Chillin' in the Anderson Valley



Sometimes, it’s impossible to separate great wine from its surroundings. After a trip to the Anderson Valley last week, I will forever associate its elegant reds, whites and sparklers with some of the most jaw-dropping scenery you’ll ever find in California.

Chilly, often foggy, and mysterious, the Anderson Valley is only about three hours north of San Francisco, but it feels much more remote. Part of that has to be the effect of the remarkable journey.

The 128 ends through the valley before joining Highway 1 at a bridge across the river, and it’s a few short miles to the coast. When you get there, pull over and take it in: a rugged, spray-filled tussle between land and sea that tells you this is Northern California, one of the most entrancing places on earth.

Entrancing, yes. Also overlooked, and undervalued. We spent two days exploring the offerings at some of the valley’s more well-regarded tasting rooms, and we were impressed by three wines that come from this beguiling and cool climate: beautifully balanced pinot noir, lightly oaked chardonnay, and excellent bubbly. Many are reasonably priced, although the pinots, like all California examples of that trendy varietal, are pushing toward the $50-per-bottle mark. Wineries to note: Scharffenberger CellarsToulouse VineyardsRoederer EstateNavarro Vineyards. All have tasting rooms that are open to the public.

Because it’s northern California, the birthplace of the farm-to-table movement, there’s no shortage of worthwhile restaurants in the area. If you stay in Mendocino, the picturesque little coastal town a few miles north of the western terminus of highway 128, you’ll be within walking distance of several wonderful restaurants that feature local fare, which means fantastic seafood and fresh greens.

If you want to eat in wine country, then you don’t want to miss the valley’s newest gastronomic attraction, The Bewildered Pig. This rustic-looking roadside diner in Philo was, until recently, a French restaurant that had seen better days. Renowned former Napa chef Janelle Weaver works her magic with locally sourced food – and we mean locally. I learned just after ordering the Emerald Earth Rabbit Pot Pie that the bunny had been caught and slaughtered that morning by someone on the staff. TMI, perhaps, but it was a crusty, hearty masterpiece, and like everything we tried it was prepared artfully but without pretension.

After chatting with our server, the chef and the owner and drinking some silky and seductive Toulouse pinot noir, we realized three hours had slipped by. Losing track of time is one of the many benefits of travelling to Anderson Valley. It’s Napa without the attitude, the pace or the crowds.