Most wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties require reservations for a tasting and then charge at least $20 for what is often less than a glass of wine when all is said and done. And no longer are you guaranteed the fee will be applied to the purchase of a bottle.
So to come across a winery that offers a free tasting as well as a free cave tour is a rarity. Welcome to Alexander Valley Vineyards.
It had been a number of years since I was in the valley, let alone this winery. I’m not sure there is such thing as an ugly vineyard, but there are certainly some locations that are more stunning than others. This is one of them.
This valley is home to 42 wineries, with 15,000 acres of vineyards.
Alexander Valley Vineyards offers free tours of its wine cave. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The Sonoma County tourism website says, “Alexander Valley AVA outlines the path of the Russian River as it flows from Mendocino County southeast to Healdsburg. Over the ages, the river meandered across the valley, leaving deposits of gravel underneath the alluvial soil—ideal conditions for growing great Cabernet Sauvignon, and somewhat similar to the best vineyard soils of Bordeaux. To the west, the AVA includes mountain vineyards where the grapes enjoy million-dollar views.”
The valley is named after Cyrus Alexander. The fur trapper came to this iconic Sonoma County region in the mid-1800s. In 1962, his granddaughter sold the land to Harry and Maggie Wetzel. Their first vintage was in 1975. Today the winery is run by the third generation of Wetzels.
Of the 720 acres the Wetzel family owns, 220 are planted with wine grapes.
On a recent cave tour and tasting the guide was asked how it’s possible to offer free tastings. He smiled and said it’s because with the land being in the family so long the property taxes are so cheap. It’s one way they can give back to those who visit the area.
The original winery has been turned into the tasting room.
On a warm July day it felt good to go into the wine cave. The 25,000-square-foot area is naturally 58 to 62 degrees. While it can hold 8,000 barrels, usually 6,000 fill the space.
Construction on this cave, which is the fifth largest wine cave in the state, started in 1998. Another one is slated to break ground soon. It will connect to the current one, which will then make Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV) home to the third largest wine cave in California.
Sin Zin is probably what AVV is best known for, but there are so many other varietals that are better. Well, their regular Zinfandel is wonderful, but so too are the Cabernet and Merlot. I also left with a red blend and Chardonnay.
What was so refreshing beyond not having to pay to taste, was the friendly vibe. There was no pressure to purchase anything. The tour in the cave was incredibly informative and interesting, with the education continuing in the tasting room one pour after another.
The tasting room is open every day from 10am to 5pm, with cave tours at noon and 2:30pm.
Poke Loko near Las Tunas has scrumptious bowls. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Food. It’s one of the main reasons to visit Todos Santos.
Friends in the U.S. have a hint of jealousy in their voice as they say I must love the Mexican food in Baja California Sur. It’s as though they know what they get at home isn’t authentic. And it’s not.
Nomada in La Paz is known for using fresh, local, organic ingredients. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
So much Mexican food north of the border is full of gooey cheese as well as covered in heavy sauces. Most plates come with rice and beans. I’m not sure I have ever been served rice in Baja.
Huevos rancheros at La Esquina in Todos Santos is always a sure bet. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
And the tortillas, well, they alone could be the reason to eat Mexican food while in Baja. I’m partial to flour, though corn ones are available. Light, thin and full of flavor. Not the super chewy ones that are the norm in the U.S.
Love cheese? Then this is the sandwich for you at Bleu in Las Tunas. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As a vegetarian I have not had a problem finding something to eat. While not all of the vegetables used at restaurants are grown locally, many are. This just adds to the freshness and flavor. It doesn’t matter the meal of the day; I haven’t gone hungry when I’m in this magical town north of Cabo San Lucas on the Pacific side of the peninsula.
Oysters are the main seller at Oystera in downtown Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
For the three winters I lived in Todos Santos La Esquina was my go-to breakfast place after tennis. Nothing changed when I was back for a visit in June. Huevos rancheros is one of my favorite entrees there. The tomato sauce on top is super tasty. The breakfast burrito is so large I regretted not making it two meals. It was just so good that I could not stop eating.
The menu at Santos Pecados is full of Mexican cuisine. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
But it’s not just the Mexican food I love in Baja Sur, it’s the variety of cuisine that is so wonderfully delectable. After all, people living there don’t want to eat the same thing day after day so variety in restaurant food is as important in Baja as it is anywhere.
Tre Galline in Todos Santos has pasta dishes so good there won’t be leftovers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
One of the three new places in Todos Santos that I dined at included Oystera. It’s one of the more expensive places too—and looks it. They seem to be catering to the Cabo crowd. I was there twice—both times with people who live Cabo, so the marketing seems to be working. Three items on the menu are for those not into eating anything pulled from the water.
