Step Back in Time with Anderson Valley
By: Courtney DeGraff
By: Courtney DeGraff
As you travel from Sonoma County on the winding Highway 128 West towards Boonville, the landscape transitions into studded redwood forests, apple orchards, hills grazing with sheep, cascading vineyards, and you suddenly feel far away from everything.
When you stop at one of the few restaurants or wineries, you notice there is a difference in the attitude of the people. It is welcoming and far from pretentious. The nostalgic greeting of Anderson Valley feels very familiar, and you cannot help but want to experience more.
The culture here is argued to be part of the terroir, as Handley Cellars second-generation Lulu McClellan tells Wine & Spirits Magazine recently in the April 2020 issue. “We, humans, are just as much a part of the natural environment as everything else.”
With everyone (including the businesses) pulling from individual wells this might have something to do with it. Without development, the Anderson Valley is home to many who still live in the community where they work, a luxury that is often lost due to gentrification in desirable areas today.
As an unincorporated area in Mendocino County, there is a unique charm, and you will notice a true feeling of authenticity as you engage with the community. Everyone knows one another, and you may quickly learn a few things about local happenings if you spend an afternoon frequenting the laid-back tasting rooms. You’ll find more dog-friendly places here than not, and fur friends are also known to fall in love with this pastoral valley.
Boontling was a short-lived language spoken from 1880-1920 with the purpose to converse in the presence of “outsiders” often visiting from the Bay Area. It has left a mark, and you’ll notice “Fog-Eaters & Bright-lighters Welk” on one sign entering the valley. Bright-lighters refers to city folk from San Francisco and fog-eaters to the residents who live on the Mendocino Coast.
The Anderson Valley has always preferred that outsiders leave after visiting— a communal effort to preserve a calmer way of life. Many residents are the decedents of loggers or sheep ranchers. Some arrived here from the influx of “hippies” who fled the cities in the 1960s and 1970s. No matter how they arrived, there is a shared sentiment that you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
With a scarcity of jobs- and even less real estate available- you live here either by simple chance or by knowing a local who tips you off when housing becomes available. Second generation locals often leave in pursuit of skills and higher education. If they return, it is often with a partner whom they “import” into the Anderson Valley.
The Anderson Valley Brewing Company has made the local lingo Boontling well known in beer lover circles, naming a few of their flagship brews from it: Poleeko Ale and Boont Amber Ale. They have a great disc golf course for anyone looking to kill a few hours.
The language has even made its mark on the wine region. The oldest part of the valley’s grape plantings begins in Philo and ends at the foot of the Navarro River Redwood forest, which quickly delivers you to the Mendocino Coast and the scenic route of Highway 1. This part of the Anderson Valley is known as the ‘Deep End’ and is the coolest grape growing region of the valley. It benefits from dense ocean fog rolling in from the nearby Pacific Coast, ensuring ideal cool climate grape growing conditions. One of the area’s oldest wineries, Navarro Vineyards, has a Deep End Blend Pinot Noir that has also helped fame the term and preserve the language.
With about half of the tasting rooms in the Anderson Valley still family-owned and operated, the chance of conversing with someone with a direct connection to the winemaking or history of the Valley is likely. This pairing of wine, history, and conversation is a combination that often creates lasting relationships with the Valley.
The wines of the Anderson Valley AVA are cool climate wines and often have a bit racier acidity and brighter fruit character. Pinot Noir is well established with varying clones from planting booms in the 1970s and 1980s, and it has proven to produce wines of elegance and earned notoriety. Chardonnay is growing in population for still wines and is well known for its use in the sparkling wines of the appellation. Alsatian varieties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris also have earned some international recognition.
For those interested in an experience remanence of a trip to the old world or Napa Valley in the 1970s, there is now a new destination. Anderson Valley has remained preserved and lacks tour buses, obtrusive art exhibitions within the vineyards, expansive tasting room, and winery facilities, and high tasting room fees.
The Valley has a style and prides itself on not being commercialized and for maintaining authenticity. For those looking to enjoy the spoils of how wine country used to be, Anderson Valley warmly awaits you.
~ Courtney DeGraff, Executive Director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers