Recently, my wife and I decided to take a little holiday to Northern California to the beautiful Monterey Bay and Cienega Valley. While we went for vacation, we were surprised that, without much searching, that we would be finding France in Monterey, California.
French History in Monterey
Despite its remoteness, California developed trade relations with Mexico, New England, Russia and European countries, including France. It attracted French migrants arriving, mostly individually, from the west coast of France (Normandy, Brittany, Southwest). The French immigrants blended into the local population by marrying Mexican women in Monterey, the capital of California, Los Angeles or Santa Barbara. French remained the language of communication between them, which also gave them a real advantage in the political relations of the time.
Two of the first Frenchmen, Jose Maria Covarrubias and Henry Cambuston, arrived in 1830-1840, are hired as teachers in Monterey and integrated into powerful Mexican families. Jean-Louis Vignes,(you might remember him from our earlier blog) an aptly named man from Bordeaux, arrived to Los Angeles in 1831 and was the first winemaker to market Californian wine.
We stayed at a nice hotel near El Estero Park. Quite a nice park, it includes swan pedal boats, a skateboard park and Dennis the Menace Playground. It is a playground that was established with the creative help of Hank Ketchum, creator of Dennis the Menace.
A French Consulate in Monterey
On the other side of the Estuary (El Estero), is the Monterey Visitors Center. It is in this historic building that, in 1843, France established a consulate in Monterey. The consulate was set up to extend diplomatic, cultural and business relations between France and Alta California. Monterey was then the capitol of Alta California, under both Spain and Mexico. At the time, it was the only port of entry for taxable goods to California. Because of the growing number of French immigrants there was a necessity for a consulate to attend to the needs of the many French merchants, farmers and trappers in the region.
The adobe served as the home of Louis Gasquet, the first French consul or ambassador to Mexican California. It was elegantly furnished directly from Paris. During Monterey’s “roaring 40s,” it was one of the town’s busiest places. King Louis Philippe I considered California so important that France became the first country to establish a consulate in Monterey. American Commodore Sloat took Monterey for the United States. Gasquet refused to recognize the authority of the new administration and was briefly imprisoned in his own house under guard.
Upon his release, Gasquet returned to France. When Jacques Antoine Moerenhout replaced Gasquet in 1847 the house was described as “a spacious home with a beautiful rose garden, shrubs and trees.” He had quite a career. In 1850, Moerenhaut was recalled due to the revolution occurring in France. When he returned to Monterey, Moerenhaut found the house had been sold at auction and the consul’s office moved to the new gold rush town of San Francisco. Moerenhaut then became the French consul in San Francisco and was there when, in 1865, California became part of the United States. He was also the first consul in Los Angeles. Moerenhaut was also a published author. His work Voyage aux îles du Grand Océan, published in 1837, was of great importance to Paul Gauguin’s attraction to Polynesia.
Finding a French Bakery in Monterey, California
After hearing about all of that, we needed to find a place to sit and soak up the unusually warm Monterey day. And what better place than the Paris Bakery!
Just a short walk from the park, we felt right at home here. Pastries, cakes and French breads (ficelle, baguette and brioche), compete with Northern California favorites such as sourdough breads. We decided on standbys croissants and pain au chocolat. As we sat outside under the umbrella tables, we read about Jackie Jegat, the owner of Paris Bakery.
Master Baker Jackie Jegat, was born in Doué-la-Fontaine, France where he began his baking career at the age of 16. He started as a baker’s apprentice for a shop in Saumur, France. After two years of apprenticeship, he moved to Paris. In 1978, at age 23, Jackie opened his first bakery in Chatou, a suburb of Paris, where he soon brought his brother Eric to serve as his apprentice. In 1979, Jackie opened a new bakery in the 10th arrondissement on rue Faubourg St. Martin. After much success, he made his way to San Francisco in 1981. There, he worked at Bakers of Paris. Four years later, in 1985, Jackie moved to Monterey and bought Maison du Croissant on Bonifacio Place, initially calling it Le Montmartre (now known as Paris Bakery). Jackie had become so busy he sent for his brother, who was still in Paris.
In early 1987, Jackie met Sonja, who had a small bakery on the other side of town. It was not too long after that Sonja sold her business to join Jackie and make time for the arrival of their first baby together. Their love of baking and family was obvious–Jackie’s girls, Angelique and Vivianne, soon came from France to live with their dad and Sonja; continue their education; enjoy their new little sister Stephanie; and work in the family business. In 1993, not only did they expand the bakery to the adjoining building, they expanded their family with Olivier. With their outlook and philosophies very much alike, they finally got married in 1995, with the ceremony planned around their working schedule, which led to a simple wedding after work in the bakery.
French Wine History in the Cienga Valley
But the day was far from over and after a nice respite, off we went in search of wine! We headed east, past San Juan Bautista (with a very nice mission that was featured in Hitchcock’s Vertigo) to the Cienga Valley, a remote, Pacific refuge located under the shadow of the Gavilan Mountain Range.
Only 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Cienega Valley is perhaps best recognized for its viticulturally meritorious location; it is situated atop the San Andreas Fault, and is comprised primarily of porous limestone deposits, punctuating a terrain laden with granitic, sandy beds of loam. The calcium evident in the Cienega Valley’s calcareous soils results in wines demonstrating greater acidity, inherent structure, and, when properly grown and made, longevity.
Our destination was Eden Rift Vineyards. “Under Vine Since 1849,” Eden Rift is among the oldest, continually producing estate vineyards in California.
In 1830, a French wine merchant, Theophile Vache, came to the United States from Bordeaux by way of Cape Horn. In 1849, while California was still under the Mexican flag, he ventured from Monterey to the Cienega Valley and planted a small vineyard on this site in 1852. In 1883, Vache’s neighbor, William Palmtag, then the mayor of Hollister, bought the estate from Vache and, under the name, Palmtag Mountain Vineyards, elevated the wines being made there; so much so that his wines swept fine wine categories in both national and international wine competitions of the day.
Owner Christian Pillsbury took us on a tour of the vines both old and new. A historic, head-trained block of Zinfandel planted in 1906 still thrives outside the estate’s main residence. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay seem especially simpatico to this estate site, and it is through these two transparent varieties that they have found the most honest and pure expression of terroir at Eden Rift.
You might remember in our earlier blog and video about the French immigrants in Los Angeles, we talked about the French wine pioneer Vignes.
Jean-Louis Vignes was a French settler to the Los Angeles area during the Mexican era. He was the first commercial wine maker in California and one of the first men to import and plant European Vitis vinifera grapes in the state. Upon arriving in Los Angeles in 1831, Jean-Louis Vignes bought 104 acres (0.42 km2) of land located between the original Pueblo and the banks of the Los Angeles River. He planted a vineyard and started preparing to make wine.He named his property El Aliso after the centuries-old white alder tree found near the entrance. In 1850, Vignes was the largest wine producer in California.
As the sun was setting, we were on the highest point in the vineyards. Christian opened a bottle of Pinot Noir Estate wine and poured us all a glass. It was a perfect ending to a beautiful day. Down the hill to our car, we drove back to Monterey. We came for a holiday but couldn’t help Finding France in Monterey California! Allez!
Find France for Yourself
Some images via Wikimedia Commons
San Francisco Examiner. 16 December 1923