Wine Country Itinerary: Anderson Valley (Mendocino)

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andersonvalley.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Sixteen miles long and home to some two dozen wineries, Mendocino's Anderson Valley is fast becoming known as one of the best kept secrets in Northern California wine touring.  Thanks to its unique east-west orientation, the valley - situated in southern Mendocino County - channels crisp air from the nearby Pacific to its dramatic Redwood-lined vineyards, which produce some of the state's most sought-after Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.  

Even better, Mendocino wineries' trademark laid-back attitude and easy hospitality means that visitors to the valley just two hours north of San Francisco are treated like old friends, and tasting fees are often free or rightly reasonable.
Stop 1 - Roederer Estate
There's no better way to start a tasting day than with bubbly, and when that bubbly's considered to be the best in the US, so much the better. Founded by France's venerable Champagne producer, Louis Roederer, Roederer Estate's charmingly rustic winery blends in beautifully with its forested backdrop (no over-the-top French Château here), and a reasonable $6 tasting fee nets you sips of some 8 award-winning sparkling wines.
Travel tip: Assuming you're arriving from Highway 101, starting your day here means traveling the furthest west first thing, but your reward will be finishing closer to 101 and your route home at the end of the day.
Tasting Room: 4501 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466; Open daily 11am - 5pm
Tasting Fee: $6 per person; $3 of fee waived with purchase; $6 tour

Lunch - Libby's Restaurant
For lunch, continue east on Highway 128 to the small town of Philo, where Libby's Restaurant serves up authentic Mexican fare locals can't get enough of.  The carnitas are among the best you'll find anywhere, while diners with a hankering for something more American will hit the jackpot with the Latin Lover Cheeseburger (tip: don't skip the home fries).  Wash it all down with wine or beer from Libby's excellent list.  Note:  Service can be slow and lunch wraps up 2pm, so be sure to plan your morning tasting schedule accordingly.
Location: 8651 Hwy 128, Philo, CA 95466, (707) 895-2646
Hours: Lunch 11:30am -2pm, Dinner 5pm - 8pm

Stop 2 - Greenwood Ridge
Thrice named one of America's top 30 wineries by Wine & Spirits Magazine, Greenwood Ridge produces just 5,000 cases each year of critically acclaimed wines. Architecture buffs will love the winery's unique octagonal tasting room (designed by an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright and built from a single fallen Redwood), and everyone will appreciate the complimentary tastes of five to six wines. Don't miss the Sauvignon Blanc, which combines the flinty minerality typical of the grape with a lovely, melon-laced mid-palate.
Tasting Room: 5501 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466; Open daily 11am - 5pm
Tasting Fee:  Free

Stop 3 - Navarro Vineyards
Just a stone's throw from Greenwood Ridge, Navarro Vineyards is one of the oldest continually operating wineries in Anderson Valley. The free tasting encompasses as many as 15 wines (tip: using a spittoon at this point is a very good idea) open each day, though the winery's signature White Riesling is the one not to miss. Those suffering from mid-afternoon hunger pains will find solace and sustenance in Navarro's well-stocked deli case.
Tasting Room: 5601 Hwy 128, Philo, CA 95466, Open daily 10am - 5pm
Tasting Fee: Free

Stop 4 - Goldeneye Winery
Located east of Philo and named for the Goldeneye ducks that migrate through the Anderson Valley, Goldeneye Winery produces exclusively Pinot Noir from carefully tended estate vineyard plots. Just $5 nets visitors a tasting of current-release Pinots, while $10 affords a sampling of limited-production, vineyard-designated versions. The winery's sumptuous grounds are the perfect complement to the Goldeneye's stunningly elegant Pinots, and also form the ideal backdrop against which to wrap up your Anderson Valley day.
Tasting Room: 9200 Hwy 128, Philo, CA 95466; Open daily 11am - 4pm
Tasting Fee:  $5 Core Tasting, $10 Enhanced Tasting

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My wife and I just visited Anderson Valley in June. One of the main purposes of our trip was to go to Anderson Valley and the pinot noirs. We stayed in Ft. Bragg and among our excursions were two visits to Anderson Valley. We had a good time at Goldeneye and Roederer, and meant to get to Greenwood and Navarro wineries but ran out of time. Visitors who are looking for excellent pinot noirs should definitely not miss Handley and Husch; an unexpected surprise was Breggo (recommended to us by Roederer), a newer vineyard but very nice pinots. I know there are lots of nice vineyards in Anderson Valley, but you should pay some attention to Handley and Husch, each is very impressive. And, Breggo is an up an commer. We were visiting from Kentucky and especially like seeing the small vineyards in Sonoma, and now Anderson Valley. Just thought I'd share these thoughts with you all.

I love...let me repeat "LOVE" Navarro Wines. Their Rieslings never disappoint and not too long ago I had a 1997 Pinot Noir from them. DELICIOUS!

Because my parents are fans of this winery as well, it was at Navarro Winery that I had my first wine tasting upon turning 21. At that time, my palette was definitely tuned to "sweet" wines and Navarro did not disappoint with their Muscat Blancs. And although, now I'm a cab fan, I never pass up the opportunity to taste their sweet wines, and anything else they offer since they are that good!

Oh and for those traveling with kids - one of the very cool things I remember as a kid is how friendly Navarro staff was and they gave me grape juice!

If you can't visit, just go ahead and order one of their sampler packages. Oh, and they are offering free freight currently.

I had so much fun in Anderson Valley I went back this year to visit more! I visited all of the above wineries, but was not "blown away." I loved the smaller wineries that I could not find in stores. Zina Hyde Cunningham was a hit on both trips! Every sip was amazing. I fell in love with their Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Barbera and Petite Sirah. Foursight was a new hit that just opened up with their Pinot. I really like the Toulouse Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer. Their winery dog is also very sweet.

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