Sonoma, California... one of the world's most important places for the production of great wines and the foods to go with them. We'll take a look at the unique environment that makes all this good food and drink possible... and the people who farm these valleys. We'll also get some easy and great tasting recipes from some of the area's best chefs. So join me in Sonoma, California for BURT WOLF’S MENU.
Drive north from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge... past the houseboats of Sausalito... through the hills and shopping centers of Marin County... and in about an hour you will arrive in the valley called Sonoma. There are two theories about the meaning of the word Sonoma. One says that it is a Native American word that translates as "the land of Chief Nose," a reference to a local chief who had a very big sniffer... the Cyrano De Bergerac of his neighborhood. Eventually, Sonoma became the birthplace of the California wine industry, where a big nose is still important. The other story claims that Sonoma is a native word, from a different tribe, meaning "valley of the moons"... the validity of which can be confirmed on any clear night.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The first European to establish a residence in the Sonoma Valley was Father Jose Altimira, a Franciscan missionary who established himself here at the Sonoma Mission. This was the most northerly outpost of the Spanish colonies on the west coast of the New World. Their missions ran from the bottom of South America all the way up here to this spot in northern California.
In 1834 the Mexican government sent General Mariano Vallejo to Sonoma. His orders were to secularize the mission and establish a Mexican settlement. Vallejo immediately set up a system of land grants for his friends and relatives.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): I can just see General Vallejo poring over his map. "This land by the river... I give it to my sister... no charge. Aah, and the stuff by the mountain... perfect for Uncle Carlos... also no charge. This stuff in the valley would be perfect for my brother-in-law's brother but I don't like him so much, so I charge... but just a little." Of course, the fact that this land had belonged to the native tribes for the past 35,000 years or so was one of those little subtleties that was lost in the "big picture". Governments love "big pictures,” because it allows them to ignore "little people".
The very first vineyards in Northern California were planted by the Franciscan missionaries so they could make sacramental wine. When General Vallejo secularized the mission he also secularized the vineyards and planted additional vines behind the army barracks.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): General Vallejo was able to combine making war with making wine and in 1841 became the valley’s first commercial vintner. A little lancing, a little labeling... a little bottling, a little battling... a little cannon work, a little cork work... For General Vallejo, life was good. And for today's winemakers in the valley, it still is.
The northern coast of California has a unique weather pattern. Fog filled with moisture comes off the Pacific Ocean and tries to head inland. As it does, it’s confronted with a mountain range that forces it into the river basins. The result is an area with warm days and cool nights, and a series of valleys that are ideal for growing the finest wine grapes. The locality is called Sonoma County, and it’s one of the world's most important vineyard regions. It’s also a place where a major commitment has been made by one of the world's most important wineries -- E. and J. Gallo. It was started in 1933 by Ernest and Julio Gallo, who at the time were 23 and 24 years old, respectively. This photo is a little earlier. I actually have an even earlier photo of Ernest; that's him sitting next to his dad. Julio got onto the bulldozer and got the land ready for planting... Ernest got dressed up and went east with his wife to take orders for the wine. 1933 was a good year to start a winery; it was the year that the federal government's prohibition against the manufacture and sale of beverages containing alcohol came to an end, and once again people could enjoy a glass of wine with their dinner and not create a federal case.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The brothers had learned the Old World approach to growing grapes from their father, but they had absolutely no idea of how to produce wine. So they went to a local public library and took out a book on how to make wine. They used that book to produce their first vintage. The book had a rather scientific approach to winemaking, and that’s still a basic part of the Gallo philosophy. As a matter of fact, some of their research has led to major breakthroughs in wine production. Today Gallo is the world’s largest producer of wine. One out of every four bottles sold in the United States is a Gallo bottle. And I think that makes a perfectly good reason to always have a valid library card.
DAN SOLOMON: Look where we are; we’re about four hundred feet off the valley floor.
Dan Solomon has been with the Gallo winery since 1974.
