5 Fabulous Reasons to Visit Anderson Valley: California’s Other Wine Country

Written by Kimberley Lovato
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“5 Fabulous Reasons To Visit Anderson Valley

Napa Valley gets a lot of the wine-tasting limelight, and deservedly so. It’s home to world-famous vineyards, Michelin-star dining rooms, swanky hotels, and hundreds of tasting rooms. But with all that grapey glory comes the conga line of cars rolling up Highway 29, especially during busy summer months. Luckily, the Golden State’s low-key Anderson Valley ticks the boxes for those in search of a wine-country escape that feels like a trip to yesteryear.

About 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the 15-mile (24-kilometre) long valley is cooled by the nearby Pacific Ocean, making it just right for grape-growing, especially Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling, Riesling, Syrah, and late harvest varietals. Here, family-owned, and sustainably minded wineries invite visitors to tour and taste their prized wines without the glitz or crowds of Napa Valley, while a dairy farm with award-winning cheese and unpretentious dining rooms knows how to satiate sophisticated palates. Add in an idyllic dose of giant redwoods and west coast sunsets, and this under-the-radar wine country impresses.

Here are five fabulous reasons to explore Anderson Valley the next time you’re in search of a California wine country getaway.

1. The Bygone Era Aura

Within minutes of edging onto Highway 128, the road begins to twist, cell phone service drops off (sorry Mom), and there’s nary a gaudy strip mall or fast-food joint in sight.

In their place are cascading vineyards tucked into the pleats of rolling hills; horses and sheep grazing near dilapidated barns that look as if they’ll topple in a stiff wind; and apple orchards and redwood forests that draw you far away from the jostle of modern times.

Anderson Valley’s biggest town is Booneville (population of a little over 1,000). Make sure to drop by Booneville General Store for seasonal and organic breakfast and lunch made with ingredients from nearby farms, fresh pastries baked daily, and wine by the glass. Nearby you can visit the Philo Apple Farm, an honor system fruit stand with Saturday night suppers in the garden between March and October.

Anderson Valley’s wineries are easy to get into too, even during summer (but do check ahead), and fees, if they exist at all, are so low you might think you’re tasting like it’s 1999.

Yesteryear Cheer in Anderson Valley

                                                        The valley is filled with farms growing fruit, vegetables, poultry, goats and sheep

2. The Wine

The wine region might be small, but Anderson Valley is big on good options with more than 30 wineries and tasting rooms sprinkled between the petit towns of Yorkville and Navarro.

Most are small, family-run stops where picnicking is not only allowed but also encouraged, and the owner might be the one filling your glass. Navarro Vineyards is an award-winner and mainstay since 1974.

Their combo tour-and-tasting is worth the dirt on your shoes you’ll collect while walking between the vines, peaking into the barrel rooms, and tasting juice from the vats. Don’t miss Anderson Valley’s oldest winery, Husch Vineyards, crushing grapes here since 1971. A former pony barn from the late 1800s is now the tasting room where you can sip Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer, among other varietals.

One of the newest arrivals in Anderson Valley is  Brashley Vineyards, a bi-coastal winemaking group with wineries in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York too.

There’s always a reason to celebrate when the scenery is this nice, so drop by the home of one of France’s most prestigious Champagne houses, Roederer, which opened its doors in the Anderson Valley in 1982, and makes its celebratory sparkles from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown on the property.

                                                                 Wine tasting is a top activity in Anderson Valley              

3. The Nature

Most wineries are beautiful by design, but Mother Nature upped the ante with stunning scenery in and around the Anderson Valley when she paired it with towering redwood trees. Mendocino County teems with places to ogle these ancient beauties as well as hike through state parks, and tidepool along the pristine coastline.

Travel west through Anderson Valley on Highway 128 and it eventually sidles up alongside the Navarro River and dips into a lush redwood tree forest before opening onto the craggy coast.

The picturesque Victorian-era town of Mendocino, less than an hour from the sits on a bluff above the sea with a view that will set your Instagram feed ablaze. Within the valley itself, Hendy Woods State Park is home to old-growth redwoods that are more than 300 feet tall and 1,000 years old.

                                                                         Explore nearby California redwoods 

4. The Non-Wine Scene

Not everyone loves wine, and that’s okay. We can still be friends. Dining is Anderson Valley’s next favorite pastime, and a handful of noteworthy tables remind diners that local farms are on top of their game. Reserve your seat at the Bewildered Pig, whose unassuming roadhouse exterior belies the elevated experience inside.

Environmentally attentive before it was trendy to be so, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company defines fun in the valley. Its 30-acre family-friendly beer park has outdoor seating, an 18-hole disc golf course, a live music stage, and craft suds to sip on-site or to go. Across the road, things get a little cheesy at Pennyroyal Farm, a sustainable dairy farm with award-winning cheese, and their own wine too. Book the farm tour (followed by a tasting) and say hello to the adorable resident goats and sheep.

 

5.  The Valley Artists

Anderson Valley is home to many creative folks who do more than just craft great wine. Galleries and studios are two of the best places to find local artists’ work. Drop-in to the John Haines Gallery in Boonville to see art from a true local who spent time in San Francisco and on a 8,700 acre ranch west of town, which he still owns with his two brothers. Artists of Anderson Valley  hosts regular Open Studio weekends inviting you to stop in to see the work of potters, painters, photographers, and and more who make their home in Anderson Valley.

For art and vino at the same time, stop byt Maple Creek Winery whose label, Artevino, comes from two things owner Tom Rodrigues loves: art and wine. Rodrigues’ five decade career as an artist saw him running a stained glass studio at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, painting the “Legends at the Stick” baseball series (one of his paintings is permanently installed in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY), and designing the easily identifiable wine labels for the Far Niente family.

***

BeSeeingYou In: Anderson Valley, California

Good to know:  It’s a bit of a drive to get here so an overnight stay at  Boonville Hotel, a well-appointed roadhouse-style lodge is worth it, and has some of the best food in the valley.

WOW! Factor:  Summer vacation is great, but fall is where the fun’s at if you want to witness the excitement of the harvest

Tip: If wine’s not your scene, Anderson Valley Brewing has been making ales and lagers here for 30+ years. Their taproom serves hand-crafted beers, and they also have a family and dog-friendly beer garden

 

Photos courtesy of @VisitMendocino

Kimberley Lovato
Kimberley Lovato writes about food, lifestyle, hotels, and adventure from California, but loves to hit the road in search of a good story. Her bylines have appeared in the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, AARP, Virtuoso: The Magazine, Robb Report, HemispheresShondaland, Ciao BambinoCN Traveler and many other print and online publications. A lifelong Francophile, Kimberley spent several months a year sipping champagne and exploring  "l’Hexagone from her pied-a-terre on the Cote d'Azur. She’s also the author of a culinary travel book about the Dordogne region of France, which received a Gold Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers.  When she’s not booking plane tickets or practicing French verb conjugation, she’s writing children’s books, sailing, hiking, cooking, and forever contemplating why it’s so hard to keep her basil plant alive. www.kimberleylovato.com Instagram: @KimberleyLovato

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