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 from $10 to $25 for four or five pours, though a few have no fee at all. If you’ve noticed the upward creep in 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 of the wineries purchase grapes from the same vineyards, giving you the chance to compare different winemakers’ approaches to the same fruit. Some indoor tasting spaces may be closed for reasons related to Covid-19. 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. As of early 2021 tours of Pennyroyal’s creamery remained suspended, though 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, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and Pinot Trio, made with Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris grapes. There’s also a Blanc de Noir 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 the Mosswood Market – they’re about 500 feet apart – serve sandwiches and salads. 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, others from multiple sources. Zinfandel is another strong suit. Lighter wines include Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir.
The chef at Philo’s Bewildered Pig sources most ingredients locally.
6 or 7 pm
Have dinner in Philo at The Bewildered Pig, a mile beyond Lula. The superb chef here honed some of her recipes at a private Napa Valley estate winery. If the Pig is closed, consider the Wickson Restaurant, also in Philo, or backtrack to Boonville and dine at the Restaurant at The Boonville Hotel or Lauren’s.
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 Gewürztraminer. Tastings take place 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 the Madrones
Stop by the Wickson Restaurant in The Madrones for a salad or a grilled cheese, veggie focaccia, roasted chicken, or similar sandwich. If the Wickson isn’t open, head to Lemons Philo Market, a half-mile west, for a deli sandwich, then continue to The Madrones for the next tasting.
Tasting Rooms at The Madrones
The days and hours of the three tasting rooms at The Madrones complex vary, but one or more will be open whatever day you visit. Drew Family Cellars has an outsize reputation for its coastal Pinot Noir and Syrah, some from Valenti Ranch Vineyard, which the winery farms. Smith Story Wine Cellars is another fine producer of Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs. Many of the other Smith Story wines – among them Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon – are made with Sonoma County grapes. The well-respected, Napa Valley-based Long Meadow Ranch serves Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from its Anderson Valley estate.
Backtrack 1.5 miles west from The Madrones complex 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 Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling whites (plus a rosé). Also in the lineup: 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 1994). Nearby Lauren’s provides variety with an international array of comfort food. One of the two restaurants should be open no matter what day you visit.
Tips and Suggestions
Pre-trip to-do list: Until Covid-19 is less of a factor, it remains wise to make winery reservations, especially on weekends. Also make reservations for meals at the Restaurant at The Boonville Hotel, the Bewildered Pig, or Wickson Restaurant.
Best days to visit: This itinerary works best from Friday through Sunday, when all of 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 perhaps with 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. 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 early 2021.