DAN SOLOMON: Most farmers, the first place any farmer wants to go will be down there on the valley floor. I don’t care if you’re growing almonds or zucchini or walnuts or kumquats, down there you’ve got an easy source of water, the soils are deep and fat, you can plow a straight furrow very easily right down the valley floor -- why then are all the Gallo vineyards here in Sonoma County up here on the hillsides? Up here the soils are very rocky. If this were in my tomato garden, I’d be in deep trouble. These rocky soils permit water to percolate through. The grapes don’t like wet feet. So this permits the water to stay in some of the soil, but doesn’t pool around the grapes. And that directs the vine into producing grapes of better quality with more intense flavors because they have to suffer a little bit.
BURT WOLF: A little suffering is okay.
DAN SOLOMON: Always a little. (Laughter)
BURT WOLF: I tell that to my kids all the time -- just a little.
DAN SOLOMON: Interestingly, for every acre of vineyard that we plant, we keep another acre in forest land watershed preserve. This is wonderful; this is very helpful to Mother Nature, but it does create problems for us as grape-growers. Because living in the forest are an awful lot of deer who come down and want to munch on our vines. So to keep them out, we discovered a method. We are hanging bars of Dial soap around the periphery of the vineyard; we think it creates an odor barrier and keeps the deer out. Unfortunately, the latest crop of fauns seem to becoming accustomed to this Dial soap, and we may have to up the ante to Irish Spring.
BURT WOLF: Ah, Irish Spring. Manly, but deer hate it too. ... People often wonder which wines go with which foods. What’s your recommendation?
DAN SOLOMON: Well, Burt, there are certain general rules that apply, that are traditional. The basic thing to remember is that wine and food should compliment each other, just like a happy marriage. Neither partner should overwhelm the other.
BURT WOLF: I like the idea of a happy marriage.
DAN SOLOMON: Good. In the case of wine and food, white wine goes well with more delicately-flavored foods, like chicken, fish, vegetables perhaps --
BURT WOLF: Salad...
DAN SOLOMON: -- salad... red wine tends to be more strongly-flavored, and goes well with strongly-flavored foods like lamb, beef, all kinds of red meats, perhaps foods with a hearty red tomato sauce. The bottom line is that neither should overwhelm the other and make a happy marriage.
BURT WOLF: I always worked with a system of “red wines with red foods and white wines with white foods;” I’ll often have salmon with a red wine because I think salmon is pretty strong and intense.
DAN SOLOMON: Mm-hmm. And I think that’s fine; your palate is your palate. No one can dictate to you what your taste should be, and that’s a primary rule for tasting wine: what you enjoy is the right wine for you.
BURT WOLF: Your metaphor about marriage is absolutely perfect; if you have a pre-nuptual agreement you can put together whatever you want.
DAN SOLOMON: (Laughing) I agree; I’ll drink to that. Cheers.
Just before dawn on April 18, 1906, the tectonic plate that sits under the Pacific Ocean took a few baby steps to the north. At the same time the tectonic plate that sits under California took a few baby steps to the south. As they rubbed past each other in opposite directions they created an extraordinarily violent tremor on the surface of the earth, which just happened to be the city of San Francisco. For 48 seconds the town rocked and rolled and then the fires started... fires that destroyed almost the entire city. The average person saw San Francisco as a total wreck. But some of its citizens saw the area as a fantastic opportunity for development. One of the visionaries was a man named Frederick C. Clift and his vision was that of a top-notch luxury hotel that would feel like a home away from home, but most importantly... it would be earthquake-proof. In 1916, his Clift Hotel opened at the corner of Geary and Taylor streets with Frederick himself living in a stone house that he built on the roof. These days the Clift is managed by Four Seasons Regent International Hotels, and remains a standard for luxury and service.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): In order to produce my television reports I live in hotels about seven months of the year... so I'm always on the lookout for something new and improved. And the Clift has made the list. I’m familiar with V.I.P. programs for Very Important People, but the Clift has a V.I.K. program... for Very Important Kids. Actually it applies to all kids that check in, under the theory that all children are important.
They will child-proof a room with protective covers for electrical outlets... unusual guards for bathtub faucets... and nightlights. They have terrycloth robes in children's sizes... children-sized furniture... toys, videos, balloons, a goodie bag, and prior to the child's arrival, a special children's menu is placed in the room.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): It’s really nice to have this program available to you if you check in with a child, but if you’re on your own and feel that your own childhood was a bit more stressful than you wanted it to be, and you would like to relive a portion of it in a more nurtured environment, well -- the hotel will deliver all this stuff to your room... no questions asked.
