Unlocking the Secrets of Anderson Valley Wines

Written by Pam and Gary Baker

September 27, 2023
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Anderson Valley, California, is an extraordinary wine region. Read on to discover what awaits in this valley known for its exceptional wines.

Situated in the heart of scenic Mendocino County, this bucolic valley boasts a rich winemaking history that dates to the 19th century. Known for its cool climate and unique terroir, Anderson Valley wines draw wine enthusiasts seeking something exceptional.

Hospitality feels genuine, the culture unpretentious, and the pace unhurried. The region even speaks its own unique language, “Boontling,” created in the 1890s by residents of Boonville to confuse outsiders.

An hour and fifteen-minute drive from Sonoma County, Anderson Valley’s distance from large cities and major highways helps assure its isolation. However, we found it worth the trek to experience the welcoming attitude of local vintners, uncrowded wine-tasting experiences, stunning beauty, easy access to the wild Mendocino Coast, and outstanding Anderson Valley wines.

Aerial view of Anderson Valley

An aerial view of Anderson Valley vineyards. Photo courtesy of Fabian Jauregui @fabianjg

What's in This Article:

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The Destination

Anderson Valley stretches along the eastern side of the Mendocino Ridge, along Highway 128 from Yorkville to Navarro. The valley consists of a geological series of alluvial terraces aside Anderson Creek and other tributaries that flow into the Navarro River. A traditionally rural area rich in moderate climate and natural resources, this region is populated with generational family farms, small towns, and people who love to protect the land.

Highway 128 feels easy to navigate and offers views of the unspoiled valley countryside filled with majestic forests and vineyard-covered, sun-dappled hills. The short 15-mile drive from one end of the valley to the other makes it tempting to spend a day sampling Anderson Valley wines. But there’s so much more to explore in its roadside towns. Old-fashioned cafes, local markets, and historic hotels offer plenty to fill a multi-day stay. As a result, welcoming tourism is beginning to flourish here, yet in a slower, more deliberate style that preserves the valley’s rural character and values.

Anderson Valley Highway 128

Driving along Highway 128 in Anderson Valley. Photo courtesy of Fabian Jauregui @fabianjg

The History and Heritage of Anderson Valley Wines

Many early 19th-century European settlers recognized the valley’s potential for grape growing and winemaking, and they planted the first vineyards in the region. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that Anderson Valley gained recognition as a premium wine-producing region.

Husch Vineyards established its winery in 1971, followed by Navarro Vineyards in 1974. Several other winemakers arrived in the 1980s, including Milla Handley, who established Handley Cellars. These iconic wineries remain in the hands of their founding families.

One other significant entry was Roederer Estate in 1982. Jean-Claude Rouzaud, former president of Champagne Louis Roederer, recognized the valley’s potential for sparkling wine. Then, in 1983, Anderson Valley received approval for its own AVA designation.Since then, Anderson Valley has continued attracting passionate winemakers drawn to the region’s unique terroir and the opportunity to produce exceptional wines. Today, the valley provides a home to a vibrant community of winemakers, each with their unique style and approach to winemaking. From small, family-owned wineries to larger, well-established estates, the winemakers of Anderson Valley share a common goal—to craft wines that reflect the beauty and character of the region.

Boontling—Anderson Valley’s Secret Language

Once a secret language specific to Anderson Valley, Boontling has a foreign sound designed to conceal and protect those talked about and those doing the talking. Some say workers in the hops fields who didn’t necessarily want co-workers to know everything about them, nor any strangers new to the valley, developed it in the 1880s.

By coining new words and deriving nicknames from various occupations, appearances, habits, family ties, or sometimes an incident, Bootners (those who speak Boontling) kept their secrets hidden. Consequently, this allowed them to converse in a dialect that no foreigners could understand. And only a select group of locals knew Boontling and were adept at “harpin (speaking) Boont.”

Today, the Boontling Club and Historical Society preserve this unique language to keep it alive.

