Magazine article Sunset

The Cold Truth about Anderson Valley

Magazine article Sunset

The Cold Truth about Anderson Valley

Article excerpt

The first time I drove to the small coastal town of Mendocino, it was twilight, but I had pancakes on my mind - the ones I intended to eat the next morning at a restaurant called Cafe Beaujolais, which sounded like a wine bar but was famous for its breakfasts.

When the evening light began glistening through the redwoods in luminous shafts, though, and I smelled the ocean in the air, tomorrow's pancakes became irrelevant; I wanted a glass of wine.

I stopped the car in front of an agreeably dilapidated inn. The proprietor poured me a glass of Roederer Estate sparkling wine. It shimmered like the twilight outside.

Though I didn't realize it then, I was in one of Northern California's most beautiful and secluded wine valleys - 150 miles north of San Francisco and reachable only by a winding two-lane country road. Sandwiched between two ridges, Anderson Valley is like a pants pocket slanting inward from the Pacific Ocean just below Mendocino.

It's the ocean, in fact, that explains much of the valley's success as a wine region. Day after day, cool breezes roll in off the sea, filling the region with giant puff balls of fog. If the vines here could wear sweaters, they probably would, for it is often quite chilly.

Some grape varieties, however, thrive in cool places: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling, for instance. Plant them someplace hot and they make wine with all the complexity of a Kleenex.

This climate magic holds for sparkling wine too, which, after all, is made mostly from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Cool-climate grapes give sparklers the potential for elegance and nuance. Absent the big chill, a sparkling wine becomes a sparkling orangutan.

It's no surprise, then, that the Anderson Valley is home to three of California's best sparkling-wine producers - Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, and Navarro Vineyards. In fact, when the French Champagne firm Louis Roederer decided to make a second bubbly, president Jean-Claude Rouzaud searched the world for a decade to find just the right cool, Champagne-like climate to nourish the vines. In 1981, Rouzaud discovered the Anderson Valley and promptly bought 580 acres.

Until Roederer and Scharffenberger arrived in the early '80s, the Anderson Valley was a well-kept secret. A handful of tiny, mostly family-run operations sold wine to consumers willing to make the pilgrimage to their back door. …

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