One of the questions, however, that is often asked is, why is the food in and around San Francisco so good? One of my favorite good cooks in California is Chef Martin Frost. I first met Martin when he was working at the Four Seasons in Toronto. These days he is the executive chef at the San Francisco Clift. And he's preparing a dish made from local salmon... local red wine... and local baby lima beans. Martin starts by pouring a bottle of red wine into a sauce pan and heating it to a simmer. A fillet of salmon goes into the wine and cooks for 12 minutes. While the salmon is cooking, Martin heats a little butter in a non-stick pan followed by a few sliced mushrooms, cooked corn kernels, and blanched California baby lima beans.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): California has been growing baby lima beans since 1927, and has become a major producer. Baby lima beans are high in complex carbohydrates, high in dietary fiber, and low in sodium and fat.
Next in, some slices of scallions and salt. A little of the wine used to poach the fish is put into a sauce pan and heated. A little butter is whisked in to make a sauce.
The lima bean sauté goes onto a serving plate. Then the fish comes out of the wine... gets sliced in half and placed onto the limas. A little of the sauce goes onto the plate.
In addition to the local fish, wine and lima beans... California is a major producer of dried fruits and dried tomatoes... and a leading authority on the subject is Ruth Waltenspiel. Ruth Byrd was raised on a farm in Newhall, California. When she went to college she went off to the University of California at Santa Barbara to study agriculture. While she was there she met and married Ronald Waltenspiel, a fellow agricultural student. Together they started their own farm in Healdsburg, California. In spite of the first comment you are about to hear they are a happily married couple and thoroughly enjoy their business partnership.
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Well, the very first time I wanted a divorce, we had been married three months and it was harvest and it started raining. And we were out there on our hands and knees picking prunes up off the ground and trying to save what there was of the crop left, and I was sure at that point that I did not want to be a farmer’s wife or have very much to do with agriculture. But, like with most things, you survive, you reconsider and you go forward.
BURT WOLF: What made you change?
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Well... the one thing about agriculture is, it isn’t boring. There’s always a new crop, a new season, something new to look at, some new way to use the food, to use the product.
BURT WOLF: Then you started to dry foods.
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Yes, yes. You have to remember, this was the Sixties. This was the hippy-dippy back-to-earth scene, and this was the time when everybody wanted to leave the city and go “back to the earth.” They had no idea what they were gonna do when they got back to the earth, but they were going back to the earth.
BURT WOLF: So you dried fruit for a while...
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Yes...
BURT WOLF: ... and then you got famous for drying something else. How did that start?
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Well, about 1979 I was lucky enough to go to New York City to the Fancy Food Show. And I took our unsulphured, organically-grown dried fruits and nuts to show to the fancy food industry. I guess about the best thing that could be said about that, Burt, is that industry was underwhelmed. They were totally uninterested. But what we did see while we were there was little-bitty jars of sun-dried tomatoes from Italy, and they were selling in the New York market for twelve to fifteen dollars a jar. So I came back to California and I said “Ladies and gentlemen, we grow an awfully good tomato in California. Why don’t we try to do the same product?”
BURT WOLF: What happened?
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Well, in the first year we dried two truck-and-trailer loads of dried tomatoes. Here we are, a little over ten years down the road, and last year I did nine hundred truck-and-trailer loads of California tomatoes and put them up under our Sonoma Brand labels.
BURT WOLF: How do you use the tomatoes at home?
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Well, they’re how I jump-start my meals. I like to add the intense flavor and the bright color to make things that are sometimes a little ordinary, special. For instance, you can put them in stew, they don’t disintegrate. The flavor and the consistency stays there with you.
BURT WOLF: What else?
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Salads; wonderful in pasta salads. A really, really favorite of mine is spinach salad. That deep green of beautiful spinach and the bright, robust red of the tomato, and the flavors are both strong so they compliment each other.
BURT WOLF: A little piece of French bread, toasted... a little cheese on top, tomato...