Enchiladas are a top seller at Alma y Manny in downtown Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
One of my favorite meals was at Poke Loko in the Las Tunas area of Todos Santos. All of the bowls can come without fish. The only disappointment was tofu was not an option as a protein substitute. The service, presentation, and flavor were all outstanding.
Built at the site of an old sugar cane mill, Oystera in Todos Santos had its one-year anniversary in June. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
While Bleu is now closed for the summer, I made it in for lunch last month. The Monet sandwich was rich and decadent. A soft baguette was full of brie, manchego and Swiss cheeses with grilled spinach, roasted red pepper and zucchini.
The empanada at Bonjour Madame in Las Tunes is choke full of spinach. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It was a wonderful treat to eat out so much, dine on delectable foods, to share the meals with so many different friends—and not to be broke when the bill came.
Drought made the spring harvest of chili peppers in northern Mexico dismal at best. This in turn has led to a shortage of Sriracha throughout the United States and everywhere it is exported.
Many people think Sriracha is imported into the United States, but it’s actually a Southern California company that makes the spicy sauce. David Tran started Huy Fong Foods in Irwindale in 1980. Chinese by birth, Tran immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam.
A few bottles of Sriracha sit on the shelf at El Sol Dos market in Todos Santos on June 23. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
“Sriracha is actually made from a very special type of pepper that only grows in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico,” Murray Tortarolo with National Autonomous University of Mexico, told NPR.
The company has not disclosed exactly where in Mexico it is sourcing the chilies, but said it is hoping the fall harvest will be more successful.
“We have several sources sometimes and we don’t want them to know who each other are,” Donna Lam, executive operations officer for the company, told the Los Angeles Times.
Huy Fong Foods uses about 100 million pounds of chilies a year.
Prior to a 2017 lawsuit with Underwood Farms all of Huy Fong Foods’ chilies came from the Ventura County outfit. Since then chilies have come from Mexico, New Mexico and California. Today, Mexico is the sole provider.
This spring the company sent an email to customers stating, “Currently, due to weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers, we now face a more severe shortage of chili. Unfortunately, this is out of our control and without this essential ingredient, we are unable to produce any of our products.”
The bottle with the rooster and distinct green cap is a favorite in cuisine of all kinds. Sriracha is super popular in Vietnamese food. Often a bottle of it is on the table at Vietnamese restaurants much like ketchup is at a burger place.
Marketing research company IBISWorld said in 2019 Huy Fong Foods controlled nearly 10 percent of the U.S. hot sauce market. At that time the hot sauce was a $1.55 billion market.
However, according to NPR, “The original Sriracha is actually Thai—and comes from the seaside city of Si Racha, where most residents haven’t even heard of the U.S. brand, which is now being exported to Thailand.”
Alcohol is often the drug of choice to numb oneself to the realities of life and war. But what if buying a beer or two could do something more, something good for others?
Breweries throughout the world are being asked to brew RESIST—a Ukrainian anti-imperial stout. So far only two breweries in California are doing so, with one being Secret Trail Brewing in Chico.
Cans at Secret Trail’s RESIST are being sold for $15 each. Remember, this is a fundraiser. The beer is good, really good. The money is going toward the Red Cross humanitarian relief effort.
The recipe is online as are other ways to help people in Ukraine who are trying to survive while their country is being shelled and destroyed by the Russian military for reasons only dictator Putin knows. The recipe was created by brewers in Ukraine.
The Drinkers for Ukraine website says, “We’re not being prescriptive when it comes to the beer’s packaging and label design, all we’re asking is that brewers use the name, and Ukraine’s national colours. For the rest, use your creativity.”
Secret Trail’s can has a map of Ukraine in blue and yellow, with RESIST in yellow.
The Chico label says, “We brewed this Imperial Stout for the people and the brewers in Ukraine. Brewers in Ukraine have seen their livelihoods wiped out, and in some instances their businesses destroyed by Russian strikes. It is a collaborative effort amongst breweries worldwide to show our support for the brewers, and all the people of Ukraine, and large portion of the proceeds will go to the Red Cross Humanitarian Relief Fund. As you enjoy this rich wonderful beer, know that you are doing good for those in need.”
In business for more than 100 years, it took a pandemic for Fanno’s Cutlery to have its best year.
With restaurants closed or not able to have customers dine in, people were at home cooking more than usual. This is when they realized their knives were dull, as were their landscaping tools. After all, gardening became a pandemic pastime as well.
Fanno’s is who people took their blunt blades to.
