Anderson Valley White Wine Weekend Diary

Intimate festival showcases Chardonnay and other white grapes in sparkling and still wines.

Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley wine region is best known for Pinot Noir, but each February the appellation showcases lighter offerings as part of White Wine Weekend. A Friday evening welcoming reception, by-appointment Saturday and Sunday winery tastings (each with a food pairing), and winery dinners were among the festivities in 2024.

Unlike flashier wine celebrations in Napa and Sonoma and the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association’s own Pinot Noir Festival, the group’s white-wine event is slower-paced and more intimate, with winemakers and owners often presenting their wines personally, one small group at a time. I learned something new about winemaking and the valley at every stop.

Winemaker Phil Baxter.

Disclaimers: Having honed in on Boonville on two previous visits, my sipping mate and I spent the entire weekend in Philo. No slight intended to Boonville, whose wineries appear in this website’s 2 Fun Days Tasting Anderson Valley Pinot Noir itinerary. All the places we visited produce Pinot Noirs in addition to whites, but with a few exceptions, we’ll keep this diary focused on the festival’s theme.

Two favorite food pairings: mini chicken pot pie at Twomey, brot at Toulouse.


2 pm 

Indian Creek Inn

Owner Kevin Orr and pup greet us at the hilltop Indian Creek Inn, whose viewing perches overlook Goldeneye’s Confluence Vineyard and Indian Creek below. The Philo inn’s rooms and suites share kitchens and living rooms, but each accommodation has a privacy-ensuring separate entrance. The contemporary furnishings and paintings by Kevin’s wife, Elizabeth Ashiku, lend the place an upscale feel, but overall the feel is down-home. Think of this as more Airbnb than luxury inn, with superhost owners.

Kevin Orr and pup; wife Elizabeth Ashiku’s painting in common area.

3 pm

Baxter Winery

Phil Baxter ranks among the Anderson Valley’s most celebrated winemakers. His Baxter Winery is known for single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, including one he’s made since 2003 from the Oppenlander Vineyard a dozen miles north of the valley in Comptche. Today, though, he’s waxing about his second pour, a 2021 Oppenlander Chardonnay from vines he’d discovered a decade earlier the owners couldn’t find buyers for. “I think they were getting burned,” he says, “by wineries wanting super-ripe Chardonnay,” which the block couldn’t produce because of its location, and Baxter didn’t want anyway. It was fascinating to hear about the particular steps the winemaker takes – most notably a months-long fermentation, minimal stirring of the lees (dead yeast cells and other materials that can add flavor and texture), and zero use of new oak – to create a crisp yet elegant Mendocino play on a French white Burgundy. 

Why go: celebrated winemaker; single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.

2021 Baxter Winery Oppenlander Vineyard Chardonnay.

5:30 pm

Brashley Vineyards

A relative newcomer to the Anderson Valley scene, Brashley Vineyards – its moniker a mashup of owners Bramley and Ashley Palms’s first names – has gained notice for winemaker Ashley Holland’s smartly crafted wines and chef Sean McTiernan’s boundless energy and culinary creativity. The chef’s White Wine Weekend reception started with a magnum-opus cheese and charcuterie display, followed by panini-like smash burgers (beef and portobello) and fries whose delectability made an instant mockery of several participants’ diets. One white delight was the 2021 Bevel Vineyard White Pinot Noir; the 2018 Hacienda Sequoia Pinot Noir stood out among the reds. Ashley Palms was particularly proud of recent efforts to transition to regenerative farming at Bevel, across Highway 128 from the winery, and Hacienda Sequoia, a few miles away on Nash Mill Road.

Why go: up-and-coming winemaker; food pairings; outdoor tasting spaces. 

Brashley Vineyards co-owner Ashley Palms.


It rained like crazy all day, but heat lamps or fires kept us toasty. All our stops were fairly close together, so the rain didn’t matter that much, and in the late afternoon the sun poked out just before setting dramatically. 

Misty morning at Navarro Vineyards.

