Need a respite from the dreariness of winter? How about a day or weekend trip just 60 miles north of Santa Rosa, yet seemingly hundreds of miles away in rustic charm and tranquility? Long to taste exceptional pinot noirs, sparkling wines made in the methode traditionelle style of France’s Champagne region and brisk, mouthwatering, aromatic white wines such as riesling, gewürztraminer and pinot blanc, without any snobbery?
If so, Anderson Valley in southwestern Mendocino County is for you. Drive north on Highway 101 to Cloverdale, turn west onto Highway 128, navigate a few hairpin turns, and you’ll soon be surrounded by towering redwoods, verdant winter meadows and a quiet peace perfect for alleviating post-holiday stress.
There are 27 tasting rooms in Anderson Valley, scattered in and around the tiny communities of Boonville, Philo and Navarro. As logging and apple orchards have diminished in the region, winegrowing has become a major financial driver, a host to visitors seeking the region’s wines and provider to outside wineries of prime grapes that command impressive prices. Travelers to and from the Mendocino Coast often pass through Anderson Valley, keeping these hamlets alive and productive.
Yet Anderson Valley was not an overnight winegrowing success. In 1964, Donald Edmeades, a Southern California physician, planted 24 acres of vines and hung a sign that read “Edmeades Folly” because the valley was believed to be too cool and foggy for ripening grapes. Yet Edmeades found some success, especially with gewürztraminer. In 1968, Tony and Gretchen Husch planted chardonnay, gewürztraminer and pinot noir nearby and established Husch Vineyards as Anderson Valley’s first new winery since Prohibition.
The worldwide splash came in 1982, when Champagne house Louis Roederer launched Roederer Estate in Philo to produce sparkling wines. Napa Valley’s Schramsberg Vineyards followed suit, buying Anderson Valley grapes for its sparkling wines, prizing the vibrant acidity in the fruit. Revered Russian River Valley pinot noir producer Williams Selyem tapped Anderson Valley’s Ferrington Vineyard starting in 1992, with founding winemaker Burt Williams later buying the only vineyard he ever owned, Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley, in 1998.
These endorsements from established producers cast a glowing halo over Anderson Valley as a vital viticultural region, and demand for the wines is ever-increasing. To experience these wines, visit the tasting rooms; some require reservations, others welcome walk-ins and all offer a deeper experience than can be explained here. Click through the above gallery for more photos.
Founded in 1996 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Goldeneye rapidly became a benchmark wine producer in Anderson Valley. Among its current releases are a brut rosé sparkling wine, eight pinot noirs, a gewürztraminer and vin gris of pinot noir, all grown in Anderson Valley. The wines are typically bold and generous in fruit and can be sampled in a wide array of tastings. Reservations are highly recommended. The Essentials Tasting features current-release Goldeneye wines and selections from sister winery Migration. The Estate Tasting includes a guided wine-and-food pairing with current and library wines. Don’t miss the ATV tour of Goldeneye’s Confluence Estate Vineyard, which includes tastings, charcuterie and cheese. 9200 Highway 128, Philo, 707-895-3202, goldeneyewinery.com.
Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn fled Southern California for a simpler life in Anderson Valley and planted their first vineyard in 1974. Their Navarro Vineyards wines are now known for their freshness and finesse, with their muscat blancs, gewürztraminers and rieslings winning multiple gold medals every year. Chardonnays and pinot noirs are excellent, too, made by Jim Klein in an elegant, mouthwatering style. The tasting room is rustically simple and small, the staff attentive and enthusiastic. Seating areas outside offer lazy-day views of the valley. Navarro wines are sold largely through the tasting room, wine club and direct order; visiting the winery is the best way to discover these gems. 601 Highway 128, Philo, 800-537-9463, navarrowine.com.
This Bennett-Cahn sister winery includes a creamery, where Sarah Cahn Bennett oversees the cheesemaking, using milk from the family’s goats and sheep. She and her brother, Aaron Cahn Bennett, have brought an ultimate-experience vibe to Pennyroyal, with its own line of wines, cheeses, farm tours, sparkling wine brunches and pairing opportunities. Pennyroyal is an Anderson Valley institution, with a farm-first philosophy. 14930 Highway 128, Boonville, 800-956-8909, pennyroyalfarm.com.
Talk about cementing a California wine region as the real deal! Louis Roederer Champagne came to Anderson Valley in 1982, impressed by the region’s ability to grow high-acid chardonnay and pinot noir for sparkling wine. Its tête de cuvée, vintage L’Ermitage Brut ($50), is on par with some of the finest bubblies of Champagne. The Roederer Estate nonvintage brut is widely available and attractively priced at around $25 (often discounted). In the tasting room, you can sample vintage and nonvintage brut rosés, plus bubblies from magnum bottles — a rare treat. 4501 Highway 128, Philo, 707-895-2288, roedererestate.com.
This lodging/dining/tasting room complex hosts Drew Family Cellars, Long Meadow Ranch Vineyards and Smith Story Wine Cellars. It’s a great stop to try and buy several wines. Jason Drew focuses on pinot noir and syrah from Mendocino Ridge, Anderson Valley and the Yorkville Highlands. Long Meadow Ranch, based in Napa Valley, has this Anderson Valley outpost to show off its chardonnays and pinot noirs from the region. Eric Smith and Alison Story of Smith Story Wine Cellars use Anderson Valley grapes in their wines as well as those from the Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain and Russian River Valley. The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo, 707-895-2955, themadrones.com.
Toulouse Vineyards and Winery
Proprietor/winemaker Vern Boltz and his team go the warm-and-friendly route in their comfy tasting room, with views of Hendy Woods State Park and its magnificent giant redwoods. Dogs are welcome and the wine offerings are broad: pinot gris, rosé of pinot noir, pinot noir, zinfandel, merlot and the rare valdiguié, a light, fruity red with moderate tannins and cracking acidity. 8001 Highway 128, Philo, 707-895-2828, toulousevineyards.com.
It’s not a tasting room, but qualifies here because it’s a wine bar, wine retailer and specialty food market that’s a gathering place for locals and a place for visitors to taste Anderson Valley wines from producers that don’t have tasting rooms. Wine industry veteran Wendy Lamer opened Disco Ranch in the historic Horn of Zeese building in Boonville. She offers wine flights, pairings and Anderson Valley wines that can’t be found elsewhere. Not thirsty? Stop for lunch. 14025 Highway 128, Boonville, 707-901-5002, discoranch.com.