We farm in a valley that has no name. The Wintun band of Native Californians who inhabited this area for millenia certainly had a name for it, but somehow in the 150 years since the first European settlers arrived here, no one has come up with a moniker in Spanish or English. Were most of the land here planted in winegrapes, growers here certainly would have come up with a designation for it and applied for official status along the lines of “Dry Creek Valley” or other well-known appelations. After all, like many of those wine growing regions, this place has its own unique terroir, a combination of microclimate and soil types that makes it different from the surrounding area.
Our little valley west of Winter is formed by a creek which divides it roughly in two where it flows west out of the Coastal Range at the point where the Monticello Dam forms Lake Berryessa. At the outset, the valley is less than a mile wide but as the creek flows east, it opens up to about 3 miles. Between the foothills on either side of it and the creek, there are thousands of acres of alluvial soil. The valley ends roughly in downtown Winters, at which point there are no longer hills immediately to the north or south. Once you head east from there, you are entering the valley proper — the enormous Sacramento Valley.
It’s true that many valleys are named after the body of water created them, so why isn’t ours? The Native Californians called the creek “Liwaito”, but for unknown reason, European cartographers labelled it “Rio de Los Putos” on the first maps of the area. If you speak Spanish — like many of the Spanish, Portugese and Mexican immigrants who settled here did and still do — you know that the “P” word is an nasty insult. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names insisted on changing the name to “Putah” to make the distinction clear but perhaps they just should have gone back to the original name.
One day last week while I was working on one of our taller tractors, I was struck by the diversity of the agriculture that was in my field of view. Rimmed by the hills and the coast range that outline our little no name valley, I saw a field of sunflowers with a backdrop of walnut and fruit trees.
Next to it, a field of onions grown for seed. Turning north, my glance passed over the riotous diversity of our own farm — tomatoes, grapes, pistachios, corn, melons and peaches.
Continuing to turn my gaze, I saw a herd of sheep grazing on the hills that make up the southern edge of the valley and mark the virtual boundary between agriculture and the ex-urban sprawl of the Bay Area. Doesn’t a place like this deserve a name?
A while back, Caltrans built a new bridge on Highway 128 near our farm where it crossed an arroyo that is unnamed on maps but that everyone around here calls “Dry Creek”. An engineer at Caltrans must have decided there were just too many “Dry Creeks” in California, so when the bridge was finished, they stenciled the name “Apricot Draw” on it. Ten years later, everyone still calls that arroyo “Dry Creek”. Maybe this proves that — around here at least — that just because you give a place a better name doesn’t mean anyone is going to use it.
In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter much. Our little valley is still beautiful and bountiful, even if it doesn’t have a name. And our little creek is still lush and verdant even though its name is a dirty word Spanish. They just deserve better, that’s all.