The famous pop hit of the music group The Mammas & The Papas “California Dreamin ‘” sings how nice it would be to be somewhere safe and warm in Los Angeles on that gray, cold winter day. We walked through California. Many people dream these California dreams and realities, but only a handful manage to experience them. Multicultural San Francisco, stellar Hollywood, the frightening Valley of Death, the carefree enjoyment of endless summer, democracy, and respect for diversity… But even this is a land of contradictions, splendor, and misery. Go there if you would like to experience a different, wine-culinary dream. The wine-growing landscape, the winemakers’ stories, and their wineries, and how the winemaking business is one of those 1001 things on the wine lover’s list that you must experience in California.
Again in the California Dreams and Realities
I first went to California twelve years ago, full of “California dreams,” and I still remember the culture shock: the contrasts between rich, multi-million-dollar villas and people struggling to make ends meet, American patriotism, and the narrow-mindedness of the average American. The size of everything from cars, portions of food, clothes, and, ultimately, people. This time we wanted to check out what has changed in the Promised Land, and most of all, experience what a wine lover must.
Lively San Francisco
We started our journey in lively San Francisco, where there is no lack of sights and various activities, be it running over the mighty Golden Gate Bridge, diving into the infamous Alcatraz prison’s secrets, or simply enjoying the multiculturalism of this city, street events, culinary offerings, marketplaces. The trail then led us along a picturesque coastal road to the south, where our eyes were drawn to the mighty ancient redwoods in the red forests of Big Sur National Park. We enjoyed the beautiful sandy beaches and seaside, at times even the fairytale towns of Monterey, Carmel by the Sea, Santa Monica, and Santa Barbara.
Los Angeles and Iconic Hollywood
This time we bypassed Los Angeles and iconic Hollywood and preferred to indulge in Yosemite National Park’s nature pleasures and visit one of the many ghosts’ mines. We chased the sunrise in the inspiring desert of Death Valley, which is anything but truly dead. Unfortunately, we missed breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon in Arizona due to the occasion, which is otherwise not to be missed on this route. Since the prices of California wines and tastings are quite high, we tried our luck in the city of sin, Las Vegas, before leaving for the wine-growing countries. I went richer, mostly with the American entertainment and kitsch industry experience. From here, we indulged in the wine world’s pleasures in one of the most famous wine regions in the world, the Napa and Sonoma valleys.
California Is Very Expensive
California is very expensive, and even if you try to control the cost, it will require you to reach deep into your pocket. It is definitely worth traveling by car. Not only does this way of wandering give you a greater experience of the country, renting and petrol are also cheap – for the feeling: a 14-day rental of a middle-class SUV cost us € 600 and petrol € 0.8 per liter. Accommodation prices are highly dependent on the location and quality of accommodation. We deducted an average of 150 to 250 euros per night for a 3- to 4-star double room, and in many places only for bed and breakfast.
Generally on California Dreams and Realities
Native Americans or. the natives lived here until the 16th century when the English first discovered these places north of present-day San Francisco. They were followed by Spanish conquerors and priests who anchored their missions here. They quickly gave it up and handed over the territory of present-day California to Mexico. After the Mexican-American War of 1848, California regained its home in the United States, just before the first major gold discovery. The golden age, which lasted for a good two decades, attracted many happiness seekers from other parts of America and the wider world to these places.
Even today, this golden country represents the American dream for many. The first personal computer, the iPhone, Steve Jobs, and Silicon Valley, Google, the Internet, the Hollywood film industry, technology giants, and the biotechnology industry source, fast food… all this originates from one of the most developed countries in the world, California.
Simultaneously, it is one of the most advanced environments that significantly shape trends in environmental protection and Internet privacy. It is a society that is tolerant of like-minded, same-sex couples and migrants. And this is the source of their rich diversity, which we immediately perceived on the street in culture, languages, traditions, and, ultimately, in food from all over the world.
You could say that Californians are very serious about wine and completely relaxed about the rest. Most of them see their country as a “sculpted,” prejudice-free, open, multicultural society that allows everyone to live out their American dreams. More than 80 percent of the population lives on the coastal part. Fitness and body reshaping, yoga and meditation, healthy eating may also be pretty much at the heart of their lives. And interestingly, there is no shortage of legalized marijuana stores, which we smelled after the first steps on San Francisco’s streets.
Money Is the Holy Ruler
But how quickly we also realized that not all gold really shines. To our rented apartment, which was just a shot from the headquarters of the world multinationals Twitter and AirB&B, we had to literally make our way down a homeless street full of tents and, at night, bonfires in the middle of the roads where the hypothermic homeless people try to warm themselves. The landlord immediately rushed to apologize that a fifth of all U.S. homeless people is housed in California. Presumably, because they receive significant financial support from the local government. Unfortunately, many of them are adolescents who have fled from home. Even more, they are veterans of various U.S. wars. The state has abolished social assistance for them, and many also suffer from various mental illnesses.
