Having lately emigrated from northern California, I still keep up on the news from my previous home. Other parts of the country, or even other parts of northern California, deal with raucous town hall meetings or rioting in the streets over speakers invited onto campus. Sonoma County, by contrast, is mired in controversy over Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum’s artistic – or political – expression. After the recent peaceful transfer of power with the inauguration of a new president, Judge Daum removed the portrait of Barack Obama from his courtroom. The space previously reserved for the president’s image now displays a single piece of fruit, an orange. A real orange. Local Republicans and some lawyers have criticized the judge’s allegedly expressing political opinions in court and showing disrespect for the president.
A Sonoma State University criminal justice professor said Daum’s orange “pushes the limits of what we hope for from our judges in terms of their involvement in the politics of the day.” He went on to say, “I also think it is pretty funny.”
Judge Daum so far has made no public comment on the matter.
After twenty-plus years in northern California’s wine country, I recently returned to Oregon. I got out just in time. (In time for ice and snow in Portland.) Five years of drought has given way to rain, lots of rain, bringing landslides, flooding and washed-out roads. When I arrived in Sonoma County, its transformation from a richly diverse agricultural area – apples, cherries, pears, prunes, hops – to wine grapes was nearly complete. I watched as most any bare patch of ground was planted with vineyards.
The recession in 2008 brought new planting to a halt. Sonoma and Mendocino and Napa and Lake counties were awash with unsold premium wine. The recession’s upside was several years of cheap wine made with blends of exceptional-quality grapes. Which brings us to the current time and a different type of diversification.
The economy in California has been getting better. Californians are increasing their production of trash: 33.2 million tons in 2015, compared to 31.2 million tons the previous year. That’s 4.7 pounds per person per day, up from 4.5 pounds in 2014. Here in Sonoma County, we did much better, swelling our output to 4.3 pounds per person per day, 19.4% more than 2014’s 3.6 pounds, but still less than the state as a whole. California overall had a meager increase of less than half a percent.
Sonoma and Napa have an ongoing rivalry. Sonomans like to make fun of Napa: “Sonoma makes wine; Napa makes auto parts.” The affluent sophisticates in Napa County respond… well, they don’t respond. They scarcely acknowledge the existence of the bumpkins in Sonoma County. But that’s not the civil war this is about. Continue reading “When the Civil War Came to Sonoma County”
During the Independence Day weekend, the downtown plaza in Sonoma (population 10,600) was filled with people enjoying the holiday entertainment and browsing the surrounding shops and restaurants and wine-tasting venues. Two blocks beyond the plaza, three hundred baseball fans watched the Sonoma Stompers take on the San Rafael Pacifics. The finale was a Sunday double-header: afternoon game in Sonoma, then a thirty-mile ride to San Rafael for the evening contest. The Pacifics won both.
Living in California’s wine country is living in God’s country. That’s what we tell ourselves. Obviously, God’s plan was to pull out all the peaches and apples and hops and prunes and pears, and plant grapes in their place. In wine country, the price of grapes, especially the price of grapes in Napa versus Sonoma, is headline news. There is a friendly competition between these two wine-growing regions. Sonoma likes to make fun of Napa; Napa does not recognize the existence of Sonoma.
Q: How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?