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September 28, 2022

From the wine library

Bo Simons
What makes a community special? We would all agree that, I
think, that part of it rests on the giants like Max Dunn, Jerry
Eddinger, Phyllis Daniels, Tom Chambers, Eric Ziedrich, Jody
Wilson, Kent Mitchell, Leah Gold, and Bob Young. These are the men
and women who step up and give back to the community. There are a
lot more whom I do not know as well, and who go quietly about their
lives, but make sure to give more than they take and leave the
community a better place. I mention Bob Young here because he just
died, and now manages vineyards in the sky. These are great people,
all of them as well as the many I do mention here, who, are leaders
of the community, who, some from prominent positions in the
community, some from more modest positions, do not forget their
civic duty, their community ties. They spend a lot of time and
effort on school boards, in service clubs, in public office, in a
variety of community-based organizations. Bob Young was huge in the
wine industry, but he was also a supporter of many organizations
and a leader. The Sonoma County Wine Library has, over the years,
produced a number of oral histories recording the witness and
testimony of people like Bob who are leaders of the wine industry.
The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley and the Alexander Valley
Winegrowers have also paid for and produced oral histories and
generously given copies to the library.
What about the workers? What about the ones every vineyard
manager uses to prep the soil, dig the holes for the trellis- and
fence-posts, prep and disc the soil, drive the tractors, spray,
graft the vines, plant the vines, prune the vines, install the
trellises and attach the cordons of the vines to the trellises,
drop leaves, drop fruit, manage the middles, control the canopy and
finally pick the grapes? Have you ever watched an experienced
picking crew? If you have ever picked grapes you know that it is
hard, hot, sticky, demanding work. If you have watched a good crew
fill their tubs and dance them down the rows to the bins with a
skill and brio that defies the imagination, you have seen something
like a Carl Sandburg poem: work transformed into art.
These are the agricultural laborers, the people who are the
bedrock and the basis of the wine industry. They are the spiritual
and sometimes physical descendants of Native Americans who worked
the Missions, the succeeding waves of German, Italian, Chinese,
Filipino, Japanese, Azorean Portuguese (usually via the cane fields
of Hawaii) and finally Mexican immigrants who came to work the
land. They have scrambled to get wages, endured a lot of resentment
and misplaced fear, stayed here or gone back home one or a dozen
times, or stayed here and started families, died alone, watched
their children become more affluent and educated than themselves,
stayed back in the old country, or put down roots. They may be
newly arrived or may be from families that have been here for
generations. Who is here to give their perspective, their
testimony, their witness? Who among us really knows the details of
their long odyssey? Until now, just their families and friends have
heard their stories, but now I hope the perspective of the Latino
agricultural workers will be honored. The Sonoma County Wine
Library and The Wine Library Associates of Sonoma County, its
support organization, have been doing oral histories for a long
time, as suggested above, and we have concentrated on the owners
and the professionals whose memories stretch back decades. The
Sangiacomos, Joe Rochioli, Saralee and Rich Kunde, Millie Howie,
George Greeott, Bob Sisson and Davis Bynum are among the people who
helped build the wine industry here and who have sat down and been
interviewed and added their colorful threads to the rich tapestry
of Sonoma County wine history.
Now we are actively seeking a Latino worker who has been part of
the wine industry and who is old enough and has been around long
enough to make it worthwhile to harvest their memories. We have
talked to Daniel Robledo, to Hector Bedolla, to Nick Frey, and to
numerous others, trying to find the right person to start this
important part of chronicling the area’s history. We have gotten a
number of good leads. Stay attentive for more details.
Bo Simons is the Wine Librarian. He can be reached at [email protected] or