Fantastic wines, au courant cuisine, sticker-price delight in Mendocino County.
Northern California wine lovers nostalgic for the days before glitz and high prices overtook Napa and Sonoma often head to the Anderson Valley. The bucolic Mendocino County wine region’s three dozen or so tasting rooms pour Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other wines reflecting the valley’s distinctive near-coastal microclimate. (The Pacific Ocean is as little as 10 miles west of parts of the 15-mile-long valley.) With restaurants serving au courant cuisine based on local produce and proteins, an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir tasting trip provides a low-pressure, high-quality wine and culinary experience.
In recent years large outfits have purchased some key vineyards, but for the most part the farms here are small. Don’t be surprised to find the winemaker or owner—at some places the same person—on hand to answer questions, providing a personal touch not possible at more prominent wineries.
Most tasting rooms charge $25 or less for four or five pours, and a few have no fee at all. If you’ve noticed the upward creep in Napa and Sonoma County prices the past few years, prepare for sticker delight instead of shock at the cost per bottle for wines this fantastic.
Taste the Difference
This itinerary moves east to west along Highway 128 the first day and west to east the second. Several wineries purchase grapes from the same vineyards, allowing you to compare different winemakers’ approaches to the same fruit. Most wineries require a reservation. Call ahead for same-day appointments; they’re usually possible during the week, less so on weekends.
Day One, East to West
The goats and sheep that provide milk for several excellent cheeses at this combination creamery and winery captivate guests almost as much as the estate Sauvignon Blanc, rosé of Pinot Noir, and Pinot Noir. Tours of Pennyroyal Farm’s creamery take place at 10:30 am (Thursday–Monday); even if you don’t take the tour, while sipping your flight on a patio with vineyard views, you may spot the animals grazing nearby. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Pennyroyal’s whites include Chardonnay, Muscat Blanc, the Anyhow Blanc blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and Pinot Trio, made with Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris grapes. There’s also a sparkling wine.
The grapes at family-affair Foursight Wines, a tenth of a mile northwest of Pennyroyal, are grown by the third generation to farm the land its 15-acre vineyard occupies. The fourth generation makes the wines – Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir rosé, plus several Pinot Noirs – and runs the winery. Two Pinot Noirs to seek out are the Clone 05, made from the Pommard clone (known for firm tannins and rich flavors), and Paraboll, a blend of Pommard and Dijon 777 clones that takes its name from “para,” an art term for “deep cherry red,” and “boll,” which means “excellent” in the local Boonville dialect.
Have lunch a quarter-mile or so farther along in downtown Boonville. Casual Lauren’s and nearby Mosswood Market prepare sandwiches and salads; Disco Ranch, run by an experienced wine merchant (with plenty of advice about area wineries without tasting rooms), serves tapas, succulent sliders, and other “disco snacks.” If it’s open (usually from April through October), treat yourself to organic ice cream or another sweet delight at Paysanne, a few doors west of Mosswood. The Farmhouse Mercantile contemporary general store that adjoins Mosswood is worth a peek.
Bee Hunter Wine
After lunch, backtrack east a short bit to Bee Hunter Wine, which sources grapes for its whites and reds (several of each) from top Mendocino County vineyards and a few farther afield. As at Foursight and Pennyroyal, one or both of the owners will often be on hand.
Continue west from Boonville to the town of Philo and Goldeneye Winery, known for its lush lineup of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. The founders of the Napa Valley’s Duckhorn brand established Goldeneye, one of several wineries that put the Anderson Valley on the enological map. Lush Merlots made Duckhorn’s reputation, with refined single-vineyard Pinot Noirs sister winery Goldeneye’s calling card. The grapes come from four estate vineyards planted with more than 20 clones (variants) of Pinot Noir. If the weather’s nice, enjoy your tasting on the back patio.
Scharffenberger Cellars or Lula Cellars
Visiting five wineries in a day is pushing it, but tastings in the valley tend to be quick, and the wineries aren’t that far apart. Cleanse your palate with a little bubbly on the veranda or in the pet-friendly garden at Scharffenberger Cellars. If continuing your Pinot Noir research sounds more appealing, continue west to Lula Cellars to sample robust, affordable Pinot Noirs, a few from single vineyards, and others from multiple sources. Zinfandel is another strong suit. Lighter wines include Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir.
6 or 7 pm
Day Two, West to East
Toast the morning with great valley views and a little Roederer Estate bubbly courtesy of the California offspring of France’s Champagne Louis Roederer.
Phillips Hill Winery
Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is the specialty at the next stop, Phillips Hill Winery, but for lovers of whites, the winery also makes Riesling and Chardonnay. Tastings take place in or outside a former apple-drying barn from the 1880s.
Philo Apple Farm
Continue the apple theme 1.5 miles east at the next stop, the self-service stand at the Philo Apple Farm. Look for apples and pears in season (fall) and apple products the rest of the year, along with jams, jellies, chutney, and vinegar. The farm’s owners, who also operate the delightful Farmhouse Mercantile shop in downtown Boonville, have four lodgings, three of them cottages, for overnight stays.
Lunch at Lemons
Head to Lemons Philo Market, 3¼ miles east, for a deli sandwich, then continue east to The Madrones, a small complex that includes an inn, a few shops, and a tasting room. The Wickson Restaurant is another option if it’s open.
Poking about The Madrones
The well-respected Napa Valley-based Long Meadow Ranch serves Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from its Anderson Valley estate in a tasting space at The Madrones. Also worth checking out are the well-curated Sun & Cricket Curiosity Shoppe and Art Deco–style The Bohemian Chemist, “an herbal apothecary with an emphasis on locally sourced and sun-grown cannabis.”
Backtrack 1.5 miles west from The Madrones to this winery whose “Too Tense? Toulouse” sign near the entrance encourages all guests to kick back and relax. In addition to the expected Pinot Noir, Toulouse Vineyards also makes Gewürztraminer and Riesling whites (plus a rosé). Other reds include Petite Sirah, made in a smooth, almost Pinot Noir–like style. The wines are good, the staffers are cool, and the views west to the ocean are often sublime.
Chef Perry Hoffman cooks the prix-fixe dinners at his family’s hotel.
5:30 or 6 pm
Dine Upscale or Down
The Restaurant at The Boonville Hotel serves prix-fixe meals (reservations essential). Chef Perry Hoffman grew up in these parts but made his reputation in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Hoffman occasionally incorporates the recipes of his grandmother, Sally Schmitt, who started The French Laundry with Perry’s grandfather in the 1970s (they sold it to Thomas Keller in 1993). Across the street, Lauren’s provides variety with an international array of comfort food. Tuesday taco nights are popular with Boonvillians. One of the two restaurants should be open no matter what day you visit.
Tips and Suggestions
Pre-trip to-do list: It’s wise to make winery reservations, especially on weekends. Also make reservations for meals at the Restaurant at The Boonville Hotel or Wickson Restaurant.
Best days to visit: This itinerary works best from Friday through Sunday, when all the tasting rooms and most of the restaurants are open. Thursday and Monday are also good days, though a winery of two might be closed. Tastings are pretty straightforward at most of these places. Except for ones that have views, there’s not too much reason to linger unless you really love the wines, though in most cases you’re welcome to.
Lodging: The Boonville Hotel and Philo’s The Madrones (and affiliated The Brambles) rank among the valley’s best lodging options. You can also overnight amid the redwoods in a cabin or a tent at Camp Navarro. The award for upscale rustic charm goes to the Philo Apple Farm for its three tastefully appointed cabins and lodge room. To steep yourself in the winery experience, book yourself into one of two guest houses at Foursight Wines in Boonville.
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in mid-2022.