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: Aah. We’ll never make it to lunch.
BURT WOLF: This is lunch!!
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: This is lunch! Do you think this is enough tomatoes to make it through the day?
BURT WOLF: Yeah; I’m waiting for the truck to come with the pasta, though.
RUTH WALTENSPIEL: (Laughter)
As I was leaving, Ruth sent me off with some samples to test, which is precisely what I did that evening when I got back to Martin Frost's kitchen at the Clift. Martin put those dried tomatoes to particularly good use in his recipe for chicken breasts with a dried tomato stuffing. A pocket is cut into a skinless half breast of chicken. In goes a light coating of pesto sauce which is made by blending some basil leaves together with a little oil. Next a few dried tomatoes go in and the flaps of the chicken breast are folded over the dried tomatoes. A little oil and butter are heated together in a sauté pan. The chicken goes in and cooks for a minute on each side. Then the pan goes into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for ten minutes. While the chicken is cooking Martin prepares some bell pepper flavored risotto. A little oil is heated in a sauce pan. In goes some butter... a quarter cup of chopped onion... a cup of rice... then three cups of hot chicken stock are added... about a half cup at a time.
MARTIN FROST: ...and every time, you’ll see the risotto just absorbs up all the liquid, you add a touch more. Don’t give it too much; it may be thirsty. Just give it a little bit at a time.
Then Martin takes a yellow pepper, roasts it, removes the skin, purees it, and adds it as a coloring and flavoring agent. When the rice is finished it goes onto a serving plate. The chicken comes out of the oven... gets sliced... and placed onto the rice... a garnish of greens and it's ready to serve.
The farmers and ranchers of California have made their state one of the world’s most important areas for the production of foodstuffs. The chefs of California seem to take a particular delight in preparing dishes that utilize a number of local products in one recipe. Martin Frost makes the point in his dish of medallions of beef with a sauce made with California dried plums... which also go under the name of prunes. Medallions of beef are salted and peppered. A tablespoon of butter goes onto the hot surface of a sauté pan to melt. The medallions go into. They cook for thirty seconds on each side... then out of the pan and onto a work surface.
MARTIN FROST: We’re just sealing off the beef before we put the prune and barley topping on, and that seals in the juices. If you just put the beef in the oven, then all the blood runs out and it becomes very dry.
Two pitted prunes are chopped and go into a bowl. An ounce of cooked barley is added. An ounce of bread crumbs. An ounce of mixed chopped herbs... chervil, chives, and tarragon. A teaspoon of butter. Salt and pepper. Mix that all together into a paste and put a tablespoon or so of the mixture onto the top of each piece of beef. The beef goes into a heat-proof pan and into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for ten minutes. While that's cooking... a tablespoon of butter goes into a sauté pan followed by a minced clove of garlic, some spinach leaves... sliced mushrooms... small cubes of pre-cooked yellow squash, zucchini and carrots. As soon as the vegetables are hot they go onto a serving plate... followed by the beef and the pan drippings.
The discovery of gold in California was the most important thing that had happened there. In the month before it was discovered, the population of San Francisco was 812. Two years later, the population was over 25,000.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Many of the fortune hunters who showed up were from France and they were often nicknamed Keskeydees because they were always saying "Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?" to each other. Qu'est-ce qu'il dit is a French phrase that means..."what is he saying?" Not all of the Frenchmen spoke English, and the ones that didn’t were always saying "Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?" to the ones that did. “What is that guy saying to us?” Two of the guys who showed up from France were Louis and Pierre Pellier. At one point Pierre wanted to go back to France and marry his childhood sweetheart. Louis said, “hey, it’s fine, but when you come back here, I want you to bring a cutting from a special plum tree. Pierre was a good brother. He went home, married his childhood sweetheart, returned to California and brought the plum cutting.
Louis grafted the cuttings onto the rootstock of wild American plums and the California dried plum industry was born. Today California is the world's largest producer of dried plums, also known as prunes. The state supplies about 70 percent of the world's prunes and it's proud of it.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): And why not? A prune is a good source of fiber, vitamin A, potassium, iron, and complex carbohydrates. It’s also totally free of fat and sodium. And if you want to call it a dried plum, go ahead -- because that's what it is.
