Revenge of the Plants: Allergies flare in Sonoma

“I imagine heaven to be a lot like spring in Sonoma,” said San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. He would know – he’s dead. For those with allergies, spring in Sonoma can be a living hell.

At present writing, the pollen count is so high that Weather.com, which tracks this sort of data, is unable to chart it properly – it’s beyond “high” on its scale. It’s record-setting, as well as nose-running, eye-watering, throat-searing and generally miserable-making. Like a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie, seasonal allergies are how plants avenge themselves. Perhaps we deserve it. Consider the dead Christmas tree on the side of your neighbor’s house.

Not only do we annually decimate forests of vegetable brethren, we humiliate the resulting corpse with gaudy decorations and bring it final shame by letting it dry into dust in the company of garbage cans. Why else would a brown Christmas tree be visible in May? It’s the arboreal equivalent of a head on a spike and it sends a clear signal to the plant world: We will kill you. Oh, and sometimes we eat you too. What many often fail to realize during this seasonal assault on our noses, is that the distribution of pollen is how plants reproduce.

Yes, we’re in the midst of some kind of herbaceous orgy. Perhaps we’re lucky that all we’re getting are the sniffles instead of some sort of plant-clap. At least plant-clap can be treated with standard antibiotics (or so I hear).

The allergies that attack Sonomans, however, require a battery of pharmaceuticals, (fexofenodrine, pseudoephedrine, etc.), which means your medicine cabinet is a Bunson burner away from becoming a meth lab. This is what the junkies are looking for when they come in the bathroom window. However, during spring in Sonoma, it might just be the uninsured clamoring for decongestant relief.

Despite the enormity of my nose (useful for processing all this hot air), I’m immune to most airborne allergens. My wife, the Contessa, however, is not; nor, it seems, is our son the Cannoli, both of whom sneeze with enough regularity as to suggest a renewable energy source.

The difference between green and gesundheit is negligible, especially when pronounced with a stuffy nose.

My tolerance of local pollen notwithstanding, I have noticed a peculiarly Sonoman sensitivity to wine when I’ve enjoyed it in extremis. After a few bottles, I often awake with a headache, occasional nausea and the rare, but memorable, supplication to the porcelain god as I lay prone upon the cool tile of the bathroom floor. I attribute my proclivity to vomit rather than sneeze to good genes.

I pity my poor Roman ancestor who, upon taking a vomitorium break during wine-soaked bacchanal, could only muster a torrent of sneezes. How embarrassing (if he were a tree, he’d surely have been stripped of his leaves and beset by tire-swings).

I once knew a woman who claimed to be allergic to California wines owing to the presence of sulfites. Consequently, she refused anything but pricier French wine.

However, there is no such beast as a sulfite-free wine due to the fact that, even when their not added to eliminate bacteria, sulfites occur naturally during fermentation. The real difference between our wines and those on the continent is that the FDA requires our labels to read “Contains sulfites,” whereas Europeans have no such requirements. Now, when our wines, like prescription medicines, are required to list side effects, we will know we’ve gone too far. “May cause drowsiness,” check; “Some dizziness may occur,” check; “Do not operate motor vehicles or heavy machinery,” double-check. Of course, the active ingredient is nothing to sneeze at either.

0 Replies to “Revenge of the Plants: Allergies flare in Sonoma”

  1. Hi DH,

    Love your blog, and you're FB friends with my daughter, Helena Fish.

    For your latest writing I have a comment; you say "The real difference between our wines and those on the continent is that the FDA requires our labels to read “Contains sulfites,” whereas Europeans have no such requirements."

    Tthe real difference between our wines, or even those from Chile and Austrailia, and those from the continent is that our vines have been stressed (forced) to produce fruit quickly. Most those on the continent are from very old vines, or at least new vines that have not been stressed. The fruit of these stressed vines cause considerable stomach discomfort to those who are sensitive, whereas wine from old vines is entirely drinkable. It's unfortunate some think it's the sulfites.

Any thoughts?

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