Magazine article Sunset

Harvest Heaven in Anderson Valley

Magazine article Sunset

Harvest Heaven in Anderson Valley

Article excerpt


For drivers making their way from the Bay Area to the Mendocino coast, Anderson Valley signifies progress: after about 130 miles of sometimes challenging roads, the ocean is only half an hour away. But many who stop here for a look or a meal succumb to the charms of the place, and somehow never make it west of Navarro--despite the fact that locals harbor a lingo known as Boontling to maintain a good-humored privacy in the presence of what they call "bright-lighters."

The valley, which embraces the towns of Boonville, Philo, and Navarro, is known mainly for sheep ranching, apple growing, and winemaking. From late September through October, as the coast begins to cool, the Anderson Valley's vineyards color up, its apples grow crisp and winy, and the air takes on a beautiful clarity.

Wine tasting in the valley is sure to waylay all but the most driven bright-lighter. The misty mornings, sunny afternoons, and cool nights seem to favor slow-maturing varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling. At least eight wineries clustered along State Highway 128, mostly in Philo, are open daily for tasting. The newest attractions are the sophisticated facilities at Scharffenberger and Roederer, which both make highly acclaimed sparkling wines, but you can also enjoy the down-home hospitality of smaller family-run wineries that have been here awhile. We especially liked Pepperwood Springs Vineyards (open by appointment; call 707/895-2920) for its lofty view of the entire valley, and a Pinot Noir that has a cult following.

This productive agricultural region has other ways to tantalize your taste buds. At organic fruit-juice tastings at The Tinman, on Anderson Valley Way just north of Boonville, you'll learn to detect subtle differences between locally grown varieties (try the blend of Rome Beauty apple juice with Cabernet Sauvignon grape juice for a not-too-sweet autumnal treat). On October 10, The Apple Farm in Philo (18501 Greenwood Road) hosts a tasting of hard-to-find fall apples, as well as an orchard walk and cider pressing; call 895-2333 for details and reservations. Other days, just stop by and help yourself to honor-system apples, dried-apple wreaths, jams, chutneys, and apple twig bundles for barbecue or hearth. While you're on the apple trail, don't miss Gowan's Oak Tree, on State 128 near Philo: the produce assortment is limited but freshly picked and flavorful. Downtown Boonville showcases the valley's agricultural bounty, along with music and crafts, with a new Farmer's Market open every Saturday morning through October.

With so many good things in nearby orchards and fields, it's no wonder the valley has attracted top-notch chefs to a pleasantly unpretentious culinary scene. Reservations are deservedly required at both the Boonville Hotel (895-2210) and the Floodgate Store and Grille (895-3000), the two best restaurants in the area. Resurrected under new ownership since its days of fiscal infamy, the hotel now serves appealing California cuisine in a less-is-more setting that incorporates simple pieces (such as the willow bar stools) by local artisans. The Floodgate offers up wonderful grilled meats with cheerful informality. You can linger with a well-chosen local vintage at either spot. …

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