Tasting the Anderson Valley

Northern California’s Anderson Valley wine region, a 2 1/2 hour drive north of San Francisco, runs 18 miles along State 128 through a quiet, cozy wedge of woodland countryside.  It’s less traveled than Napa or Sonoma, but offers friendly people, rustic architecture, and some darn good wines.

It’s perfect for getting away from any city you can think of, and hearing yourself think.  Especially if you want to think about wine.

The usually-chilly climate in the Anderson Valley is similar to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and is good terroir for Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer. Sparkling wines are also a treat up here, lightly sweet and not too dry.

Most of the wineries sit right on a nice straight stretch of the 128, between the towns of Philo and Navarro.

Here is a map of the region…and here are our favorite Anderson Valley wineries:

Roederer Estate
Created by French expats, these sparkling wines sometimes get better ratings than their Champagne relatives.  Their L’Ermitage brings tears to my eyes…in a good way.  Inside the tasting room, you’ll find a wall of windows, soaring ceilings, tiny dollhouse chairs made of twisted metal cork-caps, and a well-schooled staff; outside, there’s a magnificent lawn, perfect for spreading out a picnic on a (rare) sunny day.

Roederer Estate

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards
With A 70s twist on Frank Lloyd Wright, the architecture here is all wood, glass, and angles. There’s a sense of humor and community here, from the parking spaces named for grape varietals and inside, the countless blue ribbons their wines have won at California tasting fairs.  We hoard their White Riesling and drink it with spicy Asian dishes.

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

Standish Winery
Set in an old apple-drying mill, Standish wins for atmosphere — and most expensive wines in the area. Climb the rough-hewn stairs over a trickling creek up to the attic tasting room, snuggle the resident cats, skip all whites but their Chardonnay, and linger over their Pinot Noir.  Unlike a lot of places in Anderson Valley, the tastings are free and their wines can only be purchased directly from the winery.

Standish Winery

Husch Vineyards
A tin-roof shed set in a sweet garden serves as the tasting room.  Try the sauvignon blancs, late harvest Gewurztraminer, and muscat.  Enjoy your tasting indoors or at the picnic tables that rest in fragrant wood chips just outside.

Navarro Vineyards
The tasting room here is rustic wooden farmhouse outside, but inside there are soaring ceilings, a refrigerated case full of exquisite cheeses, and an amazing chandelier made of up-ended wine bottles. Sheep and llamas roam the pastures beside and behind the winery, framed by tall and tufty hillsides. Indulge in Navarro’s dry, sweet whites and delicate pinot noir.

The wine bottle chandelier at Navarro Vineyards

Also check out these, for friendly people, lovely wines, and a bit of country scenery:

Lazy Creek Vineyards
Handley Cellars
Toulouse Vineyards

To get here, please see:  Elk, California – How To Get There.  It’s an hour-and-a-half drive from Sonoma County to the Anderson Valley. The main route here is the fabled 128, a highway disguised as a winding back-road through apple orchards and sheep pastures, hillsides of craggy oaks, an even smaller wine country, and a few good places to stop for a meal.

If you’d like to explore this region for a weekend, take a look at this comprehensive list of area lodgings. We tend to stay about 40 minutes away at the Elk Cove Inn, but for the Anderson Valley proper, we’d make a beeline for the charming Philo Apple Farm Inn, set amidst the area’s largest working apple orchard.

A few of the namesakes in Navarro River Redwoods State Park

If you’re headed here from Elk, Mendocino, or other points north: Where Highway 1 meets the 128, roll your car windows down as you pass Navarro River Redwoods State Park. The air here is almost absurdly fresh, and the cool damp green of it all will quiet your mind, kiss your face, and remind you that sacred places do exist. The trees here are so tall, so densely packed, that even by early afternoon on a clear day it’s dark enough for headlights.  You can park here and amble awhile on trails through the redwoods. Canoeists can often be seen gliding down the dark teal Navarro, and the river is shallow enough for wading.

Gowan's Oak Tree Farm Stand

If you’re headed here from Boonville or other points south: Be sure to stop into Gowan’s Oak Tree Farm Stand, just a few hundred feet into Philo. It’s the perfect place to stop for snacks like heirloom apples, dried fruit, and fresh cider. In 15 years, we’ve never passed it without stopping. To me, Gowan’s dried apple slices taste like the Anderson Valley feels:

Sweet, soft, and sad when my allotment is done.

Comments

  1. I want to go here!

    How long would you recommend to plan to visit this area?

  2. Well, that depends on where you’re coming from! Check out this post: http://www.travelswithtwo.com/?p=1632

    You’ll see that The Anderson Valley is three hours’ drive from Oakland/SF, two hours north of Santa Rosa, and an hour north of Sonoma County. Flying Horizon Air into Santa Rosa, though, only saves an hour of driving and can cost $$.

    With a week, you could have a travel day on either end and visit:

    Sonoma County on the way up for a day or two: http://www.travelswithtwo.com/?p=495

    The nearby redwoods and beaches of Elk for a day: http://www.travelswithtwo.com/?p=1483

    And still have two days of wine tasting and relaxing in the Anderson Valley.

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  3. […] JANUARY Visited my father-in-law in small and lovely Elk, CA (three hours north of San Francisco), combed through abalone shells and driftwood on wild, windswept beaches, explored an antique cemetery on an ocean bluff, and discovered a few new wineries in the Anderson Valley. […]

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