One of the Most Expensive Real Estate Markets
I was just surprised by the fact that we practically didn’t meet any businessmen in the San Francisco business center in broad daylight. The middle class is increasingly living on the outskirts of cities or campuses built by multinationals for their employees. They work a lot, hurry and everything is subject to schedules. No wonder, because here, due to the lack of housing, it is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the US, and the cost of living is very high. All of this dictates long workdays to Californians, so few Californians can really afford to lie on the beach all day.
And another problem they are increasingly facing at this end of America. As many as six of the most polluted cities in the U.S. are in California. Climate change, reflected in large-scale fires and droughts, is changing California’s image. We also saw this with our own eyes when we witnessed the fires that devastated Sonoma and Napa, among other places.
You Can’t Escape the Advertising Industry
That capitalism is at home here in all its nobility, or rather cruelty, you will probably not be surprised. We were accompanied by large shopping malls, amusement parks, huge cinemas, and car shops with endless parking lots of new sheet metal on four wheels. You can’t escape the advertising industry’s products even when refueling, in toilets, or even in bars and some restaurants, where TV screens are screaming with cheap advertisements and constant news. Otherwise, the customer in the shops and restaurants is a real little god. However, unusual kindness and at times already disturbing helpfulness last only as long as there is even the slightest possibility of selling you goods or services. And when you do, they spit you out like a bitter grape seed after eating a sweet grape and are already rushing to the next one.
After all, that I had experienced, the parable of exploiting French geese’s controversial fattening for the famous Fois Gras delicacy crept into my mind. Something similar is happening to Americans. First, multinationals make them dependent on all consumer goods through aggressive advertising and sales, and then they are treated for addiction and overabundance… The only thing that matters is that they give their dollars.
California everyday life really surprised us a bit, so we enjoyed the culinary-wine story all the more. California is one of the flagships of culinary and wine. A new world with some of the world’s best wines that often fetch sky-high prices. While wandering around California, you quickly find out that they already have an almost religious attitude towards food. It all revolves around various healthy diets, celebrating successful chefs of famous restaurants, and photographing literally every bite before putting it in your mouth.
Let the Ingredients Speak for Themselves
They say it is a golden cuisine land thanks to its excellent ingredients. “Let the ingredients speak for themselves,” they like to brag. No wonder, like most vegetables and fruits, and most organic produce in the U.S., they are grown right on the extremely fertile California soil. And fresh seasonal, local, and often organically grown food is a trend. You will rarely find heavy French sauces or fusion molecular gastronomy in their cuisine. That’s why they enjoy various meats, seafood and lots of vegetables. It’s not uncommon for a restaurant in the middle of San Francisco to have its own garden on its roof with herbs, vegetables, and even a beehive. The menus follow many Californians’ values – organic, non-genetically modified agriculture and cruelty to animals, sustainably produced wines without artificial additives, fair coffee production, and support for smaller producers. So it’s no wonder that even a quick-prepared burger will get its California “fresh addition.”
Here in California, Italian Carlo Petrini was inspired by the Californian cuisine, and he co-founded the global Slow Food movement in the 1980s. And no wonder the first Italian restaurant in the U.S. opened right in San Francisco.
There Are the Most Restaurants per Capita
Today, it’s a culinary fusion of home-grown local ingredients with world flavors, with chefs seeking inspiration from their Asian neighbors, in their Latin American roots, and ultimately in the remote European Mediterranean. In San Francisco, where there are the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. (even five times more than in New York City), you’ll find everything from meals in Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese street restaurants to prestigious French fine dinners. Real foodies can be enjoyed in customized food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and by no means should you miss the local farm markets, which are available practically all year round. In San Francisco, you have to wrap up in a real food monument, the so-called Ferry Building. Here you can indulge in a variety of fruits and vegetables, snacks from pumpkins and sweet corn, indulge in a sinfully good grilled steak or Mexican tacos, or lick your fingers with excellent oysters and other seafood delicacies. Also, we sweetened ourselves with home-made fruit pie and organically grown ice cream with freshly picked red berries.
Those who have a “problem” with overweight wallets can turn to one of the legendary culinary sights there, exploring the three-Michelin restaurant of French Laundry chef Thomas Keller in Yountville. The nine-course menu starts at $ 325, and a glass of wine will cost you an average of $ 35. We saved that experience for the future.
Californians Are Good Drinkers
Californians are also good drinkers. The wine was brought to these places by the first missionaries and other liquid delicacies of the vines. They start their day with coffee from small specialized roasteries, continue it with a glass of cult wine or boutique beer from smaller breweries, and go out in the evening with cocktails from the spirits of boutique micro-distilleries.