The chefs of California also take advantage of the grape crop. The grape growers of California have gotten to the point where they are producing some of the finest grapes in the world.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Most table grapes are eaten just the way they are because they a make a healthful snack. They also show up in salads. But we were trying to think of a recipe that actually cooked grapes, and it wasn’t easy. The only one that we could come up with is an old French dish called Sole Veronique. The grapes are peeled and they come in a heavy cream sauce... not a very modern recipe. So we decided to update it, and we came up with something called Monkfish Monica... but quite frankly, it’ll work just as well as Salmon Sally and Chicken Chelsea.
Martin starts by dipping the monkfish into a mixture of chopped green herbs. Today he's using chives, chervil and parsley.
BURT WOLF: How did the monkfish get its name?
MARTIN FROST: Well, back in the Mediterranean, the fishermen used to come in with their catch, and they used to catch in just one net, they didn’t sort it out at sea, and they’d just throw it back in. It was the ugliest fish you’ve ever seen, so they didn’t want any of this. So then, the monks would be standing there and they’d just wade in there, pick up the fish as it was struggling for oxygen, and that’s how it got its name. Believe It Or Not.
BURT WOLF: Only the monks would eat it!
MARTIN FROST: Yeah.
A little salt and pepper and the fish gets wrapped in strips of Italian bacon, which is called Panchetta. At this point a some oil and butter go into a sauté pan.
MARTIN FROST: We add the butter for the flavor, and we have to cut that then with the olive oil to stop the butter burning.
Then the fish goes into the pan.
MARTIN FROST: So if you can’t get the pancetta bacon, what you could use is the regular bacon and then you’d just use... even ask your butcher to slice it thinner or use less of it, ‘cause it’s a stronger flavor.
The fish gets browned for about a minute on all sides... then into a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 8 to 10 minutes. While the fish is baking... a little oil and butter go into a second sauté pan. Some sliced snow peas or green beans are cooked quickly and go onto a serving plate. The monkfish comes out of the oven and gets sliced into cylinders and placed on the dish. Finally, some frozen seedless green grapes.
MARTIN FROST: The reason why I freeze them is because it concentrates the flavor of the grape, and it also cuts very well with the panetta bacon and the fish.
A few added touches of color and it's ready to serve.
Grapes have been cultivated for at least 6,000 years, and we have scientific evidence to support that fact from Bronze Age settlements that are being excavated in Switzerland. The ancient Greeks were big deal grape growers, and so were the farmers of the ancient Roman Empire.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Most grapes that are grown commercially are grown for one of three reasons: to make raisins... to make wine... or to make grapes that are eaten fresh as table grapes. 97 percent of the table grapes eaten in the United States are grown right here in the valleys of California, and they are grown from vines that are direct descendants of the vines that were grown during the Bronze Age. It's nice to have a family history.
Since 1972 grape consumption has increased faster than that of any other fresh fruit. They are a good source of vitamins A, B complex and C. They are also low in sodium and low in calories. A cup of grapes only contains 100 calories. They are very easy to use... no prep... just a quick rinse. And most importantly, people like the way they taste.
BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): I like to use grapes as a general snack. They were particularly useful when my kids were growing up. I would lay out individual grapes on a tray... freeze them... and then store them in a bag. The kids considered the grapes a frozen sweet... which, of course, they were. And the kids were pretty sweet then, too.
Thanks for being with us here in Sonoma, and please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and the reasons why people eat them. I’m Burt Wolf.
[END TITLES: BURT IS IN THE CLIFT HOTEL BATHROOM RECORDING THE SOUND EFFECT OF THE RUBBER DUCK]
SOUNDMAN: Put it down.
PRODUCER: Do it the same way you did before -- “Erk-Erk.”
SQUEAK-SQUEAK! SQUEAK-SQUEAK! SQUEAK-SQUEAK! SQUEAK-SQUEAK! SQUEAK-SQUEAK!
SOUNDMAN: Let me see something; I’ve gotta clean it out.
(very lame:) SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK!
BURT WOLF: That’s why I did it upside down. It works better.
PRODUCER: I think we got it.
CAMERAMAN: I’m sure we got it.