Rich reds, bright whites, and delicious plates: Why Anderson Valley, a hidden wine enclave two hours north of San Francisco, deserves a spot on your tour of Northern California.
If Napa Valley and Sonoma County are where oenophiles go for a wine-filled holiday, Northern California’s Anderson Valley is where winemakers themselves go for their own escaping. It’s an under-the-radar, 15-mile stretch in Mendocino County; the western end of the valley spills onto scenic Highway 1. Here, wines are poured by the same people who pick the grapes, Michelin-caliber restaurants serve dishes of ingredients sourced from the farm up the road, and deep violet hues of the valley’s famous pinot noirs are as opaque as the heavy fog that hangs on the vineyards until late morning.
On one chilly weekend in February, my mother and I rented a cottage there, sipped award-winning wines, and met the people behind the businesses. Headed to the valley? Here’s where you need to stop.
Philo Apple Farm
Located on the banks of the Navarro River—across the river from Hendy Woods State Park—the Philo Apple Farm is a working apple farm and a bed-and-breakfast. Purchased in 1984 by Sally and Don Schmitt, then-owners of The French Laundry in Yountville, the property was restored by their daughter, Karen Bates, and her husband, Tim. The Bates have since turned the farm into a rural retreat where guests can also help cook. Every morning, a homemade breakfast features biscuits, bronzed to perfection by Cruz Alvarado, the farm’s kitchen hand, plus yogurt, granola, apple juice, jams, and butter. Come autumn, the orchard contains nearly 80 varieties of apples. Stay in the second-floor Room with a View in the main building or book one of the three intimate cottages, each with a fireplace and a prime spot in the orchard. From $300.
The Bewildered Pig
Tucked behind a wooden fence and large palm trees, the Bewildered Pig serves farm-to-table cuisine in a rustic yet refined setting. Chef and co-owner Janelle Weaver and partner Daniel Townsend opened up shop in 2009. Each night, Weaver works ingredients sourced from the surrounding region into such dishes as the Pekin duck breast and a salad of foraged greens. Diners can choose from an à la carte menu. Or they can do as we did and opt for the tasting menu, which started with a deviled egg topped with a dollop of caviar and a petite wildflower and ended with the aptly named “Celebration of Citrus,” an Italian meringue with local citrus, lemon cookie crumble, and Stella Cadente Blood Orange Oil.
The Boonville Hotel
Every day at the restaurant at the Boonville Hotel is different—and that’s the way Perry Hoffman, recently appointed head chef, likes things. The Michelin-starred chef began at the restaurant 20 years ago. Now, he has returned to channel his experience into an ever-changing menu. One week he might serve a rich fisherman’s stew with mussels from Santa Barbara, the next, roasted local beets with greens. The restaurant sits on the first floor of the 15-room Boonville Hotel, a mainstay in Anderson Valley. Each Wednesday, the menus for the upcoming weekend are posted on the hotel’s website, and from June to October, guests are invited to enjoy fresh paella in the courtyard. Reservations are encouraged.
Bee Hunter Wine
Bee Hunter Wine, the award-winning producer of some of the country’s best pinot noir, has a shiny new tasting space marked by a bumble-bee yellow Porsche parked out front. Owners and winemakers Andy DuVigneaud and Ali Nemo concoct a killer cabernet sauvignon–merlot blend, rich and earthy with flavors of cassis, roasted red pepper, and Mexican chocolate.
Witching Stick Wines
In this cozy space, Van Williamson introduces visitors to his unique approach to winemaking. Williamson farms and bottles his own pinot noir and zinfandel and buys from local vineyards to craft such wines as a citrusy chardonnay and the popular 2012 Valenti Vineyard Syrah, balanced and full of summer herbs and berry flavors.
The setup at Toulouse Vineyards features sweeping views of the valley off the back deck and an expert winemaker who pops in from time to time to share his wealth of wine knowledge. Vineyard owners and winemakers Vern and Maxine Boltz showcase their handcrafted wines most notably in the floral, tropical flavors of the gewurztraminer and the newer valdiguie (a fruity red wine).
Wine tastings throughout the valley run about $10, but the fee is often waived with the purchase of a bottle of wine.
Over the past two decades, Madrones owners Jim Roberts and Brian Adkinson have transformed what was originally a simple four-room home and TV repair shop into nine villa-esque guest rooms. The Mediterranean-meets-West-Coast enclave looks like something straight out of Tuscany, but the wood-fire-cooked dishes served at the resort’s Stone & Embers restaurant and three new tasting rooms, helmed by local winemakers, are pure California. Smith Story Wine Cellars’s tasting room, run by husband-and-wife duo Eric Story and Ali Smith-Story, showcases a slew of vibrant Mendocino County and German wines. Top picks include the fruity, effervescent 2016 riesling, imported from the Rheingau region of Germany, and the 2016 Helluva Vineyard Pinot Noir, one Story describes as “very much the extrovert” of their pinots. The Long Meadow Ranch tasting room offers a range of options, including flights of wines produced with grapes from specific regions and olive oil tastings.
Next door, the Madrones’s sister property, the Brambles, has five Victorian steampunk–inspired cabins and rooms set in a redwood grove. The former spiritual retreat site is bordered by Indian Creek; a plan to develop a network of trails to connect the Madrones and the Brambles is in the works, Roberts and Adkinson say, which would allow guests to roam between the two properties. Rooms from $210.
If you’re approaching Anderson Valley from the east on CA-128, Pennyroyal Farm is the first roadside commercial establishment that suggests the valley is more than rolling hills and weathered farmhouses. Pennyroyal is a creamery, winery, and sustainable farm rolled into one. The farm’s 23 acres of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir grapes sit before a heavily forested ridge that marks the southern edge of Anderson Valley.
You can book a tour of the barn, milking station, and cheese production room—and be prepared to give the goats a little head scratch. The farmstead cheeses are made in small batches and seasonally, meaning milking follows the animals’ natural reproductive cycles. Get a taste of creamy Laychee, Pennyroyal’s signature goat cheese, paired with a crisp sauvignon blanc or a sharp Boont Corners to go with an estate pinot noir. The kitchen offers a limited menu for lunch, and while the grilled cheese is a surefire hit, you also can’t go wrong with the SmorgasBoard–a hearty array of meats, cheeses, jams, nuts, spreads, and other items.
Hendy Woods State Park
In Anderson Valley, nature is virtually at your disposal. It’s incorporated in the cuisine and woven into lodgings, but to envelop yourself in the purest form of the valley’s outdoors, escape to Hendy Woods State Park. Spanning 816 acres in northwestern Anderson Valley, the park has five miles of trails and two old-growth redwood groves, where some of the trees stretch more than 300 feet tall and are 1,000 years old. Hendy Woods is popular for swimming in the summer, canoeing in the winter and spring, and camping year-round.