We recently spent a few days in the Anderson Valley (thank you Grammy for keeping the kids) sampling the region’s Pinot Noirs and talking to growers and wine makers. If you haven’t been there, the area is incredibly beautiful–pastoral and bucolic, almost unreal. The green hillsides, small vineyards, majestic redwood forests, flocks of sheep, organic cuisine and nice, interesting people make it a fabulous place to visit if you are looking for a quiet place to do wine tasting. We have stopped there several times in the past on our way to and from Mendocino. This time we went specifically to spend time in the valley.
Pinot producer Raye’s Hill has a guesthouse on the hill with amazing views of the valley where we spent 2 nights. Dan and Raye Sokolow own the winery and a small vineyard and live on the property. We enjoyed a bottle of their 2003 Pinot Blanc which was lovely and refreshing. We also enjoyed the silence surrounding the house. At night, the only sounds were those of raindrops and frogs.
There are essentially two towns in the Anderson Valley along Hwy 128. One is Philo, which if you blink you’ll miss it. The other is Boonville which is also tiny but large in comparison–a couple of good restaurants and cafes, a couple of shops, a school and the county fair grounds. Many residents seem to piece together various part-time jobs to make a living. One person who greeted us at the organic yarn and spinning store also sat us for dinner that night at the Boonville Hotel. Another gal I had noticed sitting in the ice cream “shop” earlier in the day, served us dinner that night.
Our first wine tasting stop was Breggo where owner/winemaker Doug took time from bottling to talk about the wine and the vineyards. We loved his Anderson Vally PN as well as a single vineyard PN (also from Anderson Valley) he produces.
Next stop–Toulouse. The wine maker, Vern, a former fire captain, talked extensively with us even though he was also in the middle of bottling. We took home some of his acclaimed estate grown Pinot Noir (2006)–very Burgundian in style.
We stopped at Roederer because I have a soft spot for sparkling wine. We caught them in the process of disgorging and watched them hand-label their magnums. That was interesting but it seemed so huge and corporate in comparison to the smaller wineries in the area.
Navarro is also relatively large but is always a pleasant place to visit. We stopped there to get a bottle of their dry Gewurztraminer and watch the baby doll sheep roam their vineyards as a natural, sustainable form of weed control.
Navarro’s natural weed control
Next day we met with a Pinot grower and wine maker right outside Boonville. She generously spent an hour walking thru her vineyards with us, discussing her specialized cane pruning methods and lamenting the lack of rain. She seems to take great care in the pruning of her vines and of her vineyard workers. Her wine was delicious too.
Despite the fact that it rained while we were there, everyone was concerned about the water shortages they are experiencing. The situation is so dire there that on our last day communities were gathering from all over the valley holding rain dances in Ukiah, Willits, Mendocino and elsewhere. We missed by an hour the rain dance gathering in Boonville held during lunchbreak of the monthly permaculture meeting. According to one source, “A lot of pot (was) going to be smoked there.” The area is known for its quirky, eccentric residents. Quirky or not, you decide. What we confirmed is that there are some amazing Pinot Noir, Alsatian varietal and sparkling wine producers there in that beautiful, beautiful place.