Thursday, June 8, 2023

Anderson Valley

In the early part of the 1970s, while Napa and Sonoma were setting the wine world on its ear, little attention was paid to the wines of Mendocino County.  And there was even less said about Anderson Valley. 

Anderson Valley flowers and vines

Ukiah, where Barney Fetzer and John Parducci made their wines, is a convenient off-ramp from the main north-south US-101 through Mendocino. But to reach the secluded Anderson Valley, a thirsty wine fan had to exit 101 outside Cloverdale, onto a winding two-lane state Route 128 or approach the valley over the narrow Route-253 mountain road south of Ukiah. 

The scenic drive along R-128 takes you past Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, Husch, Handley and Roederer Estate, among other wineries.  West through Philo the road eventually ends at the Pacific Ocean.                          

An aside.  The cluster of a group of small businesses and a hotel, that is  Boonville, is known for two things, although both are probably slipping out of the public memory.  Boontling, an American jargon, developed in the late 19th century, is spoken today only by a few old timers in western Mendocino County.  Hang around Boonville long enough, though, and you might hear someone talking about a "sharkin match" (fight), or telling a story out of church about the local "skype" or pastor. 

Old time residents of Boonville may also tell you about the time a mysterious young couple breathed life back into a run down Boonville Hotel and Restaurant and then slipped out of town one night owing a lot of money.  The hotel is thriving again and so too is Boonville.

Anderson Valley White Wines

Cool climate growing conditions, especially for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatic whites like Riesling and especially, Gewurztraminer, attracted winemakers in the 1970s to Anderson Valley, along with, of course, some reasonable prices for arable land. 

Parducci Wine Cellars in Ukiah is the oldest winery in Mendocino, opening its doors in 1932.  In Anderson Valley, Lazy Creek Vineyards, 1973, makers of excellent Gewurztraminer, holds the longevity honors, followed by Handley Cellars, 1981, also known for Gewurtz and Chardonnay. 

Since 1974, Navarro Vineyards has been committed to making outstanding Gewurztraminer and building a reputation for excellent Riesling, as well. And Navarro makes some of the best late harvest styles from those two varieties.  

A short distance past Navarro is Lazy Creek Vineyards started by a Swiss couple that planted a vineyard in 1973 and one of the valley's first wineries.  Lazy Creek has long been recognized for the best Alsace dry-style Gewurtz in California. 

Across the highway is Husch Vineyard, one of the oldest wineries in Anderson Valley. Husch has a solid following for Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, plus old vine Zinfandel and Pinot Noir.  In 1979, the Oswald family bought Husch and expanded the line. 

Further along R-128 is Roederer Estate, the California outpost for the noted Champagne firm of Louis Roederer.  Vineyards were first planted at Roederer Estate in 1982, with the construction of a winery to follow.  Roederer Estate bubbly is among California's finest, especially the prestige bottling, L'Ermitage. 

Beyond Roederer and just before getting to Navarro, is Handley Cellars, founded in 1981, with winemaker Mila Handley turning out excellent Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.   

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

California wine lore is partly about the search for the Holy Grail of red wine: Pinot Noir.  The faithful looked throughout the state and found ideal conditions for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara, Russian River, Los Carneros and more recently in the Anderson Valley.

In the early 1980s, the owners of Champagne Roederer settled on Anderson Valley as a good place to grow Pinot Noir for their California sparkling wine. While Moet & Chandon and G. H. Mumm opted for the trendier Napa Valley, Roederer decided the place to be making sparkling wine in California was the off-the-tourist track of Anderson Valley.  

At one time, the advice coming out of the University of California Davis was to pass on Pinot Noir since there is no place in the state for a grape that loves a cool climate. Fortunately, there were those who believed Pinot Noir had a future in Anderson Valley, with its ocean influence and good soils.  

Breeding adult male.
Common Goldeneye                             Audubon

In 1996, the Duckhorns of Napa Valley founded the Goldeneye Winery in the cool climate of Anderson Valley, to make a Pinot Noir the equal of the noted Duckhorn Merlot. It was a decision that paid off with the success of Goldeneye, named for the Common Goldeneye migratory diving duck. Goldeneye also makes a dry Alsace-style Gewurztraminer.

Anderson Valley may be off the tourist trail, but the diversion is worth the time and effort, to enjoy a cool glass of Gewurztraminer or a satisfying Pinot Noir, before continuing along the trail to the scenic Pacific Ocean. 

Next blog: Sicily

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1 comment:

  1. Gerry, Milla Handley died 3 years ago! Not making wine now


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