11 am

Navarro Vineyards

Our tasting at the region’s third-oldest winery, established in the early 1970s and still owned by its founding family, unfolded on a heated porch with misty vineyard views. Oddly enough, the first wine Navarro Vineyards produced was Cabernet Sauvignon, but whites from estate and purchased fruit quickly became a strong suit along with Pinot Noir. Navarro makes so many light wines – Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Blanc, Edelzwicker, and Riesling (plus two rosés) – that an all-white tasting was possible, but our host, Chris, also poured Pinot Noirs and a Zinfandel. All four tasters at our session liked the 2022 Pinot Gris from hillside estate fruit; redolent of melons and tropical fruit, the 2022 Late Harvest Riesling was the perfect closer. Pennyroyal Farm, the Boonville winery and creamery cofounded by the owners’ daughter, supplied the tasting’s charcuterie and cheeses, including two versions of the flagship Laychee (from goat and/or sheep milk), one deliciously laced with fennel pollen and pink peppercorn).

Why go: winery with a history; wide range of whites; estate Pinot Noir; dessert wines. 

Crowd-pleasing Pinot Gris at Navarro Vineyards.

2 pm 


A helpful young lady whose dad, Cris Carter, happens to be the winemaker, took our mini-pizza order as we settled in at Weatherborne. The winery’s high-ceilinged tasting room, formerly an architect’s office, doubles as a gallery for works by local artists. For years, the lumber mill on this site bustled with logging trucks delivering redwoods and shipping out finished boards. We sipped two whites while waiting for our pizzas, a 2020 Wilson Vineyard Clarksburg Chenin Blanc and a 2021 Alder Springs Vineyard Mendocino County Roussanne. By the time our pizzas arrived, we were on to the 2021 Grenache, also from Alder Springs. The wine’s light style (Carter recommends drinking it chilled), savory notes, and pizzazz made it a natural with our pies, especially the one with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and pesto. Carter only uses certified organic grapes in his wines.

Why go: small family winery; works by local artists; wines from organic grapes; Grenache with pizzazz.

Two whites, a chillable Grenache, and Pinot Noir at Weatherborne.

3:30 pm 

Toulouse Vineyards

The tasting at one of my favorite Anderson Valley wineries – for its views, always pleasant staffers, and robust wines – started with the perky Rita’s Amaro, lightly pressed estate Pinot Noir with herbs, spices, and orange peel. The aperitif went surprisingly well with the accompanying brot, though the Gewürztraminer was even better. On the lighter side, Toulouse Vineyards also makes sparkling wine, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Rosé of Pinot Noir. We were just finishing the whites on the heated deck when a gusty sideways rain necessitated a mad dash indoors to taste two Pinot Noirs. The estate one is always a winner.

Why go: Navarro River views; pleasant staffers; well-made Pinot Noirs.

Amaro aperitif paired well with brot at Toulouse Vineyards.

5:30 pm

Handley Cellars

Sunlight pierced the clouds just as we arrived at Handley Cellars, where oysters awaited in the tasting room. After slurping a few with 2019 sparkling wine, we headed into the cellar for a dinner whose wine pairings amounted to a greatest-hits presentation of Handley’s whites. Memorable matches by chef Alexa Newman included the 2022 Pinot Gris and an apple, celery root, and hazelnut salad and the 2022 Pinot Noir Blanc and trout with sunchokes and truffle butter sauce. So much history in the night’s final bottle, a late disgorged 1990 Estate Brut, started by Milla Handley, who founded the winery in 1982, the year before the Anderson Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established, and finished by the current winemaker, Randy Schock. Farming at Handley Cellars has been certified organic since 2005.

Why go: organic vineyards; sparkling wines and whites; setting in the Anderson Valley’s cool “Deep End.” 

Sunset view from Handley Cellars tasting room.


11 am

Twomey Cellars Anderson Valley

Twomey Cellars, part of the group that includes the Napa Valley Cabernet producer Silver Oak, has made Pinot Noirs from Anderson Valley fruit since 2007. In 2019, the winery purchased an existing winery with 38 acres of Pinot Noir. Our late-morning tasting took place inside Anderson Valley’s only wine cave. The whites included a 2022 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa and Sonoma grapes and, farther afield, the 2021 Willamette Valley Chardonnay. The second wine made for a splendid pairing with chef Shawn Ramsden’s tasty mini chicken pot pie. Two 2021 Pinot Noirs followed, one a blend of fruit from the two estate vineyards, the other from one of them, Bearman Bend. Owing to its three heritage clones (Swan, Mount Eden, and Calera), the Bearman pleased with its cherry-cola core and underlying herbal earthiness. Grapes were first planted on this site in the early 1900s, the first Pinot Noir vines in the early 1970s. 

