porchlight / american studies at the university of wyoming

Lilia Soto gives talk on Napa Valley identity and narratives

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Picking Sauvignon Blanc grapes at Ehlers Estate winery Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 in St. Helena, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

WyGISC and the University of Wyoming Geography Department’s Brown Bag series, “All Things Geography,” invited Assistant Professor Lilia Soto to give a lecture, entitled “What’s in the Roots? Identity and Narratives of the Napa Valley,” on Friday, February 27, 2015, at the Arts & Sciences Building. Soto presented recent research she has been conducting on the hidden narratives of the Napa Valley, particularly related to immigration and the people involved in making Napa Valley wineries a world-class tourist destination. The Porchlight was delighted to attend the presentation and follow-up with a Q&A with Soto.

Porchlight: You said you were studying a group of girls in Mexico as a comparison to female immigrants in Napa Valley, but did not mention it further in your presentation. Could you elaborate on the comparisons you are finding with these two focus groups?

Lilia Soto: Well, the difference between Mexican immigrant young women (I’m still debating whether I should refer to them as “girls” or young women) and adult Mexican immigrant women is access to resources—social capital, networks—that facilitates migration processes. In my current project, I make the argument that young Mexican immigrant women (“girls”) do not have access to networks or social capital because they are young and because they are girls. In other words, I look at the intersections of age and sex as having a bearing on girls’ migration desires.

PL: You discussed how not much is known about Carolina Bale, the wife of wine baron, Charles Krug. What have you found out about Carolina that defies expectations?

Maria Ignacia Soberanes, along with her husband Edward Turner Bale, was given 18,000 acres of Napa Valley property from the Mexican government as a land grant in 1841.

LS: ​There is very little information about Carolina Bale. I have looked at the archives at the Bancroft Library and at the Napa County Historical Society, and I have found very little. What defines expectations is that no one that I am aware of (and by this I mean those who have written about Charles Krug, her husband) have made the connection that because of her, he remains this canonical figure in the Napa Valley and the wine industry. If we re-read the archives using a different set of tools—gender, race, class, age, etc—we can present a different version that I hope more accurately captures the complex histories of a place.

Upon Edward Turner Bale’s death at age 38, he bequeathed his cattle to his sons and his land to his daughters. One of Edward and Maria’s daughters, Carolina Bale, married Charles Krug, and he used the land to build his wine empire.

PL: What I found interesting in your presentation was the confluence of the geography (or terroir) with biography; how life stories are, literally, written in the soil and can even be tasted in the wines. What do you think makes the Napa Valley such an interesting place for a cultural landscape study?

LS: You write it so beautifully!—how stories are literally written in the soil and can even be tasted in the wines! We can mark the transitions to historical periods that have made the Napa Valley what it is today. It becomes quite clear how the wine country went from a somewhat “sleepy” town to a worldwide tourist destination. When we think of the Napa Valley, we not only think of a tourist economy, but a luxury economy. People of all social classes live in this place, but in terms of race relations, it has remained a White-Mexican town. There are so many interesting stories that need to be written and I hope to be one of those people who writes some of those stories.

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