vineyards near St. Helena, California. These caves exceeded 1,200 ft (365 m) long, 17 ft (5 m) wide and 7 ft (2 m) high. The workers used pick-axes and shovels – and on occasion, chisel steel, double jacks and black powder – to break the soft rock. They worked by candlelight, and removed the excavated material in wicker baskets. At least 12 wine storage caves were constructed by these methods.

    From the late 19th century to the early 1970s, the development of wine caves went through a long period of “dark ages.” No new caves were built, and many existing caves were abandoned or fell into disrepair. A “renaissance” of cave building began in 1972 when Alf Burtleson Construction started the rehabilitation of the old Beringer wine caves, and was followed by the design and construction of new caves.”

  9. November 28th, 2012 at 22:26 | #9

    If you are in the SF Bay area, you should email me. Would be fun to visit these wineries and cellars, perhaps talking to the families to see if they have memorabilia of the early Chinese laborers or stories of them. How about it? 🙂

  10. perspectivehere
    December 1st, 2012 at 08:18 | #10


    Thanks! That would be very interesting. Speaking of Chinese immigrant stories, have you been to Angel Island to see the poetry carvings left by Chinese detainees? Quite remarkable and indicative of the level of cultural literacy of these immigrants considering many of them were seen as ordinary laborers.

    Here is a particularly well-done site, an online visual tour with narration, photos, and poetry readings in English and Putonghua, that tries to communicate the experience and its significance.

    And here’s a good essay from the National Trust for Historic Preservation blog. The photograph of the carved calligraphy is haunting.

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