CA-5 Champagne for Breakfast


Restaurants & Food Trail

The California-5th has been represented by Congressman Mike Thompson since 2013 when he was redistricted from California-1, where he was first elected in 1998.

Cities & Towns in the California-5th include:

  • Santa Rosa
  • Napa
  • Vallejo

Let me say at the start of this that I am not particularly fond of the word “foodie.” First, it sounds a bit dismissive. People that like wine aren’t called winey, though it would often be an apt, albeit misspelled description. People that like sports aren’t called sportie. In fact, to paraphrase the movie Office Space I daresay you’d get you’re a*s kicked calling a hockey fan that. But more importantly, I don’t like all that the word foodie implies.

My wife and I have a term, melon squeezers, we use to describe the people who frequent our local farmers markets – pinching all the turnips and commenting loudly on how fresh the dairy is. She makes fun of me for this, though and calls me a “self loathing melon squeezer,” and I guess I have to own up to it. You see, as much as I try to avoid handling food other people are expected to buy (you hear that corn peelers?) I actually like going to farmers markets. I like grocery stores, I like…good…food. I also like to cook and I think I’m considered by most of my friends and family as a pretty good and very enthusiastic cook. I like to go to restaurants and have something good and then come home and try to recreate it. But what I really love best when I go to restaurants is to have something that is so spectacularly good and so different that I have no idea where I’d begin in trying to replicate it.


“The French Laundry” by Peter Merholz – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The French Laundry has been around long enough now (Thomas Keller began running it in 1994) that many people, those that probably like the F word, have been there, done that and moved on. The restaurant has been on dozens of best-restaurant- in-the-world lists for the last two decades and while I have not been yet, it isn’t that I expect to tell people about a place they haven’t heard of before that has me lead off the Food & Restaurant Trail with this iconic restaurant in Yountville, California – it is that to me, it represents what truly makes every great restaurant great…the food.

Among a variety of other things on the menu at The French Laundry last night (they only do prix fixe multi course tasting menus) was a dish called Wolfe Ranch White Quail. Here’s the subhead description.

“Creamed Cauliflower, Celery Branch Salad, Poached Blueberries and Black Muscat Jus.”

I have two of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks and have practiced with them enough to believe that the Creamed Cauliflower alone, which probably consisted of a mouthful-sized serving, would take several hours to make. I’ll bet it was sublime and paired with the Celery Branch salad (what’s a Celery Branch?) and the rest of the things on the small plate (this was one of 10 courses) would have led me to say “wow.” And then try to describe the layers of flavors and the way they work together. I do not know how to cook like this (and with all due respect the cookbooks don’t help that much) but I am glad that people like Thomas Keller and his team of chefs do.

One Great Day in the California-5th

A note about this section.  One day isn’t long enough to spend in any district – it’s not nearly long enough to really understand the place and everything that makes it unique. But time for both real and virtual expeditions is often limited so I’ve chosen a day to try to encapsulate what the district is like. If you go…and have longer to spend, you should.

Furthermore, these are just the things my family and I would find interesting, many of which I’ve never been to – you probably would find and suggest others. Let us know where it says Leave a Reply at the bottom of the page or better yet,  drop us a line if you’d like to write a guest post about any district. 

9 am:

sonoma racewayWe’re not going to have breakfast at the French Laundry, though – our great day in the California 5th – aka Wine Country, will begin with a quite different experience. NASCAR is a big part of our national sports fabric. The races are among the biggest spectator events in many states around the country and they generate huge television ratings. We will look at several of the tracks as we make our virtual way around the congressional districts. But most of them, which are enormous ovals (2-2.5 miles,) don’t look anything like the Sonoma Raceway. The winding course, all 12 turns of it, was literally carved into the hills of wine country and is thus a much different viewing experience than many venues. It is also unusual in that it hosts not only NASCAR but IndyCar series races as well as regular NHRA drag racing. According to its website, the track hosts activity an average of 350 days per year. Some days racing starts as early as 8 am but you can check the full schedule here.

11 am:

On the Domaine Carneros website is an anonymous quote, “Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?” I wish I had said it myself.  Domaine Carneros is the domestic cousin of Taittinger Champagne, founded in 1987 on the primary route between Sonoma And Napa. It is readily available even in the hills of Vermont and its also relatively inexpensive so it has become one of Elizabeth and my favorites. We’ll stop here for a glass of bubbly and a tour if we have enough time .

 1 pm:

Years ago now, while plotting a new talent management course I think, my friend and colleague Mike Foster and I drove through the wine country while we chatted and he introduced me to1024px-Stags_Leap_Winery,_Napa_Valley,_California,_USA_(6199529950) the Oakville Grocery.  They made good sandwiches as I recall, and it looks like they still do but the striking thing about this grocery store  -not much bigger than the one that is probably in your neighborhood,  is that they carry some of the best wines in the world and you can imagine the winemakers who made it stopping here to pick up a carton of milk on the way home.