“Saw business was good the last two years. The pandemic forced people to stay home so they did landscaping,” owner Robb Fanno said. “The tree saw was our core business. Some of our dealers were up 300 percent.”
Inventors and builders
It was Fanno’s grandfather, Asa, who started the Chico company and revolutionized the agriculture saw business. He had an almond orchard, which until his invention of the pole saw, required climbing into the tree with a saw to prune it. This was dangerous work.
The Fanno curved pole saw was the first of its kind. The tooth design and the blade’s curved edge are what made it unique. The apparatus allowed for a safe way to prune those hard to reach branches. The operator could do the work standing on the ground—not in the tree or on a ladder.
From there a folding saw was developed, as were countless other saws. It’s assumed by those who know a thing or two about these tools what someone means when they say they own a Fanno without ever mentioning the word saw.
Being inventors also meant developing the machinery to make the end product.
“A lot of the equipment in the 1960s and 1970s we made ourselves because nothing was out there,” Fanno said. “If it stopped working, we upgraded it ourselves.”
All of this creativity was done at the West Eighth Avenue shop where the business first opened in 1920 and where it continues to operate.
Robb Fanno sharpens a knife at his Chico shop. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
What’s different today, though, is that Fanno saws are no longer being made in Chico.
In spring 2021, Fanno sold the saw business to Superior Fruit Equipment of Washington. That company had been a distributor of Fanno’s saws for more than a quarter century, so the two knew each other well. This was important to Fanno. He only wanted someone to take over the family saw business that he could trust to respect the quality of product he and his ancestors had made for years.
Included in the sale was much of the equipment used to the saw making business.
“We had a long history of innovation in our tools, but it was based on technology from the 1930s and ‘40s. To be competitive in today’s technological environment is tough,” Fanno said. “It was the appropriate time to let it go.”
Now the back room is somewhat empty and in a bit of disarray. Fanno is in the process of going through what’s left, acknowledging some of the equipment has outlived its usefulness.
“There’s a machine in back that weighs 12 tons and has no value. It was used to blank out the saw blades. It’s equipment that has been outdated,” Fanno said. Its future is likely to become scrap metal.
Keeping tools sharp
Without saws to build, Fanno is focused on sharpening and sales.
The sharpening side of the business came into being after selling so many saws. Eventually, they lost their luster. Saws, loppers, pruning shears—they all need to be sharpened from time to time in order to be effective.
“We service the tools they use. They rely on us and we rely on them,” Fanno said of the agriculture community.
For years sharpening tools was more of a side business. But it kept growing even without advertising.
The other thing that set Fanno’s apart is no one else had the experience to sharpen and recondition tools. “That was left up to us to fill that niche,” Fanno said. “We contracted out some of the specialized or heavier stuff.”
In the back of the building is a standing abrasive belt grinder where Fanno does his sharpening. Nearby is a bench grinder. Carefully, he runs the blade on the belt to get it ready to be used again. A buffer helps finish the process. He tests the short blade in a block of wood; it goes in almost like butter, proving it is more than ready to tackle vegetables or meat.
Besides home cooks and those in the ag business, non-professional landscapers also rely on Fanno’s. Once a year, for free, he leads a workshop for the Butte County Master Gardeners.
“I think as a gardener it’s important to be educated about tools and tool care,” said Kay Perkins who runs the education committee for the BCMG. “He is entertaining and helps people make good decisions about tools.”
These sessions are usually in December and are open to the public. Often they are announced on the master gardeners’ website or Facebook page. Sign up fast when the class rolls around again because space is limited, with a waiting list the norm.
“He says to look for this kind of steel, this kind of ratchet. He doesn’t try to sell his tools. He tells people what to look for whether it’s his or another brand,” Perkins said. “He talks about the kind of edge to look for and explains why.” He also talks about design, handles and all the other parts of a tool.
The master gardeners recommend getting tools sharpened at the end of the year so they will be ready to be put to use for pruning in January and February.
Fanno admits not everything people want to resurrect should be. Sentimentality, though, for a family heirloom or a favorite knife have people leaving them to be sharpened when buying something new might be more logical.
“We try to accommodate people. We take it as a challenge at times,” Fanno said of mandolin blades, old can openers, and well used hunting knives. “You have to be somewhat diplomatic with what they have.”
More than knives are sharpened at Fanno’s. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Selling knives and agriculture tools wasn’t a serious part of the business until the early 1980s. As Fanno tells it, people would ask about products either for themselves or as a gift. Recommendations kept being made. Finally, he realized it would be more profitable to stock items for sale instead of sending people elsewhere.
“We wanted to bring in quality stuff. There was too much of the less quality merchandise available,” Fanno explained.
