Featuring Goldeneye Winery, Pennyroyal Farm, Roederer Estate and more.
Tucked away in the coastal region of Mendocino County, just 110 miles northwest of San Francisco, lies Anderson Valley – a charming wine country that is intimate, approachable, and uncrowded.
While in Anderson Valley, take time to admire the gorgeous landscapes of redwoods, rolling hills, expansive meadows and the cool, blue-green Navarro River. Then treat yourself to visits at some standout wineries and popular festivals.
Pinot Noir Festival (May 19 through 21)
This year marks the Anderson Valley’s 40th anniversary as an AVA.
So in honor of that marvelous milestone, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association is planning a party, with the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. This region is one of my absolute favorites in Northern California, so the Festival adds extra incentive to take time to explore the Mendocino County jewel.
One highlight of the event includes a rare opportunity to hear from the region’s early founders, in a Technical Conference on May 19 with John Scharffenberger (Scharffenberger Cellars, founded in 1981), Allan Green (Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, 1980) and Deborah Cahn Navarro Vineyards (1975, with husband Ted Bennett).
The Festival also presents “The Grand Tasting” on May 20, featuring more than 50 producers pouring a variety of locally grown Pinot Noirs, ranging in style from sparkling, to still, to rosé.
One of Philo’s most stunningly beautiful properties, Goldeneye is my pick for a long, leisurely afternoon of soaking up flower-laced lawns, vineyard views stretching into forest-scapes, a charming fountain, and of course, sipping fine wines on the dog-friendly patio.
The Essentials Tasting is a great introduction, showcasing single vineyard Pinot Noirs for current-release wines as well as selections from Goldeneye’s sister Migration label.
But my favorite experience is pairing the Essentials with the “Picnic for Two Under the Oak” option. That’s an intimate seating under the magnificent Black Oak tree overlooking Goldeneye’s Confluence Vineyard, and a feast bringing charcuterie, cheese, fig spread, crackers, seasonal fruit, olives, and a sweet treat.
I wasn’t expecting an exotic museum in rural, quiet Philo, but that’s what you find in this interesting tasting room. When winemaker Milla Handley was a child, her parents traveled to India, bringing back folk art that fascinated her and inspired her own collections of Oaxacan, Balinese, and African pieces now on display for visitors.
The dog friendly patio is the place to be – bring your own picnic – and explore the signature wines like Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir Blanc.
Phillips Hill Winery
The rustic farm setting showcases one of the many charms of Anderson Valley. It’s like a painting, with mulitple redwood barns against a backdrop of hills flanked by willow trees, apple and pear orchards, and cascading flower bushes.
Inside, the tasting room feels like an elegant saloon, trimmed in aged wood milled from the property’s trees, and set with tasting counters perched atop wine barrels.
I love lounging in the Apple Barn tasting area, a weathered wood lean-to type structure overlooking a creek. This charming building dates back to the 1880s, built when fresh produce wasn’t available to many people, so apples were dried on site and transported by buckboard to Pacific Coast ports.
Sample the many different styles of Pinot Noir, while your guide explains the characteristics of the five different vineyards. Then take a walking tour of the vineyard right outside the tasting room, The Day Ranch, which was formerly an apple orchard before being planted to grapes in the 1970’s.
Founded in 2006 by Bill and Nancy Charles, the boutique winery crafts small lots of estate-grown Pinot Noir, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
The owners often host the tastings personally, and you can relax in the gazebo while you savor 6 to 8 pours (I personally love the crisp, bright Vin Gris made of Pinot Noir grapes – the rosé reminds me of strawberries and cream).
A one-stop destination of a tasting room, vineyards, goat and sheep ranch, dairy/creamery and produce farm, Pennyroyal is where I take all my guests who are new to Anderson Valley.
Inevitably, they all ask if this slice of wine country could get any more perfect. Plan on spending a few hours, here, to visit the critters, drink wine, and take in the abundance of farm-fresh goodies here.
Handmade cheeses are produced entirely from the farm’s own goats and sheep, and star on my favorite wine pairing, a delectable “SmorgasBoard” of charcuteries, olives, garden pickles, housemade mustard, estate jam, and crackers.
This is probably the best-known winery in Anderson Valley, famous for its sparkling wines and being the California outpost of the Champagne (France) Louis Roederer winery. With its history dating back to 1982, the estate beckons with delights like Brut cuvée, Brut Rosé, and my pick, the beautiful L’Ermitage tête de cuvée that blossoms with baked apple, roasted hazelnut, clove and nutmeg.
Don’t let the casual, barn-style tasting room fool you – this is a first-class tasting experience (Louis Roederer created the coveted Cristal Champagne, after all). I go all out, supplementing my sparkling with fancy add-on “Nosh Menu” bites including Marcona almonds, duck rillettes, smoked salmon and Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.
Tip: Anderson Valley is an easy, hour-long drive from Santa Rosa, but you’ll want to stay over for at least a night, to appreciate all the beauty and those many, marvelous wines. Check out remarkable options including the chic Boonville Hotel or the resort-style, high-fashion Madrones.