Anderson Valley: A hidden gem
© by John Juergens
For most of us when we think of the California wine country, Napa and Sonoma Valleys first come to mind. But the state that accounts for about 90 percent of all wine production in the U.S. has twelve designated wine grape growing areas or appellations contained within six major regions. Those regions are the Central Coast, Central Valley, North Coast, South Coast, Shasta Cascade, and the Desert.
Within these major regions are the designated appellations and more than 100 American Viticultural Areas – distinct winegrape growing areas recognized by the U.S. government – contained within these regions. I'm not going to list all of them, but want to focus on one particular area that I recently visited, the Anderson Valley within the Mendocino County region.
As anyone who has had the opportunity to visit some of the great wonders of the world knows, there is no way photographs and movies can compare with seeing the real thing. The same is true of the Anderson Valley wine region. I have read about it for many years, but when I finally got to go there recently I was overwhelmed by the natural beauty.
Anderson Valley Wineries
Phillips Hill Estates
Greenwood Ridge Vineyards
Lazy Creek Vineyards
One of the things that struck me most was how sparsely populated the region is both in residents and in wineries as compared to places such as Napa and Sonoma. Located about 90 miles north of San Francisco, there are only about 20 wineries that are open for visitors lined up pretty much along the fifteen mile stretch of Highway 128 between Boonville and Navarro.
Some of the names that you might recognize include Brutocao Cellars, Goldeneye Cellars, Handley Cellars, Roderer Estate, and Scharffenberger. But the Valley is home to many more, smaller wineries that have very limited production and distribution. The sidebar provides a partial list of these other wineries. Although they have limited production and distribution, they all have very nice wine clubs you can join through their web sites to gain access to their delicious gifts of the earth.
I was impressed with the style and quality of the wines, and can honestly say that I did not have a single "bad" wine in the several hundred I tasted. The other thing that surprised me was the overt friendliness of the people working in the wineries who seemed genuinely glad to have visitors. There wasn't the hustle and bustle of the big name wineries down in Napa and Sonoma, where some of those pouring the wines in the tasting rooms can be a bit jaded and impersonal. In many places the owner/wine makers were pouring the wines so we got the personal touch. Several times we were given barrel tastings of recent vintages not yet bottled, and tastes of the fermenting grape juice.
This unique growing region in northern California produces wines with freshness and vitality to them that often can be lacking in the more southern growing regions, so it is worth searching for them. Anderson Valley is not an easy place to get to and you have to rent a car to visit the area. But if you want a real treat both in scenery, wine, and hospitality, it definitely is worth the effort.