Anderson Valley Wine Country

By Harold J. Baer, JR
Photo by Vanessa Kelly

A trip to the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County California is like time travel. This is a bucolic landscape which has not yet become a grape growing and winery monoculture. It is still agricultural land with but three towns, villages or hamlets (total population is fewer than 2000) and is somewhat reminiscent of Sonoma County in the 1970s. Certainly, the wines are high quality but the towns have not yet been overtaken by boutiques, brasseries, and galleries. Rather, there are mostly small, family run establishments selling primarily to neighbors and the relatively modest number of tourists. The Valley itself is compact with only one main road, Highway 128, and a trip from one end to the other takes less than thirty minutes if you don’t stop. But there is so much worth seeing and visiting that you won’t want to rush through.

Though the number of wineries continues to increase, many have tasting rooms or at least somewhere you can stand and hold a glass. Indeed, you are just as likely to be tasting with an owner or winemaker at a small bar or bench or even on an upturned barrel in a winery which producers hundreds not thousands or tens of thousands of cases annually as in a staffed tasting room. While this may mean calling ahead for an appointment, that is not difficult and is well worth the effort.
Whether you go for the fine wines, the outstanding apples or simply for the relaxed and enjoyable surroundings, a trip to Anderson Valley should be on your Not To Be Missed list. If you are concerned that you may not know what to look for or where to stop, planning information can be obtained from the Anderson Valley Winergrowers Association.

Anderson Valley is a cool climate which produces mostly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer but you will find other varieties and some fine sparkling wine. At the same time, it might be said that there are two Anderson Valley wine-growing areas. There are the vineyards located on the Valley floor and those on the recently delineated Mendocino Ridge where many of the vineyards are high enough to be above the fog which gives the Valley floor area wines their particular character.

Because most of the producers are quite small, they do not need to make wine for the mass market and, accordingly, their wines reflect the makers’ personalities and preferences. For example, there are Pinots Noir made with no new oak and others that evidence the use of considerable new French oak. There are austere, Alsatian style whites and others which are quite lush. But whatever your preferences from rustic to elegant, restrained to bold, you are unlikely to find any poorly made wines.
What follows are notes on some of the wines tasted during a recent trip to Anderson Valley. They represent only a small portion of what is available and, even better, most of the wineries will be happy to ship wines.

Read our reviews of Anderson Valley wines. Click here