During past weeks I’ve traveled from NoCal to SoCal, as they say – from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California to the gilded sand of Laguna Beach in southern California, stopping now and then to sample local wines.
The good news is that there are still ample great wines at decent prices (less than $20 a bottle) in California and that the styles – whether fruity or powerful – are usually well-balanced and delicious.
The rise of the ‘urban winery’ is also evident. I recently drank at a winery in Laguna Beach producing bottles using grapes taken from northern California (Napa and Sonoma), as well as at the inland Rancho Capistrano Winery – which also sources grapes from throughout the state.
California friends are also producing their own wines, including Corner Lot Winery’s Sangiovese from Sonoma County, and Rattlesnake wines from Los Altos (the vineyard includes 19th century vines from Barossa, Australia).
And good news – congratulations to Norm Benson of Dark Star Cellars for selling his winery – after years of dedicated, hard work.
When I tell California friends about France, they are intrigued by the notion of long afternoon lunches with good food and wine, walking to local markets for high quality cheeses and breads, and visiting ancient structures dotted throughout the countryside. For friends from France, the image of California beaches and a Beach Boys surfing lifestyle is attractive. When I asked my Spanish/French friend Monica in Bordeaux what she wanted me to bring her from California, she just said, “Malibu beach.” But of course!
While getting a haircut in San Luis Obispo in the Central Coast of California, a woman who had moved to that town with her young child from Durango, Colorado, told me she loved the local lifestyle with good food, wine, free concerts and sunny beaches. She then made it quite clear that she also wanted to adopt the French lifestyle that included two-hour lunches with wine. (We used to have the three martini business lunch decades ago in the U.S….there must be a productivity related reason why that culture faded away.)
The openness and hospitality is quick and confident in California – including immediate invitations for porchside pizzas and Pinot Noir. In France, in contrast, it may take a more time to establish friendships, though once formed – the consequent depth and degree of camaraderie is solid and assured. And there will rarely be veneer with the people you befriend; what you see is what you get.
But in this age of high-speed trains, AirBnb and relatively inexpensive flights – I mostly notice mutual curiosity between our nations.
We want to learn about each other. When over a glass of wine people describe memories of train trips and language courses taken overseas (whether in the U.S. or in Europe, or anywhere out of the country), their voices often take on emotion, as though they were describing a flood or hurricane or eclipse – that of wonder at having been exposed to new or unknown facets of reality.
“Vous êtes un énigme,” my French friend Annabelle once told me (“You are an enigma”) when she learned that I, an American, had moved to live in her rural town in France. No other US citizen then lived there. Why would I leave the beaches of California for the vineyards of Bordeaux? My reply, during a two-bottle lunch/language lesson, was – why not? As long as I can secure overseas contract work part of the year to pay bills, I am happy to be able to walk to open air markets, enjoy visiting the local park that is also a world heritage site, and purchase affordable and good quality food and wine in a laid back countryside atmosphere.
It works both ways. Other French musician friends – Laurence and Christian – left France to spend summer traveling around Wyoming and the Dakotas in the U.S. this year. Their pictures show them viewing bison, checking out ancient gun museums and dining casually off campground picnic tables (what a relief – just weeks ago Christian was visibly upset when, at a concert in France, he saw me drinking wine out of a plastic cup. He immediately replaced it with a stylish glass).
The French had their 18th century revolution soon after the U.S. war of independence. In the 19th century they graded their best Bordeaux wines in a way similar to how our third President Thomas Jefferson also ranked them. Their capital city has been a refuge and point of inspiration for many U.S. artists – including Woody Allen and author Ernest Hemingway, and Samuel Morse – inventor not only of a code, but a dedicated painter who thrived in Paris. Our curiosities are similar, our politics have parallels, and our mutual respect for the freedom of speech is enduring. In summary, there is no ‘California versus France.’ Differences do not divide us; mutual curiosities – instead – draw us together.
Some French (and American) friends still believe I’m a spy, providing some mysterious degree of high level intelligence to aid our U.S. national security forces. I’m not sure what intel related to French wine production techniques could be translated into national defense policies. Still, if someone offers to pay for that information, I may take them up on it. After all, it may prove that the two-hour, two-bottle lunch really does provide excellent input for slowing any decline of civilization.
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My latest posts on Forbes are about wineries in California – including in Calaveras County, Malibu city, and Laguna Beach.