Kitchen tools and some sporting cutlery are the main focus. There was a phase about 15 years ago when customized collectables were popular.
Value is important. It’s not about carrying the priciest knives; it’s about selling a quality product.
“We watch the trends. I’m looking at a couple lines we might move in,” Fanno said without revealing what those might be.
Three brands of cutlery—Victorinox, Miyabi and Wüsthof—are for sale at Fanno’s. An array of lines of each are available. It’s possible to buy individual knives or complete sets.
“There are a lot of cheap knives out there that I can get, but I want to offer people a product I would use myself,” Fanno said.
If someone could only own one kitchen knife, Fanno says it should be a paring knife or an 8-inch chef’s knife. The combo would be perfect, especially if it were possible to include a bread knife to make it a trio, he said.
In addition to all the culinary knives, there are kitchen shears. Then there are the loppers and smaller pruning tools.
Fanno’s eyes light up when he walks around the store talking about all the inventory. He’s a wealth of knowledge, explaining why the grip is important, how the shape of the blade will allow for various limbs to be trimmed.
He even sells tools so people can sharpen their own blades.
Fanno is the third generation to run the Chico store that was started by his grandfather, Asa—better known as A.A. The youngest Fanno came on board in the early 1970s and has been at the helm ever since. Carl Fanno bought the business in 1949 from his father and ran it until his death in 1976.
With no heirs, the family lineage will end with the 72-year-old. He’s not quite ready to retire, but also doesn’t anticipate working forever. Whether a buyer might come forward remains to be seen, and it would have to be an individual or company who Fanno would trust taking over what remains of his family’s heritage. After all, it’s not just a business, it’s his name that is on saws, the sign, and is a signature of perceived and actual quality.
The company’s longevity helped bring in new clientele during the pandemic, while longtime customers continued and renewed their relationship with the shop.
“It’s hard to find someone to offer quality service. It’s one reason we are still here. There is the trust factor. I think people value someone who is business that long, that you must be doing something right,” Fanno said. “People want that relationship, but we don’t have that as a rule in merchandising and retail.”
Even with Chico evolving into a city of more than 100,000 people, it is still a small town in some regards. Fanno and his shop are evidence of that truth, and that customer service is still relevant.
“I went looking for a certain type of knife and headed toward a more expensive one. (Robb) guided me toward one that was more affordable and I use it all the time. It’s the perfect size for everything I do in the kitchen,” explained Laura Lukes of Chico.
Fanno refuses to upsell people into something they don’t need. But he also isn’t going to carry cheap merchandise.
“I remember watching my dad when customers would come in. He was very gregarious,” Fanno said. It’s a trait he knows is important to this day.
As a one-man shop, it can get hectic at times. Fanno now parcels out some of the sharpening work to a former employee whose business is Richard Moeller Sharpening Service. Fanno’s wife, Linda, helps out with some of the paperwork.
Kitchen knives of all sizes sit in a multitude of cardboard boxes waiting for their owners to pick them up. The teeth of chain saw chains have been sharpened to the point they can split most any wood. They are stored in bags. It’s a system that works for Fanno even though to the untrained eye it looks a bit chaotic.
“My vision is to stay here as long as I can with the cutlery and sharpening business,” Fanno said.
In a world where so many people go hungry every night how is it possible so much food is wasted?
Likely, there are many answers to that question. Perhaps the hungry people aren’t living near the wasteful people. Though, I have a hard time believing that since both seem to exist everywhere.
These are global problems—hunger and waste.
“While the world wastes about 1.4 billion tons of food every year, the United States discards more food than any other country in the world: nearly 40 million tons—80 billion pounds—every year,” according to Recycle Track Systems. “That’s estimated to be 30-40 percent of the entire U.S. food supply, and equates to 219 pounds of waste per person. That’s like every person in America throwing more than 650 average-sized apples right into the garbage — or rather right into landfills, as most discarded food ends up there. In fact, food is the single largest component taking up space inside U.S. landfills, making up 22 percent of municipal solid waste.”
Food waste is so bad that this April is the inaugural Nevada Food Waste Awareness Month.
“Food waste is the largest source of household waste that makes its way into Nevada’s landfills,” Daren Winkelman, chief of Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Sustainable Materials Management, said in a press release. “Food waste impacts more than just your wallet; the methane released by rotting food contributes to harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Taking simple steps to reduce food waste can add up to big improvements for our environment and maintain Nevada’s leadership in creating clean, healthy, and vibrant communities.”
Nevada says the benefits of curtailing food waste include:
Saving money: By limiting the amount of food that gets thrown away, your family can save thousands of dollars a year.
