|Photo George Naylor --Farm Bill Basic|
In the 1980s, a crisis hit farmers hard. A loosening of export policies in the '70s allowed huge grain exports to the hungry Soviet Union, jacking up commodity prices. Removal of restrictions on lending by our Federal Land Bank led to a boom in farmland prices and ballooning debt. Like the speculative real estate boom prior to the mortgage crisis we face today, farmland in the '80s experienced a bubble, which popped when the oil embargo sent interest rates soaring into the double digits. Family farms, some held for generations, had to go on the auction block as families across the Midwest declared bankruptcy.
Domestic and alcohol abuse and suicide rates jumped and some farmers broke under the pressure. In Iowa a farmer killed his banker and wife, then himself. In Minnesota a farmer and his son killed two bankers. Small towns in rural areas went into decline as the population moved away to find employment; many never recovered and now are ghost towns.
I was thinking of this as I took the drive from Santa Barbara north to Monterey along Highway 101 last weekend. I spent a great deal of time driving this route in the '90s to Paso Robles. After the cluster of Andersen's Pea Soup, hotels and gas stations at the junction with Highway 246, there was a seemingly endless drive through brown rolling hills devoid of anything except a few native coastal oaks and some cattle in widely spaced fenced pasture. It was a two color, two hour drive--just brown land and blue sky, except for two or three brief months when the former turned green with spring rains.
|Star Lane Vineyard, Santa Ynez|
What has happened is stupendous in its implications for rural areas: in 1995, there were only 944 wineries in California, now there are nearly 3000. In Oregon, there were 71 in 1990 and over 400 today.
Read through the biographical information on winery owners and you'll find individuals successful in other careers who had the big bucks necessary to establish their own winery: actors like Fess Parker, lawyers like Bob Hartenberger of Midnight Cellars, corporate executives like Lisa Pretty of Pretty-Smith or bankers like Selim Zilkha of Laetitia. With wineries has come a welcome infusion of capital into rural areas, as wineries need a support system: hotels for tasting room aficionados, gourmet restaurants, vineyard and winery employees, winemaking supply companies, schools for the children of the new residents, internet service...the list goes on and on. The business of wine has revitalized rural areas and given winemaking states a huge economic boost. Exports have played an enormous part of this growth. In 1995, the U.S.A. exported about 143 million liters of wine overseas, in 2009 over 413 million liters were exported. The economic impact on California by the wine business is estimated to be over $51 billion and over $103 billion on the US economy. So, the next time you enjoy your glass of wine, give a toast to yourself for helping to boost our rural areas and contribute to American jobs!
This week's wine pairing recipe!
2 lbs. beef fillet or top rump roast
Salt and pepper 1 lbs. frozen puff pastry
4 Tbsp. semolina flour
2 egg yolks + 2 Tbsp. warm water 3 Tbsp. olive oil 1 Tbsp. garlic powder or 2 cloves of garlic, diced fine
2 Tbsp. powdered thyme Dijon mustard or horseradish sauce, as condiment
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and sear the meat on all sides. Transfer to a baking pan and put into the oven for 10 minutes for medium rare, 20 minutes for medium, 30 minutes for medium-well or 40 minutes for well-done. If you like your meat rare, don’t put it into the oven and skip this step. When roasted to the desired doneness, remove from the oven. Let the meat sit and cool for several minutes.
In the meantime, set out the puff pastry to thaw. Stir the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Mix the garlic, semolina flour and thyme together and rub all over the meat. Roll out the puff pastry to about 1/4" thickness. Lay the beef on top and drape the puff pastry around it, brushing egg yolk on the "seams" so the pastry will seal and cutting off excess with a sharp knife. Try and get the main seam under the beef, and tuck the ends underneath. You can use a cookie cutter to make decorative shapes with the remaining pastry--attaching with some egg yolk. Brush all over with the egg yolk mixture, and return to the baking pan and oven to bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.
Let the beef sit for 10 minutes after removing from the oven before slicing and serving. Serves 4. Pair with a powerful California Cabernet Sauvignon.