The Grapes of Conquest


The Grapes of Conquest

Race, Labor, and the Industrialization of California Wine, 1769–1920

Julia Ornelas-Higdon

At Table Series

292 pages
8 photographs, 10 illustrations, 1 map, index


November 2023


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November 2023


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eBook (EPUB)
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November 2023


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November 2023


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About the Book

Honorable Mention for the 2024 OAH Frederick Jackson Turner Award

California’s wine country conjures images of pastoral vineyards and cellars lined with oak barrels. As a mainstay of the state’s economy, California wines occupy the popular imagination like never before and drive tourism in famous viticultural regions across the state. Scholars know remarkably little, however, about the history of the wine industry and the diverse groups who built it. In fact, contemporary stereotypes belie how the state’s commercial wine industry was born amid social turmoil and racialized violence in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century California.

In The Grapes of Conquest Julia Ornelas-Higdon addresses these gaps in the historical narrative and popular imagination. Beginning with the industry’s inception at the California missions, Ornelas-Higdon examines the evolution of wine growing across three distinct political regimes—Spanish, Mexican, and American—through the industry’s demise after Prohibition. This interethnic study of race and labor in California examines how California Natives, Mexican Californios, Chinese immigrants, and Euro-Americans came together to build the industry. Ornelas-Higdon identifies the birth of the wine industry as a significant missing piece of California history—one that reshapes scholars’ understandings of how conquest played out, how race and citizenship were constructed, and how agribusiness emerged across the region. The Grapes of Conquest unearths the working-class, multiracial roots of the California wine industry, challenging its contemporary identity as the purview of elite populations.

Author Bio

Julia Ornelas-Higdon is an associate professor of history at California State University, Channel Islands.


"Ornelas-Higdon . . . broadens the study of California wine chronologically, geographically, and ethnically in this major contribution to Mexican American history." —D. M. Fahey, Choice

"Ornelas-Higdon shows in her work how California's wine industry was part of a larger global industry facing many new technological and scientific concerns in the century, but she also shows how the story of California wines has its own narrative based on its unique cultural, racial, and environmental histories. This work is a useful addition to the field of wine history and California history."—Karl Trybus, H-Environment

“Julia Ornelas-Higdon’s important and absorbing study places California’s celebrated wine industry at the center of processes of conquest and settler colonialism, and the construction of race and class hierarchies over the long nineteenth century. Viticulture, as she so adeptly demonstrates, defined race, citizenship, and belonging in Spanish, Mexican, and American California.”—Jessica Kim, associate professor of history at California State University, Northridge

The Grapes of Conquest examines how wine producers used racialized discourses to erase California viticulture’s Indigenous, Spanish, and Californio roots, while uplifting white agricultural citizenship and defining wine as a civilizing agent. It recuperates the multilayered ethnic history of grape production and labor while illustrating the racialized complexities involved in creating space, identities, and citizenship during the long nineteenth century.”—Yvette J. Saavedra, assistant professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Oregon

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Vineyard Roots
1. Cultivating Alta California’s First Vineyards, 1769–1820
2. Wine Growing in Mexican California, 1821–1845
3. American Wine Making and Notions of Modernity, 1850–1870
4. Agricultural Citizenship and the Anaheim Wine Colony, 1854–1890
5. Immigration, Whiteness, and the Chinese Question in California’s Vineyards, 1860–1900
6. Wine for Wealth, Health, and Temperance, 1870–1920
Epilogue: Mythologies, Narratives, and Representations of California Wine


Honorable Mention for the 2024 OAH Frederick Jackson Turner Award

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