“Two paths diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
Most are familiar with the wine trails of Napa and Sonoma, but rarely venture further north to the quaint Anderson Valley. Not to be confused with Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, the Anderson Valley is about 2 ½ hours north of San Francisco in the western region of Mendocino County.
The valley’s scenery along Hwy 128 ranges from sheep pastures and apple orchards to vineyards and redwood groves. Beyond the valley lies the stunningly-dramatic Mendocino Coast – the perfect place to retire to after a day of wine tasting. The 20-mile stretch of wineries between Yorkville and Navarro is quiet, unpretentious, and casual. Jeans are acceptable attire at any restaurant, dogs are welcome in many of the tasting rooms, and some wineries will even let you sample for free.
Because it is a lesser-known wine trail, the tasting rooms aren’t ridiculously crowded and you can sample at a relaxed pace. It almost feels as though you have the entire valley to yourself. You can spend several days exploring the valley, and my recent day trip to three Anderson Valley wineries proves there’s still so much more to see and do. Refer to this map for a detailed list of routes and wineries in the Anderson Valley and surrounding areas.
Penny Royal Farm – Boonville
Named after the wild pennyroyal mint that grows wild in their vineyards, this charming Boonville farm is known for producing amazing farmstead cheeses that compliment their wines. “Farmstead” means that all of the milk used to make the cheeses come from the farm’s own goats and sheep, whom the staff have pampered from birth. Their tasting room is open Thursday – Monday, 10 am – 5 pm and offers a tasting list that isn’t overwhelming. There’s something for everyone’s taste – a Sauvignon Blanc, a rosé, and two vintages of Pinot Noir.
The tasting fee for any/all three of their wines is $5 per person, but the fee is refundable against wine purchase. I enjoyed the lively 2015 Rosé (Silver Medal winner) made from Pinot Noir grapes; the strawberry-cinnamon flavors gave the rosé a little something extra. The 2012 Pinot Noir (Gold Medal winner) displayed pleasingly-soft tannins and flavors of luscious dark fruit and baking spices.
Penny Royal’s cheeses are the perfect accompaniment to the tasting. The larger cheese platter (above) displays nine varying cheeses ($25), while the smaller offers a five-cheese selection ($15). There wasn’t a single cheese in the assortment that I didn’t enjoy, but I’d probably say the aged cheeses – Bollie’s Mollies and Boont Corners – were my favorites. The Velvet Sister was also a lovely Camembert-inspired cheese that was creamy and surprisingly bold with flavors of mushroom. You can purchase their cheeses at the farm or up the road at their sister farm, Navarro Vineyards. They also offer online purchase/ shipping.
Husch Vineyards – Philo
Tucked off the road is the rustic, family-owned Husch Vineyards, which happens to be the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley. Upon stepping in from under the inviting rose-covered arbor, you’ll find that the tasting room atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. Their tasting list offers a number of varietals to choose from (you can select up to six), so you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy. The 2015 Dry Gewurztraminer (Gold Medal) offers honeysuckle and rose petal on the nose and tropical fruit on the palate. Husch’s is not as sweet as other Gewurztraminers I’ve had, hence the “dry,” but I actually quite preferred this one to the more syrupy types. I also enjoyed their 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel (Gold Medal; tasting room exclusive) made from 60+ year old vines. In this intense, fruit-forward Zin, you’ll find seductive aromas of berry, fig, chocolate, clove, and a touch of black pepper.
The original Husch vineyard (above) is a 21 acre block of Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay, while their warmer climate varietals (Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chenin Blanc) are grown in the Ukiah Valley.
Navarro Vineyards – Navarro
If you’ve heard of wines from the Anderson Valley, chances are you’ve heard of this one. Navarro is a highly-accoladed winery that prides itself in sustainable farming and winemaking. This laid-back winery was the most crowded of the stops we made, but the staff was able to accommodate us quickly by making room at the counter. At Navarro, there is no tasting fee so you can taste all fifteen wines if you desire; every wine is a Gold Medal winner, some being Bless of Class/Show.
I enjoyed the 2014 Riesling (above), which had those familiar flavors of crisp apple and peach with a floral nose of jasmine, honeysuckle and apple blossoms. However, it was their 2013 Pinot Noir (Deep End Blend) and 2014 Edelzwicker that I fell in love with and ended up taking home. Aged in their best barrels, the structure of this particular Pinot Noir is determined by Navarro’s hillside, ocean-view vineyards, which offer a cool marine influence. Flavors of strawberry and cherry are at the core with notes of toast and vanilla. The 2014 Edelzwicker was not on Navarro’s tasting menu this visit, but I had tried it previously. This blend of Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling makes for the perfect picnic or beach wine.
My Picks of the Day
Left to right: Navarro 2013 Pinot Noir, Husch 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel, Penny Royal Farm 2012 Pinot Noir, Navarro 2015 Edelzwicker, Husch 2015 Chenin Blanc
Gowan’s Oak Tree – Philo
Gowan’s Oak Tree stand has been around since the 1950’s and is known for their cold apple cider. I associate Gowan’s Oak Tree with my childhood and the occasional, much-anticipated trips my family would make over to the Anderson Valley to get their cold cider; it was always such a treat. As an adult, I still appreciate the naturally sweet taste of their cider and it makes for a nice refresher between tasting wines. Buy a bottle for your designated driver!