Musings on Bread, Wine and Their Places of Origin

    During my elementary, junior high and high school years (1963-76), my parents owned and operated the Balboa Bakery on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California.

     John Wayne was a regular customer, coming in on Sunday mornings to buy donut holes for the crew of his luxury boat. Buddy Ebsen was a fan of our Squaw Bread, which was served at the local Ancient Mariner and Rusty Pelican restaurants.

     It sounds like a privileged upbringing, and from the standpoint of safety and security, it certainly was. Crime was rare on the peninsula, which meant my brother and I could roam around on our bicycles day or night without fear of being abducted or otherwise harmed.

     But there also was plenty of work that a kid could do at a bakery, from washing dishes to mopping floors to frying donuts to rolling bread to icing Danish pastry. So, before school each weekday, we would rise at 4 a.m. and be at the bakery by 5 so we could work for a couple of hours before the school bus arrived. Privilege generally carries some sort of price, but the price we paid also instilled a work ethic that endures to this day. Laziness in others absolutely tests my patience.

     But I digress. The main reason I brought up the bakery is its name: the Balboa Bakery. I once asked my Dad why he opted for that name instead of something like “Johnsons’ Bakery.” The reason was simple: money. The local business license had a very low fee if the name of the business included the name of the city; use a different name (like your family name), and the license cost more. So, Balboa Bakery it was for a good 20 years under Johnson family ownership.

     In the bakery business, the “place of origin” has very little, if anything, to do with the products being sold. It isn’t like a restaurant that embraces fresh fruit and vegetables from local growers in its recipes. Most ingredients – such as flour, sugar, salt, yeast, etc. – can be procured from any number of sources. A good bakery is defined almost as much by what it doesn’t use (preservatives, for example) as by what it does.

     But the wine business is different. Much different.

     Reason: Wine, the product, absolutely is defined by the origin of its grapes. Make wine from grapes grown in California’s Napa Valley, and you’ll have a product that is distinct from a wine made with grapes grown in, say, Alaska. (Whether the California wine is better is a subjective matter, but everybody would agree that the two wines are different.)

     I bring this up because the United States system for identifying wines geographically is in a state of flux. For the time being, the Treasury Department – the governmental body charged with overseeing the American Viticultural Area system – has put the issuance of any new AVAs on hold.

     That development, alone, wouldn’t necessarily be big news. But some believe this is just the beginning of what could be a comprehensive review of the entire AVA system. Such a review would be welcomed by many in the wine business, but it would be troubling news for many others.

     We’ll explain why this is such a big deal later this week here on

     Also coming your way this week:

     The DVD release date for the movie “Ratatouille,” and a preview of a DVD “extra” that will be of interest to wine lovers and foodies.

      Previews of two more wine festivals that are just around the corner.

      An updated Vinesse “Party Planner” feature, to help you plan the perfect get-together (and know how much wine to have on hand).

      A look at the new “Essence Tasting” now being offered at Sonoma County’s J Vineyards & Winery.

     … and more! So be sure to check in with us every day for your daily dose of wine news!

Posted in Editor's Journal
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