Buena Vista and Chinese Labor

Posted on September 13, 2012 by Submitted


The newly formed relationship between Sonoma and Takaj, Hungary seems to have inspired a renewed interest in Agoston Haraszthy and the Buena Vista Winery. Harazthy established the Buena Vista Winery 1859 with the intention of producing more and better wines from European plantings, and he was a vocal advocate among the vintners in the area for better viticultural practices. He rightly deserves the title of Father of Sonoma Viticulture.

Absent from these accolades, however, is any mention of the Chinese laborers who were significant contributors to his success because of their low wages, their dependability, availability when needed, and skill at a time when white labor was undependable, unskilled and expensive. It was Harazsthy who introduced Chinese labor into the Sonoma Valley, and ultimately throughout the county.

Stanford historian Richard Steven Street noted that of all the Chinese field hands ‘the ones who played the most important role in commercial agriculture worked some fifty miles north of San Francisco near the town of Sonoma”, claiming that ‘in many ways, it is fitting that these [viticultural] practices should have developed at Buena Vista, where Chinese laborers did so much to influence California’s modern agricultural landscape.”

Stevens sadly notes “that Chinese laborers at Buena Vista were part of the opening phase in the industrialization of the countryside is not a fact preserved in wine lore.”

Stevens is not alone. Numerous historians have similarly praised Chinese labor and its role in the development of California agriculture.

Yet the area that has benefited the most from the efforts of the Chinese laborers of the 18th century, the industry that has reaped the benefits of the Haraszthy-Chinese relationship, and the local press now seems to have developed a collective amnesia of the existence and contributions of this vital labor force in the county.

Yes, Agoston Haraszthy was perhaps the greatest vintner in California history, but he didn’t build it himself.

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