The Anderson Valley makes an offbeat wine county getaway
As we turned off the two-lane highway onto a narrow gravel road flanked with grapevines, I knew we’d made the right choice. In search of a quiet honeymoon escape after the chaos of planning our wedding, my new husband and I had booked a cottage in the Anderson Valley. Our friends thought we were nuts—Lanai or Tuscany might be more like it, they said—but we knew good food, great wine and isolation could be had a mere two hours from Marin. Our destination, the Other Place, was just what we wanted—four little secluded houses on 500-plus acres of golden, oak-dotted hills. The closest town: blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Boonville.
The cottage we rented, named Buckeye, was perched just below a collapsing barn and a skeletal oak. Inside, we found a woodstove, two inviting leather recliners, a huge bathtub, and a fridge stocked with wine, organic apple juice and milk. Perfect for newlyweds, it would be great for families too: dirt-resistant and durable tiled floors, sturdy furnishings and dog-friendly.
Near the patio, a worn Adirondack chair faced the coastal range. I opened the bottle of white, parked myself and settled in for the sunset. Mother Nature wouldn’t cooperate, though. A swath of fog swallowed the sun without much ado. But no matter—we had dinner reservations: the Thursday night set menu at the Boonville Hotel.
When the hotel’s restaurant debuted about 15 years ago, it became known for what’s now on every Northern California restaurant menu—fresh local food. Ingredients for some dishes come from as close as the hotel garden. We started the evening on the Christmas-lit back patio with roasted chestnuts dipped in olive oil. Inside, we finished our meal with a variety of apples layered into a luscious tarte tatin.
Apples (in addition to wine grapes) are one of the area’s bumper crops. The ones we enjoyed that night were from Oz Farm, along Mountain View Road toward the coast. More accessible for tourists is Philo Apple Farm, an organic orchard co-owned by the family that owns the hotel. The farm has resurrected American heirloom varieties and is well known for its cooking classes (often sold out); the farm’s self-serve stand is a good place to stop for apples to take home as edible souvenirs.
The next morning we caught the view up the valley from the hiking paths above our cottage. Then we couldn’t get to the car fast enough—the grapes were calling. Drifting in and out of cell-phone reception heading west on Highway 128, I made an appointment at Esterlina Vineyards, a family-owned winery.
It wasn’t until we were bumping along on a dirt road, the trees alongside powdered brown with dust, that I realized we were a far cry from Napa.
“Don’t veer off,” I’d been told when given directions on the phone. I wondered: did a lot of people get lost? Then came a split in the road that bent toward a lush green canyon, and my other half, who is
Mendocino County born and bred, reminded me about the region’s third major crop: branching onto an unknown byway could put us smack amid fields of plants offering a different kind of buzz. We continued up.
When we pulled into the winery driveway, I felt more like we’d arrived at the neighbors’ for a barbecue. But the modest house that served as the tasting room had a surprise in store: a massive tiled deck overlooking 30-year-old Pinot Noir vines and much of the valley. The tasting coordinator, Patty, sat with us at the picnic table and presented daring accompaniments that fit right in with Esterlina’s casual hospitality: Lay’s Classic Potato Chips, Cheetos and pretzels. With the Zinfandel, redolent of chocolate and mocha, she served Kit Kat wafer bars—although they were covered in dark chocolate. The Cheetos, I should point out, were best with the Riesling, which had good fruit but wasn’t overly sweet.
Image 2: Boonville Hotel, popular for weekend getaways and dining on local organic cuisine.
After tasting plenty and still discharging numerous sips into the chamber pot that served as dump bucket, we tore ourselves away. Patty gave us a bottle of the winery’s Zinfandel Port just for being “just married.”
At this point, a romantic walk in the woods seemed in order, so we headed for Hendy Woods State Park. This small haven includes an easy loop trail through coastal redwoods and along the Navarro River. We strolled hand in hand, in awe of the big trees and of the big decision we’d just made—to be joined forever—and it seemed we’d made a good start with our Anderson Valley honeymoon.
Places to Eat
The Boonville Hotel
14050 Hwy. 128, Boonville
boonvillehotel.com or 707.895.2210
14111 Hwy. 128, Boonville
mosswoodmarket.com or 707.895.3635
Things to Do
Wine tasting More than 15 wineries from Boonville to Navarro are open to the public.
avwines.com or 707.895.WINE
Hendy Woods State Park
On the Philo-Greenwood Rd. off Hwy. 128; parks.ca.gov or 707.895.3202
Places to Stay
The Other Place Off Hwy. 128, Boonville theotherplaceboonville.com or 707.895.3979
Places to Shop
The Philo Apple Farm 18501 Greenwood Rd., Philo; philoapplefarm.com or 707.895.2333
Bates & Maillard Farmhouse Mercantile (housewares); 14111 Hwy. 128, Boonville; 707.895.3996
A Course Less Traveled
Tasting your way through Anderson Valley's unique treasures
Most oenophiles have caught on to Goldeneye, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn’s (of Duckhorn wines) cult Pinot Noir. Their goal was simple. In 1990 the duo set out to craft a Pinot Noir that would be equal in distinction to the acclaimed Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot. Over the next six years they experimented with fruit from the top wine–growing regions in California until, in 1996, they found their diamond—an 80-acre estate vineyard in the Anderson Valley, located along the migratory pathway of the goldeneye duck. Tastings at the winery take place in a comfortable farmhouse living room; guests can also settle in to an Adirondack chair, a perfect spot to take in views of the vines. The winery is open seven days a week and has picnic facilities. Call ahead to reserve a semiprivate tasting, which includes limited-production wines paired with a selection of cheeses and a discussion about the history of Goldeneye. 9200 Highway 128 (Philo). 707.895.3202, goldeneyewinery.com
In the late ’70s Jean-Claude Rouzaud, president of Champagne Louis Roederer (the same house that created Cristal), began searching in California for a spot where growing conditions were similar to the best villages in France’s Champagne region. In 1981 Rouzaud found a 580-acre piece of land in the Anderson Valley and selected it as a site for his vineyard. Winemaker Michel Salgues blends Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to produce the Roederer style. Designed by Sausalito’s Jacques Ullman, the rustic winery is barely visible from the main road and is surrounded by vineyards. Visitors can taste the Roederer Estate sparkling wines seven days a week in the winery’s French Provincial salon. 4501 Highway 128 (Philo). 707.895.2288, roedererestate.net
Anderson Valley Estate Vineyard
The family-run winery produces over 15,000 cases a year including sparkling, dessert, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and others. For the last 10 years, the Anderson Valley estate vineyard has been farmed using sustainable agricultural methods; winemaker Milla Handley even completed a three-year organic certification process. Call ahead for a tour of the estate vineyard and after enjoy a picnic in the garden courtyard. Handley’s collection of international folk art is displayed in the winery’s unique tasting room. 3151 Highway 128 (Philo). 707.895.3876, handleycellars.com
Black Kite Cellars
The future of the valley can be seen in wines like Black Kite Cellars. Located along the deep–end section of the Navarro River, this boutique winery is known for sustainably made Pinot Noirs that continually sell out. Named for the endangered black–shouldered kite, a native to the valley, the wine is produced by three generations of the Green family. With the vines in Anderson Valley, the wine made in Healdsburg and business operations in Sonoma and San Francisco, the vino has become a fixture across the entire North Bay. Look for a tasting room at the 12-acre vineyard in the near future. 415.923.0277, blackkitecellars.com