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A Short History of the Ridge

(originally posted May 26, 2010) The first Europeans to settle in the Anderson Valley were Russian hunters and trappers who made their living selling seal and otter pelts. With the Gold Rush came a building boom in the San Francisco Bay Area and the need for lumber, which made the first growth redwood forests in Anderson Valley highly desirable. Though this was for the most part a transient work force, families that began to settle on the Ridge, mostly Italians, brought with them a rich agricultural heritage. They homesteaded on Greenwood Ridge in part because it offered high ground with a good road that connected the Port of Greenwood with Anderson Valley, a road distance of about 18 miles.

Greenwood Ridge has a very different climate from Anderson Valley proper. The broad ridgetop plateaus and benches sit at elevations of up to 1600 feet above sea level. This puts them above the persistent coastal fog that hangs in the canyons of Greenwood Creek and the Navarro River, fog which can chill lower portions of Anderson Valley in summer as well as winter. Ridge lands are drenched with sunlight, however, the close proximity of the Pacific Ocean keeps ridge top temperatures from rising--or falling to valley extremes. Occasional summer heat waves drive Anderson Valley temperatures well into the 90s, or even 100s. Ocean breezes reaching Greenwood Ridge often moderate these highs by ten degrees or more. Springtime frosts are virtually unknown to many parts of the ridge, where cold air drains down the steep slopes into the canyons below.

The first grapes were grown during 1850s but wine production was “local” until prohibition when most of the vines on the ridge were pulled out. Italians had come from areas where grapes were often grown on hillsides, so in this respect they were at home with their new topography. The climate and rich clay soils also reminded them of their native Northern Italian homeland. They painstakingly hand-cleared the wooded slopes and planted their native Vinifera grapes.

While the incredible reemergence of grapes in the valley since the 1970’s is a result of these factors, over time whole industries ~ forestry, wool, apples ~ have disappeared from our Valley. Some of those loses made sense ~ decimated forests resulting in the closing of the mills, for example, but some have cut deeper into our cultural heritage, most notably the apply industry being co-opted by Washington, Oregon and (wait for it) China. These major players can ship apples and juice (mostly syrup) cheaper and faster the Gowan's, the last commercial apple farmers at the bottom of Greenwood Ridge.

Comfrey Symphytum officinale (Borage Family)

This herb is a favorite first aid remedy. It contains a compound called allantoin, which when applied to the skin accelerates the healing of tissue and the closing of wounds. When fresh leaves or roots are applied to a wound it causes it to contract and close quicker and inhibits the opportunity for infection while minimizing scarring.)