Supporting the hungry: If you have extra food at home, consider donating it to a local food bank or shelter to support families and children experiencing food insecurity.
Conserving resources: Keeping food out of landfills helps lower greenhouse gas pollution, and composting food scraps can help make healthy soil for your garden.
I’m pretty good about not wasting food. I often shop with distinct meals in mind. Veggies that are starting to go bad get cooked and the put in the freezer. Fruit can be frozen to be used for smoothies on another day.
I’d like to think if we curtailed food waste at home, it would mean grocery stores would have more. The good thing about transferring the burden is that many stores already donate to local charities. Perhaps I’m being a bit idealistic, but we need to start someplace, one household at a time can make a difference.
Missing in so many monumental discussions is the health of the food supply. Not just in the United States, but other countries as well.
Food journalist Mark Bittman this year released his book Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal. While I have not read it (yet), I listened to him talk about various components of the book in a podcast released by Aspen Ideas in November. The book is now on my “to read” list.
Bittman paints a clear picture of the importance of responsible agriculture, and how our federal government is failing to take this endeavor seriously. When food subsidies continue for big ag, clearly something is wrong.
The global pandemic proved how the supply chain is broken in so many regards. Farmers were plowing under perfectly good product because suddenly there was no way to get it to the people who needed and wanted it.
Bittman says 60% of the food available is junk—processed food. This includes grocery store shelves and in fast food restaurants.
While he praises those who support local/regional ag, farmers’ markets, and community supported agriculture, more needs to done on a larger level to have a significant impact.
The consequences of not changing our agricultural processes will continue to impact the land negatively, to make people ill, and to contribute to climate change.
While the information in the podcast is sobering, it is also hopeful in that change is possible. One of the things he would like any president to do is to forbid the use of antibiotics in animals unless for health reasons.
Freda Ehmann’s legacy is rooted in Oroville’s olive industry. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
While Freda Ehmann was not the first to pickle olives, she is considered the mother of the canned olive industry.
The widow started Ehmann Olive Company in 1898 with 20 acres in Oakland, and turned it into a multimillion dollar company when she was in her 50s. Ehmann olives were distributed nationally by 1904, and in 1922 she had 700 acres of trees in the Oroville area.
The German native revolutionized the pickling process, which in turn made canned olives readily accessible to the masses. Until then, most olives in California were turned into oil.
Her curing process ensured all of the olives were black, like one finds today in a can of olives, instead of the green or brown color that was the norm at the time.
The original Ehmann olive label was red, yellow and black, the same as the German flag. She had come the United States as a teenager with her mother in 1852.
Her home that was built in 1911 in Oroville is available for tours, and is now the site of Butte County Historical Society. It was constructed by her son, Edwin, in the Craftsman bungalow style. (Edwin became mayor of Oroville in the 1920s.)
One of the nice things about this museum is people can actually sit on the furniture and touch items. A lot of this has to do with most of the furniture being period pieces, as opposed to her original belonging. One thing that did belong to Ehmann that is upstairs is her writing desk. It’s tiny, as was she.
The stained glass is also original. Ehmann had an extensive beer stein collection, a symbol of her roots.
Tours are available of the old Ehmann home in Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
By 1925 the Ehmanns were out of the olive business and the house had been sold.
A nationwide botulism outbreak in 1919 was traced to the Ehmann Olive Company, though others were implicated as well in the deadly spread.
According to Food Safety News, “USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry did a study of Ehmann’s glass and metal containers in 1920, finding both could look normal but still contain pathogenic organisms, including Clostridium botulinus. The California State Board of Health responded to the 1919 outbreak with emergency regulation of olive production on Aug. 7, 1920, requiring sanitation through the processing facility and mandating a thermal process. California responded with the Cannery Inspection Act of 1925.”
That same website goes on to say, “Judith Taylor, who wrote the book The Olive in California, interviewed Freda Ehmann’s granddaughter who said her grandmother never could come to terms about the company’s role in the 1919 outbreak.”
The Ehmann Olive Company was bought by the Mt. Ida Packing Company in 1925. In 1970, it became Olive Products Company, a division of Beatrice. According to the historical society, the company was then acquired by DaLallo Company, which produces Ehmann Olives that are sold through the Butte County Historical Society. Today, Lodestar Farms, which bottles olive oil, traces its roots to the Ehmann olive trees.
The Ehmann estate is a museum as well as headquarters of the Butte County Historical Society. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
“The public has a right to the full truth, not just the selections or the spin.”
FAC talks to the @NorthBayNews about need for transparency in deputy’s fatal shooting of man. https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/you-are-going-to-kill-me-family-experts-criticize-sonoma-county-sheriff/