Anderson Valley | Mendocino County
In our first article we'll be exploring the Anderson Valley AVA. Anderson Valley (AV) lies in Western Mendocino County along Highway 128 just 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. Unlike its world-class wine neighbor, Napa Valley (just a two hour car ride), Anderson Valley has a down-to-earth, laid-back atmosphere made up of mostly unpaved roads and farms. And while tractor sightings are aplenty here, it is also known for being very lush in nature and greenery, more so than any other wine region in California.
Outside the towering Redwoods and Douglas Firs of Hendy State Park (perfect for hiking and overnight camping), lies the valley’s hub, Downtown Boonville, a historic town founded in 1862, where the Boonville Hotel, Boonville General Store and the Anderson Valley Brewing Company are among the popular stops. Other locally-owned businesses include art galleries, antique stores, and pottery shops. The Anderson Valley Historic Museum explores the region’s rich history and culture of Native Americans and European immigrants — Italian immigrants were the first to plant vineyards in 1894. Wine lovers mingle at the many wineries/tasting rooms including Bee Hunter, Pennyroyal Farm, and Lichen Estate. Another small town within AV is Philo, just 5.5 miles north of Boonville, population less than 200, and features notable wineries Domaine Anderson, Handley Cellars, and Navarro Vineyards.
There are nearly 100 vineyards within Anderson Valley and the majority of the vines hold Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes which thrive due to the coastal influences and mineral-rich soil. The grapes grown are those found in Burgundy, France with 69% Pinot Noir and 21% Chardonnay. Other popular varietals include those produced in Alsace, France which is why Anderson Valley is home to the The Winter White Wine Festival (formerly the Alsatian Wine Festival) in February, which celebrates the region’s history with Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Wine lovers can also enjoy tastings of two other Alsatian varietals — Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. In May, wine lovers flock to the valley for the Pinot Noir Festival honoring AV’s most respected Pinots including those from Cakebread Cellars and La Crema.
Roederer Estate is among the largest and most storied producers in the valley, dating back to the mid-1980's. It made its name in sparkling wine, taking advantage of the cool, coastal climate which makes for a well-balanced acidity. A staggering 70% of the Chardonnay grapes grown in Anderson Valley are made for sparkling wine. And while AV has a number of other larger, house-hold name producers — Goldeneye (part of the Duckhorn Family of Wines) and Twomey (Silver Oak Family), AV is also full of boutique wine producers rooted in the area including family-owned and operated Baxter Winery and Toulouse which both offer intimate wine tasting experiences. Although Anderson Valley is mostly known for its small-production wines, it is considered one of the top Pinot Noir regions in North America.
Besides the award-winning wines and beautiful scenery found in AV, it holds a special place for me as we leased and farmed the Donnelly Creek Vineyard for 3 years. Hall Wines now controls the site for their WALT Wines, but still remains a large source of grapes for many wineries throughout the region and in Napa Valley and Sonoma.
Although there are nearly 2500 acres of vineyard planted in Anderson Valley, much of that vineyard land is owned by the large wine producers, and therefore, rarely sells. Anderson Valley vineyards are currently priced between $75,000 and $100,000 per acre. Even more limited than productive vineyard land is land for development into new vineyards. With the valley floor mostly planted out and limited water, finding a site to develop to vineyard is challenging. That being said, we’d expect the few remining ranches that are suitable for wine grapes to sell for around $30,000 per acre.
Being just 90 miles from SF, it's a great place to spend a weekend wine tasting and exploring a wine region less traveled. If you’re into discovery, adventure and exploration, but also relaxing with a glass of wine by a stone fireplace, then Anderson Valley is the wine region for you.