One of my friends has a double-secret fishing spot. It’s remote, he bags a boatload of fish and he discloses the location to no one. I have never been invited to his special place, but I’m guessing guests are required to wear a blindfold.
I personally know a place where Lactarius deliciosus mushrooms are hidden in plain. People who gather wild mushrooms don’t share where they hunt, because their next forage for fungi would lead to empty holes in the ground.
I feel similarly protective of other treasures in the Sacramento Valley – the trail along the river with a view of “my osprey nest,” the grand gathering spot for Sandhill cranes or my super-secret shortcut down a country road.
When I tell new acquaintances about my (secretly enviable) Northern California lifestyle, I try to groan and hiss about the weather.
“It’s as hot as Death Valley all summer long,” I lament.
“A newspaper reporter literally baked cookies on the dashboard of his car. You would hate, hate living here,” I say with such conviction they must wonder why I haven’t moved to Hawaii.
You see, I want to brag, I really do, but I don’t want more and more people moving here, filling up parking spaces, tromping near “my” wildlife and complaining about dust during almond harvest.
Farms with welcome mats
Next month we’ll be celebrating 12 years of the Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend. On Oct. 7 and 8 farms and wineries open their doors wide open and encourage people to take a road trip to near our bend of the river. The weekend is a big, progressive party. Passporters buy a map for $30 in advance, then visit the locations where treats, music and extra touches are planned.
If my xenophobic tendencies were consistent, I would also dislike the idea of a farm trail.
Yet, the difference is that the farm trail isn’t a secret. People use a map to get where they are going, buy local products, and then go home. For those who already live here, we learn more about the farm treasures just down the road.
Growing wine list
Once upon a time, organizers planned Passport Weekend as an agribusiness trail with a few wineries. Back then, only a few wineries were venturing into the foothills.
Wine stops now include 14 of the 34 stops along the trail. To make it on the list, the wineries also must grow their own grapes.
It seems like not a year passes without a new winery opening its doors somewhere between the Butte Sink and the Vina plains.
Over time, growers have mastered the art of growing grapes in a climate that is decidedly nothing like the Napa Valley. (Did I mention it’s really, really hot here in the summer?)
If you have a chance to talk to Berton Bertagna, he’ll wax poet about tending his vines with one tan shoulder shading the sun. His Son Kissed Vineyard is on the Sierra Oro Farm Trail list.
Vanessa Pitney of Nesseré Winery, and Kate Barber of Purple Line Urban Winery, are also quick to tell you about the wine-blending powers in their husbands’ nostrils. Wines crafted by both noses, with grapes grown nearby, are also on the list.
The newest winery on the Farm Trail list is Live Vine, overlooking the Afterbay between Durham and Oroville. I don’t know much about this place, at least not yet.
Back to the farms
When it comes to the Sierra Oro Farm Trail, I’m going to remain partial to the food farms on the list. I live here because I like almond blooms, flooded rice fields and the smell of damp alfalfa.
Llano Seco Ranch, provided tours in the past, with views of the wildlife reserve and a ride past their hog farm.
Try not to miss Harrison’s California Chestnuts, in Gridley. Sandy Harrison will show you why the chestnuts you’ve been buying at the grocery store are nothing like the fresh delicacy she roasts before your eyes. A certain stillness settles into the middle of a chestnut orchard. Intermittently you’ll hear a thud, letting you know the soft brown, spike-encased nut has fallen and is ready to gather.
I personally like to visit the new farms on the trail, which this year includes Richvale Natural Foods. The farm family grows rice in the heart of rice growing land – Richvale.
Other stand-by favorites, T.J. Farms, Book Family Farm, Pedrozo cheese-tasting and the Patrick Ranch’s Italianate farm house – also on the list.
Take your time
You won’t be able to visit all 34 locations in one day, nor even in two days. (The passport is good for both Saturday and Sunday). To help with making a logical route, create a custom map via the online mapping tool. A few itinerary suggestions are included on the SierraOro.org website.
Book a hotel early. Tickets also sell out early. Please stick to the main roadways.
Header photo credit: Mark Thau