“My mom worked, so at a pretty early age I learned to cook basic items for myself, stuff like spaghetti,” recalls David Ehreth, founder of Sonoma Brinery. “The more I cooked, the more I tried to figure out new recipes.”
Unknowingly at the time, another formative experience was trips to Tommy’s Joynt, a San Francisco restaurant institution. “There my father introduced me to real barrel-aged kosher pickles, like they have on the East Coast. At the end of the cafeteria line, there was always a big barrel of pickles. I would eat a couple of pounds -- couldn’t get enough!”
While he definitely got started on the right culinary foot, his experiences as a young man broadened his horizons considerably. At 18 David went off to the Middle East to work as a volunteer on a kibbutz in Northern Israel.
“When I grew up, in Novato’s bucolic past, everyone was a farmer or a rancher, and I raised sheep and goats as 4-H projects.” But in Israel, David says his main qualification was a strong back. He also learned a lot about farming in their large garden, apple orchards, wheat and cotton fields, and fishponds.
After his time in Israel, David bummed around Europe doing odd jobs and absorbing the culture. “It was an eye-opening look at how the rest of the world eats and a broad exposure to lots of different cuisines from Middle Eastern to French,” he explains. “I noticed all the little backyard gardens and open air markets. Everyone ate fresh food.”
When he returned to California, he went back to school to study electronics and engineering and then worked in telecommunications for about 30 years. During this time, San Francisco Bay Area restaurants provided the opportunity to experience the highest level of culinary artistry by chefs such as Masa Kobayashi and Alice Waters.
Thinking he was retired, David had “this crazy idea that missing from our West Coast culinary experience was a great pickle, like I had only tasted years ago at Tommy’s Joynt and in New York delis. We had discovered arugula, but the fresh pickle section was pretty lonely.”
A lifelong lover of pickles, he had learned how to make fermented pickles using cucumbers from his own garden. During his years in the tech industry, he had developed his recipes, and favorite ones became the first products for Sonoma Brinery.
“It’s the job of each of us in the modern food business to go about our work with passion, creativity, attention to quality and detail, to make our products so that a person who’s busy doing other work can go to the store and find food as good as they could make it at home.”
“In high end markets, like Big John’s in Healdsburg, the number of hand-crafted foods now is many times more than there were 20 years ago. It’s the natural extension of the growing interest in food, in California and all over the country. I’m providing one of those hand-crafted foods.”