As one passes the General Store and heads north along Dry Creek road toward Lake Sonoma grape vines carpet the valley floor and terrace the hills. Our climate which is so synonymous to the Mediterranean allows them to flourish and proliferate there. The richness of the soil, the long summer angles of the sun, the cool breath from passing creeks, these things flavor the grapes and sturdy the vines. Grapes have won the race to dominate the crop market and our shelf space, but the California grape is not alone in these lush oak spotted hills. In the even light of afternoon, the silver bellies of olive leaves flash.
Grapes entered Sonoma County from two points almost simultaneously. Russian settlers came from the coast and Fort Ross to plant grapes in the north, near dry creek. Entering near Petaluma, Spanish emissaries planted vines and olives alongside the white arches of their missions. There are three pillars to cuisine along the Mediterranean coast, grapes, olives and wheat. The Russians, only bordering the Black and Caspian Seas to the south and thus out of the loop, inconsiderately only brought a single pillar to our county. The Spanish were kind enough to bring all three.
Needing even tempered sun, the olive trees thrived along side the vines and spread. Today there are 75 different varieties of olives and oils to be harvested in California, ranging from the heat and dust of central valley to the cool red wooded pockets of the Big Sur coast. The state’s southern slopes and moderate winters provide the olive’s optimal climate. The rich clay soil holds rain near the surface for the tree’s shallow root system.
Today olives coexist quietly in the shadow of grapes along Sonoma’s valleys and while Mediterranean countries like Spain continue to lead the world in production, California olives are gaining traction the world over as a high-end crop used in the kitchen, both in restaurants and at home. In Locals Denier Handal olive oil can be found bottled and resting underneath the densely forested shelves of wine. Here is another layer to the experience of the palate.
The wine we drink and the food we eat, the oil that anoints our bread (Or gluten free substitute) is all building towards another stratum of experience. Perhaps people’s different impressions of wine over the kitchen sink has nothing to do with the changing chemistry of the bottle and more to do with the passing of an experience. The closer these delicacies come to their source the greater the joy in the taste. Wine, oysters, olives, salmon, greens, these wild products are endowed with another level of splendor when enjoyed in the shadow of their genesis. When one finds the specter of memory rising like a tatter of steam from every dish it is time to break free of the home and refresh the senses out in the realms of the things we enjoy.