When I lived in Colorado, and people asked me what part of California I was from, the easiest thing to tell them was “Bay Area” or “San Francisco.” If they pushed further, I said I was from “wine country in Northern California” or “Sonoma County.” Occasionally, I’d someone who would say, “Oh, Sonoma! It’s like Napa!” and I would grit my teeth, nod, and smile. And secretly, I’d seethe.
Sure, Sonoma County is known as “wine country.” It’s an area that grows a lot of grapes, has a lot of wineries, produces internationally award-winning wines. But it’s SO MUCH MORE than just wine and grapes, and I wish there was a way to get that across in an easy shorthand.
So many years of describing my home turf as “wine country” had me sort of forgetting what all else Sonoma County grows. Wine is such a convenient description, when the reality is far more complex. My years of coming all the way up here only for holiday visits didn’t help matters, as I’d not had occasion to be in the area during the fall months in many years. It wasn’t until I moved back here and started looking at the northern end of the county with fresh eyes that I remembered the cornucopia available just in my mom’s yard.
We’ve had crisp and juicy yellow delicious apples, raked up tiny wrinkled past-their-prime jam plums, and I gave Dan his first-ever fresh-off-the-tree fig. There’s also a peach tree, several citrus trees, and a black walnut tree next door, although those walnuts aren’t really edible for anyone but the giant teasing gray squirrels that live in the yard. Walking through Healdsburg a few weeks ago while waiting for our alternator to be replaced AGAIN, we saw more apple trees, fig trees, and ancient English walnut trees, which are the kind of walnuts you buy in the baking aisle or the bulk section at the grocery store. The neighbors down the street have a pomegranate tree, as do some friends of mine with whom we visited last week, and, along with a bunch of tomatoes, they gave us one to savor. It was the best pomegranate I’d had in at least a decade.
Working on a photo project recently, Dan and I have come across quite a few typical examples of Sonoma County’s bounty. Just one winery had pomegranate, persimmon, walnut, and, below, artichokes.
I suppose it’s a combination of the mild climate, with warm summers and cool, wet winters that don’t really get snow, that makes this area ideal for growing food crops. When I was little, much of the land that is now given to grape vines was fruit trees or nut trees, but I guess grapes are more lucrative and so that’s what everyone plants instead. I’m just glad that there are still yards and small farms and pockets of non-grape things here and there.