Albany Italian Band posed on the steps of Cornell School, ca. 1910-20; courtesy the Albany Library
Millions of immigrants poured into the United States between 1870 and 1920. Most of these new arrivals came from southern and eastern European countries such as Greece and Poland. Four million of them came from Italy. Most Italian immigrants came through Ellis Island and ended up living in states along the Eastern Seaboard such as New York and New Jersey. But a substantial number soon headed West and settled in California.
Most Italians who came out West became farmers. California’s Mediterranean climate is similar to Italy’s, and the Italians were able to bring their food and culture to this new land. The California soil was ideal for planting crops such as eggplant, artichokes, broccoli, and Sicilian lemons. Italians also brought with them a love of wine as well as a history of making it.
The Growth of California Wine
The first Italians to arrive were from Northern Italy and they settled primarily in Northern California. Most of them came from the wine-making regions of Tuscany and Piedmont, and many of their names are recognizable to wine drinkers today: Giovanni Foppiano, Giuseppe and Pietro Simi, Samuele Sebastiani, and Vittorio Sattui.
After the Civil War, thousands of southern Italians arrived in California, traveling through Ellis Island or New Orleans. They settled primarily in Southern California, where they established the state's first major grape-growing region. Southern California wines dominated the market in the United States until an insect-borne disease hit in 1884. By the 1890s, some 25,000 acres of vineyards in Southern California were destroyed. With the decline of vineyards in Southern California, the smaller Northern California vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma County soon emerged as the most important producers of American wine.