California’s Napa and Sonoma Valley have long been a favored destination of the well-to-do grape juice imbibers. Tour buses and packs of Bay Area residents regularly clog the main roads and crowd the tasting rooms. But just an hour and a half north of the popular area, a lesser known wine-growing region is attracting its own share of visitors. Anderson Valley has slowly established itself as a serious contender on the world’s wine stage.
Photo courtesy of Art Poskanzer/Flickr
Frequent fog seeps through the region’s rolling hills, steep mountains, and coastal redwoods that surround the Navarro River. The ensuing hot days and cool nights yield fantastic Pinot Noirs and temperate-loving whites that have won international wine competitions in the past decade. A former logging community and sheep-ranching center, sparsely populated Anderson Valley has always been an isolated refuge for those looking to escape modern society.
Until recently, even Northern Californians didn’t know much about the valley. Most locals drove through the twisting roads and rugged hills of pastoral Anderson Valley without giving it a second glance on their way to more famous destinations such as Mendocino and the Pacific Coast Highway. The remote hamlets of Boonville, Navarro, Philo, and Yorkville were so far off the beaten path that the Boonville locals developed their own language, Boontling, in the late 19th century.
But increasingly, Bay Area residents and out-of-state wine lovers, as well as general tourists, are discovering the spectacular scenery and the quiet small-town feel (time moves slowly here, and the lack of cell phone service makes checking out of reality easy).
A range of accommodation satisfies any budget, from camping to bed-and-breakfast indulgence. Relax on a balcony of the historic Boonville Hotel, built in 1862, and take in the breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Rent a secluded hilltop retreat for the weekend if you really want to escape; private cabins and cottages abound. A unique option is a stay at the Philo Apple Farm, which boasts stylish guest cottages and also hosts weekend cooking classes. If you’re passing through, stop at its rustic farm stand which peddles organic apples, pears, and old-fashioned jams and jellies. Bring small bills as they rely on the honor system.
Navarro Vineyards offers the best view of the valley and is the spot for a picnic. Lazy Creek’s off the beaten path locale offers fabulous Pinot Noir, as does Husch Vineyards, the oldest winery in the region. Breggo Cellars excels with whites, notably Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
If you prefer hops to tannins, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company produces some of the finest Bavarian-style beers in Northern California. Business is booming; production was up 25 percent in 2010. Boont Amber Ale may be their most popular, it’s sold everywhere in San Francisco.
Stock up on picnic supplies at the Saturday morning farmer’s market (9:45 a.m. – noon in the Boonville Hotel’s parking lot, it’s the most happening event of the week) or the Boonville General Store, which is gourmet all the way, and head into Hendy Woods or Navarro River Redwoods State Parks. The valley gets hot in the summertime so seek out a moss and fern-filled hike through the shaded, towering redwood forest, or take a dip in the chilly Navarro River.
If you’re planning to pike (Boontling for travel) to the Anderson Valley, take Highway 128 off of route 101. Don’t be Charlie Balled (i.e. bashful) in harping and hooting with the locals, they may share their secrets of the best frattey and gorm (wine and food) in the region.