The Unique Characteristics of Anderson Valley Wines

The unique characteristics of Anderson Valley wines set them apart from other wine regions in California. The cool climate, influenced by the nearby Pacific Ocean, creates the perfect conditions for growing grapes with vibrant acidity and exceptional flavor profiles. The valley’s foggy mornings and sunny afternoons let the grapes ripen slowly, resulting in elegant and nuanced wines. The terroir, characterized by its diverse soil types and microclimates, further contributes to the complexity of the wines. Consequently, from the mineral-rich vineyards on the valley floor to the rocky hillsides, each wine tells a story of its origin and the passion of the winemakers who carefully nurture the vines.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays

Anderson Valley is renowned for its pinot noir, which thrives in the region’s cool climate. The pinot noirs are known for their bright red fruit flavors, silky tannins, and balanced acidity. They often exhibit notes of cherry, raspberry, and earthy undertones, making them incredibly versatile and food-friendly. Chardonnay also shines, displaying crisp acidity, vibrant fruit flavors, and a touch of minerality. These chardonnays, often unoaked or lightly oaked, allow the true expression of the fruit to shine through.

Anderson Valley Wines

A treat awaits when you explore the wines of the Anderson Valley, known for its exceptional pinot noir wines. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Other Anderson Valley Wines

In addition to pinot noir and chardonnay, Anderson Valley was initially recognized for its aromatic white wines, such as gewürztraminer and riesling. These varietals are still growing. They thrive in the valley’s cool climate and display vibrant fruit flavors, floral aromas, and refreshing acidity. Particularly noteworthy, the gewürztraminers from Anderson Valley offer exotic spice notes, lychee flavors, and rich textures. Conversely, rieslings provide a delightful balance of sweetness and acidity, with flavors ranging from zesty citrus to juicy stone fruits.

Anderson Valley Wines

Tasting the unique characteristics of Anderson Valley chardonnay and pinot noir. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Days of Ripening Anderson Valley Wines

Anderson Valley is like the Alsace, Champagne, and Burgundy regions in France in land, soil, and climate characteristics. Because of these conditions, Anderson Valley vintners, like the French growers, adopted a peculiar knack for watching the grapes for the “days to ripen.” By paying attention to the natural diurnal phenomenon, vintners harvest timely enough to be in sync with grape ripening. As a result, they consistently create balanced, pure wines from grapes that express the individuality of Anderson Valley’s diverse appellation. Subsequently, the old expression “great wine starts in the vineyard” holds plenty of truth in the Anderson Valley.

Fog rolling over Anderson Valley in early morning

Fog rolls over the hills and vineyards of Anderson Valley in the early morning. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Top Wineries to Visit

Over time, hop fields, sheep ranches, orchards, and lumber mills gave way to viticulture and enology in Anderson Valley. Of the valleys’ 57,600 total acres, 2,457 are planted with ninety vineyards. Most of the fifty wineries and twenty-nine wine-tasting rooms spread out along Highway 128.

Many of the wineries remain long-time family-owned operations with onsite tasting rooms. Additionally, the region welcomes visitors to events and festivals throughout the year. But the most important thing about Anderson Valley wineries is the genuine hospitality offered to guests when visiting any of its tasting rooms. We met friendly owners, winemakers, locals, and even the winery dog while tasting our way along Highway 128.

“Bahlhorning” Means “Good Drinking” in Boontling

Husch Vineyards

A visit to Anderson Valley wouldn’t be complete without visiting Husch Vineyards. Established in 1972, Husch retains a humble presence. The 1800s converted pony barn serves as its tasting room. It produces 22 different Anderson Valley wines, including excellent Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Noir.

View of Husch Vineyards' tasting room

View of Husch Vineyards’ tasting room housed in a converted pony barn. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Roederer Estate

Known for its exceptional sparkling wines, Roederer Estate features an attractive, contemporary tasting room with views of lush vineyards surrounding it. The winery, founded in 1982, remains part of the renowned Champagne Louis Roederer family. Crafted using traditional methods, Roederer’s sparkling wines showcase the elegance and finesse that Anderson Valley is known for.

Roederer Estate sparkling wine

Roederer Estate is known for its exceptional sparkling wines. Photo courtesy Roederer Estate

Goldeneye Winery

If you’re a pinot noir enthusiast, visiting Goldeneye Winery is necessary. Owned by Duckhorn Vineyards, Goldeneye specializes in producing world-class pinot noir from its estate vineyards. The wines feature complexity, balance, and age-worthiness. And like so many other wineries in Anderson Valley, its outdoor tasting area offers stunning views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains.