Why go: site’s history; Anderson Valley wines but also from well beyond; valley’s only cave tour.

Oregon Chardonnay in the cave at Twomey Cellars.

12:45 pm

Thomas T Thomas Vineyards

A 2023 encounter with two Thomas T Thomas Vineyards wines piqued my curiosity about this boutique producer and its namesake vintner. With only one white, a 2020 Chardonnay from sourced fruit, Thomas wasn’t officially participating in White Wine Weekend, but he hosted us for a quick tasting at his hilltop vineyard and tasting room. A financial analyst and for several years Genentech’s corporate treasurer, Thomas became interested in wine after a move to California. Exposure to fine wines inspired research in Burgundy and Tuscany and notions of making some himself. “On the train to Tuscany,” he recalls, “I came across an article about the Anderson Valley. I’m reading the story thinking this is where I’m going to go.” And he did. Thomas’s idiosyncratic, balanced Pinot Noirs have soul, grace, intensity, and varietal integrity. They’re worth making an appointment to sample with their creator where he grows their grapes.

Why go: Hilltop setting’s valley views; enthusiastic owner-winemaker; Pinot Noirs with soul, grace, and intensity.

The multi-talented Thomas T. Thomas paints the labels on some of his wines.

2 pm

Witching Stick Wines

Small producer Witching Stick‘s “downtown” Philo bungalow tasting room seems so much like the residence it once was that upon entering it, you may for a second think you’ve accidentally wandered into someone’s house, especially if owner-winemaker Van Williamson’s sizable McNab has flopped onto the parlor’s sofa. A matter-of-fact guy with a wealth of knowledge about Anderson Valley winemaking (some good gossip, too), Williamson has three decades of experience with a large corporate winery but handcrafts his own wines with finesse and intent. Although I liked several Gewürztraminers poured over the weekend, my hands-down favorite was Williamson’s unreleased as yet 2023. The wine’s floral aromatics, stone-fruit flavors, and airy delicacy bowled me over. I was all the more impressed after Williamson described the cellar strategies he employed, particularly during fermentation, to achieve these results. I also liked the 2020 Perli Vineyard Chardonnay and three 2019 Pinots from Perli, Ganoli, and Fashauer vineyards. Oh yes, and the 2021 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel aged in neutral (previously used) French oak barrels in a way that celebrated the fruit instead of coaxing it to places it didn’t belong.

Why go: sophisticated winemaking; excellent vineyard sources, casual tastings.

Vintner Van Williamson of Witching Stick.

3:30 pm

Domaine Anderson 

Our weekend came full circle at sparkling-wine producer Roederer’s still wine affiliate, Domaine Anderson, across Highway 128 from Indian Creek Inn’s driveway. A gauzy haze enveloped the winery, but a cheery hello from Micaela and a glass of Rosé of Pinot Noir lightened the mood. Our white flight was a 2019–2021 vertical of the estate Walraven Vineyard Chardonnay. The organically farmed vineyard in the Boonville hills received biodynamic certification in 2022. An unassuming beauty from nose to finish, the 2020 enticed me the most with its wispy mid-palate tropicality and lacy creaminess. We ended with 2019 polished, light-on-the-oak Pinot Noirs by winemaker Darren Low from the Walraven and Pinoli vineyards. 

Why go: beautiful grounds; organic and biodynamic farming; precise winemaking.

Good cheer and rosé at Domaine Anderson.


While sipping the Domaine Anderson Pinots, I kept remarking how technically correct they were, a notion that hadn’t rushed to the fore with other wines I’d liked during the weekend, even if also true of them. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it isn’t: rather than diminish the wines, Low’s precision brought out the best in their grapes. It also reminded me how diverse Anderson Valley’s output is. The numerous soil variations and microclimates certainly contribute, but so do the experience, perspectives, and obsessions of small and large producers pursuing excellence. After many visits over the years, I consider some of the wine folk here friends and enjoy making new ones. Come up for a day or two, and you’ll likely bond with them and the area’s spirit, too.

Winery building at Domaine Anderson.


Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association

Anderson Valley Itinerary

2 Fund Days Tasting Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

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