After a sandwich, it’s time for some more wine touring. There are two primary roads that lead through Napa Wine Country – the St. Helena Highway (Route 29,) which passes through the town of Oakville and the Silverado Trail a few miles east and there are several places to cross between them. You can’t go far without running across a tasting room. All the big name wine makers are here from the iconic names and brands like Mondavi and Stags Leap to the cult phenoms Harlan and Screaming Eagle. This is where wine became big business in the United States but more on that below. We’ll try what we can (if you want to make a day of it by all means join a tour and leave the driving to someone else) and then head for a different kind of experience to round out the afternoon.

3 pm:

Before they were known to anyone but locals for their beautiful wines, Napa and Sonoma counties were known for  just being beautiful, not far from either the surf of the Pacific or the hilly streets of San Francisco. Jack London State Historic Park is that Sonoma County. The famed author of the Call of the Wild, White Fang and John Barleycorn lived here in several periods of his life and called this property Beauty Ranch. The park’s web site quotes him:

“All I wanted was a quiet place in the country to write and loaf and get out of Nature that something which we all need, only the most of us don’t know it.”

There are 26 miles of trails in the 1400 acres of the park but a couple of them look particularly interesting and probably fit into the time we have before dinner. The Gravesite and Wolf House trail goes past the spot where London and his second wife Charmain are buried to the ruins of Wolf House (pictured), a house that was to become their dream home until it burned in a fire before they were able to move in.

6 pm:

The French Laundry. Enough already said but two things to know before you show up. Make reservations…far in advance and bring your wallet. Black Muscat Jus doesn’t come cheap.

More Days?  – More Things to See and Know in the California-5th

What Matters Here?

This snippet from an op-ed on traffic congestion in the Napa Valley Register sums it up, “We must also consider the effects in our precious grapegrowing microclimate of thousands of slow moving cars and trucks idling in our narrow valley, as well as water limitations.”

That is a sentence you are not likely to read about many, if any, other districts in the country. Wine matters here…a lot. Taken together, the wine manufacturing industry and the tourism industry it has spawned comprise the bulk of the economy in Napa and neighboring Sonoma counties. Congressman Thompson’s menu of issues on his site confirms this – he lists Wine and Agriculture among the usual laundry list of issues he is focused on and he was the founder and remains a Co-Chair of the Congressional Wine Caucus, although this group’s web site does not seem to have been updated in several years.

So what matters to Wine Country? As the Napa Valley Register article entitled Napa Valley to explore the price of wine success indicates, balancing the need for wider roads and other infrastructure improvements 1280px-Clos_du_Val_Winery,_Napa_Valley,_California,_USA_(7218842154)with the desire to maintain the bucolic sensibility that makes the area charming in the first place is a key issue. The improvements are deemed necessary by supporters to help move more tourists and the people that work in the service industry to the area. On the other hand, supporters of the area’s agricultural roots say unchecked growth threatens the rural nature of the area and the natural resources, most notably water, that allow the grapes to grow, or to put it another way-allow this place to remain an area that Jack London would recognize.

A key element in this issue, according to the article, is the changing nature of the wine business. In the past, selling wine to vacationers visiting Wine Country was a nice source of secondary revenue. Now, according to industry experts quoted in the article, selling wine direct to consumers has become the primary source of revenue rather than selling to distributors. The question seems to be – are they in the wine business or in the selling things (primarily wine but also the experience) to visitors business.

Energy is another prime focus for Rep. Thompson who last month, authored a bill entitled the New Energy for America Act, which would extend investment tax credits for energy-efficient residential and commercial property through 2021. In a press release announcing the legislation, Thompson said, “The ITC is one of the most important tools we have that supports the development of solar energy in the United States. Since 2006, when the residential and commercial ITCs first took effect, employment in the U.S. solar industry has grown to 175,000 jobs at more than 8,000 solar companies.”

Though there are not many articles on Google News  (I count less than 10 – mostly from industry ezines) covering this piece of legislation and although it has 21 cosponsors, the site gives the bill zero chance and just a three percent chance of even getting out of the Ways & Means Committee. Why? There is a belief among many in Congress that the market should dictate the mix of energy chosen by individual consumers and businesses rather than federal tax subsidies. President Obama, on the other hand, has included an extension of the tax credit in his 2016 budget. A discussion of this position and a lengthy, but quite interesting review of the current issues in the energy industry are available here.  But the question of whether the Solar ITCs will continue beyond next year’s deadline will certainly have impact on the Solar industry as a whole as described in this article from the Sacramento Bee and this one from Forbes. Live in the CA-5th? Do you want to see this tax credit continued?

 Next Up:

The Sports Fan’s Trail begins in New York-19

The Restaurant & Food Trail continues next week in the Oregon-3rd


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