But that this is a land of great contradictions can also be seen in the cuisine. In food hypermarkets, the sight of dried meat products with the words “bred without hormones,” “without antibiotics,” which is the basic minimum standard for all foods in Europe, took my breath away. Nowhere do they forget to add sugar, even in the plain yogurt, salad, or meat sauce. And honestly, in all the tourist restaurants and other tourist-besieged areas, the food is of fairly average quality and salted with high prices. So it pays to check the online reviews a bit and drive a mile away from strict tourist centers before you decide to head out for your meal.
You Can Afford California Dreams and Realities If You Have a Big Wallet
But not everyone can afford “fork to fork” stories. In normal bars, expect prices from 30 to 50 percent higher, and in a cult, more modern restaurants, even one or even several times more expensive than we are used to. A glass of medium-priced wine (1.5 DCL in scoops!) It Will cost you from $ 15, a beer about $ 5, so it’s quite common to serve tap water in pubs automatically. For ease of presentation, in the center of Napa, we deducted as much as $ 136 for a solid wine bistro for a salad plate, beefsteak, a cheese plate (with six different pieces of cheese and chutney for a sample), and three glasses of fresh younger wine. And another caveat: the prices in the price list are without tax and mandatory tips, so just under 8 percent of the tax and between 10 and 20 percent of the tip must be added.
Wine Is Part of California Dreams and Realities
The first vines of Mediterranean varieties were brought to these places in the 18th century by the Spaniards when they planted vines in their missions to produce wine for mass offerings. Demand for this precious drop increased with the Golden Age and mass immigration. Thus, the California wine sector gained momentum. But this did not last long, as the infamous epidemic of vine lice soon attacked the vines. In 1920, the federal government introduced a 13-year general ban on wine production and trade. This ban decimated wine cellars. Thanks to the ingenuity of the winemakers, who still produced wine under the pretext that it was for mass purposes, some of the oldest vineyards and vines have been preserved to this day.
Until 1976, when the famous blind wine evaluation took place in Paris, California was famous for its mass-market for cheap wines. This so-called Paris judgment placed California as an important player on the world wine map alongside the best wines of the old world. Wine has become such an important part of Californian life that during the Internet boom of the 1990s, vineyard ownership even became a mandatory status symbol in Silicon Valley. And the pioneers of the local winemaking were responsible for that. Certainly, the most important of them was Robert Mondavi, whose cellar we also visited.
The Quality of the Wine Is at an Enviable Level
Once heavy and overripe wines, full of alcohol, today are distinctly fruity, concentrated and intense, still full, but exquisite, harmonious, and drinkable. In addition to world varieties such as Cabernet, Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and White Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, typical varieties of Spain, Italy, and other parts of the Old World can also be found here today.
Given that we were visiting California’s wine-growing countries for the first time, we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit two of the most famous: the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, with a short stopover the region of excellent sparkling wines and Pinot Noir, Carneros. In choosing the cellar, I relied on the recommendation of the world wine authority Jancis Robinson, MW, and at the same time followed a mixture of both major renowned cellars that wrote the history of the wine-growing countries here, as well as smaller boutiques that you must not miss. Of course, I also wanted to visit the cellars, whose wines can be found in some of Slovenia’s better wine shops, thus preserving California’s taste long after our return.
Confident Napa, a Valley of Prestigious Cabernets
Once a quiet agricultural valley full of orchards, today it boasts one of the world’s best wine regions. You will not only enjoy the prestigious Cabernet Sauvignons here. You can relax in boutique hotels and admire the intertwining hills of vineyards adorned here and there by centuries-old oaks from the pool. You will also be able to get lost among the most prestigious, mansion-like, or architecturally modernly finished cellars and excellent restaurants in the charming places of St. Helena in Yountville. By no means you should not miss the “Oxbow Public Market,” because it will take you to California’s gourmet scene. It is also home to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, which, in addition to its restaurant, which is open to the public, offers several cooking courses, wine tasting, and everything you can imagine in connection with food.
The Napa Is a Must-Visit
In Napa, they cannot afford not to grow cabernet or chardonnay here (besides merlot, zinfandel, syrah), as the conditions on calcium-rich soil are downright ideal. According to the Paris ruling, the agricultural land prices have skyrocketed. Today, they are one of the most expensive vineyards globally, which can reach a staggering price of several million euros per hectare. The wines are large, complex, with an incredibly long aftertaste that lasts. These are wines that you can “forget” for a decade or so in the cellar and will only get better when opened. The Napa is a must-visit, the valley is beautiful, and the wines memorable. But be prepared for road traffic and especially the high prices that start at $ 20 for standing tastings of basic wine lines and continue at $ 40 for higher-end wines, but can also climb to more than $ 100 if you can afford to rest your butt overlooking unforgettable vineyard hills or pampering the palate with specially matured wine lines with carefully paired snacks of local delicacies.