Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Mexican" Wine

If you drink American wine, virtually all the wine you drink is "Mexican." I don't mean wine that's made from grapes grown in Mexico, most of which is not that good. I mean wine made from grapes grown in California, Washington, Oregon and other states. How's that? Well, most of these vines are planted, pruned, and harvested by Mexican agricultural workers both legal and illegal, documented and undocumented. In fact, virtually everything you eat, is harvested and cut up by Mexicans. Whether it is strawberries, grapes, apples, pears or beef, it is harvested and processed for you by Mexican workers. Indeed, the roof over your head was very likely put there by Mexican laborers, too. Normally this blog is apolitical, but we should be grateful to these hardworking people for the wine we drink.

Nothing is what it appears to be! Turn over a rock and you find all kinds of critters suddenly racing for cover. Poke around in the accounting practices of an Enron or Apple, and you find all kinds of corporate malfeasance. Check out where and how you clothing and Nike shoes are made, and you find abusive sweatshop labor practices. Look beyond the label on a bottle of wine and you find, the sweat of Mexican labor. How do the grapes get to the winery? To a large extent, they are harvested by Mexican workers. American businesses like meat packers and grape growers depend on Mexican labor. Very few American citizens want to do this dangerous backbreaking work. The Mexican economy and government depend on remittances from these workers for 20% of the Mexican GDP. Yet to varying degrees both governments put on a show of opposing migration to the North. There is truly an insane revolving door circus going on at the Mexican/American border. But this is not just a border state issue. There are Mexican migrants all over the United States -in Midwestern meat packing plants, apple orchards in Washington state, vineyards in California and Oregon, and all over the Southeast and New England, too.

Both economies depend on migrants. Immigration from Mexico has become a hot political issue, despite the fact that several studies in Arizona, Texas, and Riverside County, California have show that migrants make a significant net contribution to the economies of areas where they work. And don't forget we are all the children of immigrants whether Native Americans whose ancestors migrated from Asia, English men and women who arrived on the Mayflower, Germans who arrived in the mid-eighteenth century, Jews, Italians, Irish who arrived around the turn of the previous century, or Russians, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, or Dominicans who arrived more recently. We are a nation enriched by diversity. The Mexicans actually lived in California and the Southwest before we arrived.

So what's immigration got to do with wine? Everything! Without Mexican workers in the U.S., there would be no American wine and we would be forced to drink from the lake of wine in France and Australia, so next time you imbibe, think, with gratitude, of the good people who made your Merlot and Pinot Noir possible and encourage you legislators to pass sane compassionate legislation to recognize the people who risked their lives so that they could work hard in the North to feed you and their families back home. Let's give these people some human rights and dignity, and provide a pathway to citizenship for those who want it and a pathway for those who want to be able to return home. Mexico and Mexicans are not just about Cinco de Mayo and drinking Margaritas and Tequila, they are about "Mexican" wine. To their credit, a group of Oregon grapegrowers who have been practicing sustainable agriculture employ Mexican workers in year round vineyard management and have undertaken to provide health care and other services to these workers and their families. This is a model for others to follow. We need to treat more Mexican workers with respect and dignity. Next time you toast with a glass of wine, make it - "Salud". By the way, you can support Hispanic winery owners by checking out Ceja wines from California, and Canon de Sol and Manchego Real from Washington, among others.


  • At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    don't forget about chinese labor in the vineyards way back when (late 1800's) in california.

  • At 9:57 PM, Blogger SeattleWineBlog said…

    Thanks, anon, for your comment. You are right on!

  • At 11:46 AM, Blogger Lisa said…

    This is awesome of you to post! I'm a 4th generation Mexican Seattlite and I think of this all the time. There's a beautiful song about just this (wine, agriculture, etc) -- very cool -- by Lila Downs. Album: Border/La Linea. Song name: Medley. Look it up! Paz~

  • At 9:31 PM, Blogger SeattleWineBlog said…

    Lisa, Gracias para tu comentario y recomendacion(Thanks for your comment and recommendation". I'll check it out and hope others will, too. Check out Los Samaritanos of which I am a member. Tu Amigo, Gene


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