View from Goldeneye Winery

View from the outdoor tasting area at Goldeneye Winery. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Lula Cellars

Lula Cellars remains a small, family-owned winery that produces handcrafted wines from its estate vineyards in Anderson Valley. Their portfolio includes exceptional pinot noir, chardonnay, and gewürztraminer wines, each showcasing the flavors and characteristics of the region.

Navarro Vineyards

Another of the oldest wineries in Anderson Valley, Navarro Vineyards, dates to the early 1970s. They produce exceptional cool-climate wines, including pinot noir, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, and riesling. Their tasting room offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere, making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy a glass of wine.

Handley Cellars

Handley Cellars is a family-owned winery, established in 1982, that produces exceptional Anderson Valley wines in Anderson Valley. They are known for award-winning pinot noir, chardonnay, and gewürztraminer wines, crafted with a focus on balance and elegance. Their tasting room offers panoramic views of the valley, making it a scenic tasting spot.

Where to Eat in the Anderson Valley

Where there’s good wine, there’s bound to be good food. And Anderson Valley offers plenty.

Lauren’s at the Buckhorn in Boonville offers hearty American fare and the “best burgers in Boonville.” Lauren’s also features the only full bar in town.

We didn’t expect to find a fine dining establishment in the tiny town of Boonville. But the restaurant inside the Boonville Hotel features Michelin-star chef Perry Hoffman at the helm. Using his talent and locally sourced ingredients, Hoffman dazzles locals and visitors with his prix-fixed gourmet dinners.

Paco’s Tacos, a semi-permanent food truck tucked between the Chevron Station and Gallery gift shop in Boonville, features authentic street tacos. Incidentally, local vintners regard Paco as one of the valley’s best vineyard pruners!

Disco Ranch, a specialty market and wine bar in Boonville, offers small bites, sliders, and cheese and charcuterie boards. We enjoyed a board of smoked salmon, Boursin, and cucumbers prepared fresh from the deli while perusing the well-stocked domestic and international wine shelves.

At Penny Royal Farm, we tasted Anderson Valley wines and the delightful cheese produced onsite. A winery, creamery, and farm, Penny Royal offers a guided tour to visit the resident goats.

Entrance to Penny Royal Farm

Entrance to Penny Royal Farm, a winery and creamery. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Where to Stay in the Anderson Valley

Anderson Valley offers a limited number of hotel rooms. However, the region features plenty of Airbnb choices. Additionally, guests especially love the overnight accommodations on nearby winery properties.

The Boonville Hotel, located in “downtown” Boonville, oozes with charm. This historic hotel, built in 1862, features seventeen unique rooms that range from cozy to spacious. Plus, it features its own onsite fine-dining restaurant.

The Madrones is a Mediterranean compound in Philo. Influenced by the Italian Agriturismo concept of staying on a winery or working farm, the property offers a relaxed stay in rural wine country. Guests can shop, taste wine, and dine all onsite.

Indian Creek Inn is set in Philo. This 15-room property offers BBQ facilities, a bocce ball court, and a shared kitchen in each of its four buildings. Consequently, it makes an ideal spot for small groups traveling to Anderson Valley.

View of vineyard in Anderson Valley

Some Anderson Valley Airbnbs are on winery property, offering vineyard views. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Articles Related to the Anderson Valley

A Place Like Nowhere Else

Anderson Valley has been compared to other wine regions, most frequently those in northern France. But driving through the scenery along Highway 128 with its seemingly endless views of forested hillsides and rolling vineyards, it’s clear to us and, at least to most locals, that Anderson Valley need not be compared to anywhere else. It just might be exactly like nowhere else.

View of Anderson Valley at sunrise

View of Anderson Valley at sunrise. Photo by Pam and Gary Baker

Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when exploring Mendocino and other parts of Northern California. We also share some of our favorite California wine experiences.

Anderson Valley, California, is an extraordinary wine region. Read on to discover what awaits in this valley known for its exceptional wines.


Unlocking the Secrets of Anderson Valley Wines

Written by Pam and Gary Baker

Pam and Gary Baker are freelance food, wine, and travel writers based in Northern California. They have been published in regional, national, and international publications including WineTraveler, Porthole Cruise, Upscale Living, Northwest Travel and Life, and Washington Tasting Room. Pam is the former editor of Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine and writes a wine column for Food Wine Travel Magazine.

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