Magazine article Sunset

Anderson Valley Escape

Magazine article Sunset

Anderson Valley Escape

Article excerpt

For farm-fresh food and sublime wine, spend an autumn weekend in California's least known, most beautiful wine country

DRIVING DOWN the winding, tree-canopied dirt road that leads to Lazy Creek Vineyards, you'd think we've taken the turnoff to some secret State park. Alders, oaks, madrones, and redwoods all crowd alongside and over the road, which bumps over three wooden bridges before emerging onto hilly vineyard vistas. The golden light of Indian summer filters through the trees and illuminates the dust kicked up by our car. It's a scene so pretty and peaceful that we're tempted to stop the car and get out for a walk-or a nap. But then we see 8-year-old Grey Chandler, whose parents, Josh aricTMary Beth Chandler, own and run Lazy Creek, and our energy picks up.

"What's that baby's name again?" Grey asks. We laugh, amused that this little boy would remember our 1-year-old son, Toby, from our visit several months prior. Then before we know it. Grey is leading Lilli, our almost-3-year-old daughter, down the gravel path. "Come see my tractor," he says enthusiasticalty, and they're off and running.

Taking advantage of the unsolicited child care, my husband and I duck in to the tasting room, which is more like a cozy garage, for a sip of "Gewürz juice" that Josh pours from the barrel. It's bone-dry and delicious. Then we follow Josh out to the chicken coop, where he hoists our daughter, who has finished her tractor inspection, up on his shoulders and instructs her to open a drawer. She does, and out pops a chicken, like a jack-in-the-box. "What's under that chicken?" he asks. Eyes wide, Lilli feels under the bird, then incredulously holds up an egg. "Warm!" she says.

We have found perfection, I think: wine for Mom and Dad, and Old McDonald's Farm for the kids.

A wine country unlike any other

Most people, even otherwise well-traveled Northern Californians, would be hard-pressed to tell you where the Anderson Valley is. For the record, it's about 120 miles north of San Francisco, and about 40 miles southeast of Mendocino. But some of the wines coming out of the area have, in the last 10 to 15 years, become household names: Navarro Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Husch Vineyards, Roederer Estate. Cooled by the fog that rolls in from the ocean, the valley is ideal for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparklers made out of them, as well as the increasingly appreciated cool-weather whites: Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris.

The excellent wine we consistently find here is not the only thing that keeps my husband and me coming back to this valley. An even more compelling draw is what we can't find here: namely, Versailles-style villas, fancy resorts, traffic, standard tasting fees, lines. From State 128, which snakes its way circuitously from Cloverdale out to the Mendocino coast like a zipper slicing the gently rolling hills in half, all you see are miles and miles of trees draped in fall color this month. They're interrupted only by tiny towns such as Boonville and a couple of other crossroads so small that they don't even register as towns.

There's only one road, one hotel, one excellent restaurant (and a couple of more casual eateries), a growing number of wineries, a state park with about 8 miles of hiking trails, and not much else to do besides admire the wine, the food, and the scenery. As a result, the valley feels manageable, approachable, and somehow a lot more authentic than other wine countries in California.

That authenticity stems in part from the back-to-the-land culture that thrives in this valley, where everyone we meet seems to be raising their own cows, sheep, and chickens. Fresh eggs, in fact, become the unifying theme of our three-day trip. We find them under the chickens at Lazy Creek, sold at the Boont Berry Farm in Boonville, and served at each place we eat: the Boonville General Store-where the food is so good that we return not only for every breakfast but also every lunch-and the Boonville Hotel, where Johnny Schmitt, as chef-proprietor, serves simple, honest, outstanding food. …

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