Anderson Valley 101: The Northern Border of California Pinot

Just east of the “briny,” they make “bahl Frati” in “Boont.” Meet Boontling, the whimsical secret language of the tiny town of Boonville, California. The local jargon, a combination of words deriving from Native American languages, English, Gaelic, Irish, and Spanish among others, blossomed out of this remote frontier community in the 1890s. The sentence you’ve just read in partial Boontling is true, too. “Just east of the coast, they make good wine in Boonville,” and in several cases, great wine. Boonville lies in the heart of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, just above Sonoma in one of the most northerly reaches of California wine country. Over the course of the last few decades, the Anderson Valley has risen to become one of the hottest cool-climate regions for California Pinot Noir. Despite its recent successes and the arrival of a handful of luxury hotels, high-end restaurants, and a few dozen tasting rooms, the Valley’s backwoods feel prevails. In comparison to its southerly neighbors in Napa or Healdsburg, Boonville feels more like the boondocks, in the best sense, and far more secluded. It’s a place where cell signals are lost, “bahl Frati” flows, and the sublimity of Northern California flourishes. A Brief History The Anderson Valley takes its name from Walter Anderson and his family, the first settlers of European descent to call this land home in the early 1850s. The Andersons had initially traveled west from Missouri in 1845, and upon the onset of the Gold Rush, sought out this untapped “Eden” as an escape from California’s flood of new occupants. Around the turn of the 20th century, a wave of Italian immigrants, including the Frati family (remember that “Frati” means “wine” in Boontling), brought with them the first major efforts to grow grapes in the Anderson Valley and its surrounding areas. Before long, however, the enactment of Prohibition in 1920 decimated the early endeavors of the nascent wine industry. While viticulture existed in the Anderson Valley prior to the official onset of Prohibition in 1920, its emergence as a commercial wine region didn’t occur until the last half-century with the arrival of the Husch and Edmeades labels in 1971 and 1972 respectively. One decade later, the illustrious Champagne house Louis Roederer, the makers of Cristal, identified the Anderson Valley as an ideal terroir for the cultivation of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They opened their first stateside sparkling winery, Roederer Estate, in 1982, bringing global attention for the first time to the potential of the Anderson Valley as a premium wine-growing region. It didn’t take long for vintners to recognize the promise of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir as a still wine as well. “By the early 2000s, it became clear that the Anderson Valley is a special place for farming Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thus sparking a flood of outside interest in the area,” notes Ryan Hodgins, winemaker at FEL, owned by Napa winery Cliff Lede. For much of its history, Anderson Valley fruit was sold to established producers in Sonoma and throughout California. The 21st century, however, has seen an onslaught of young talent breathing new life into the Valley. Joe Webb , vintner and winemaker at Foursight Wines, explains, “There has been a big generational shift as the appellation's founding wineries have retired and sold or passed down their businesses. Now, winery owners and winemaking teams are younger.” Despite the Valley’s newfound “it” status, the region remains largely isolated, and its residents maintain a pioneer’s mindset. “If equipment breaks down during harvest, good luck on your own,” notes Toby Hill , winemaker at Phillips Hill. The Land What makes the Anderson Valley such a special place for making wine? “The same reason why Anderson Valley was once primarily a great apple growing region,” says Toby Hill. “We are the northernmost grape growing appellation in Northern California, only 10 miles for the Ocean, and the last to harvest, resulting in a long growing season, balancing sugar and acid,” he continues. While some vineyard plantings exist a bit further north in Mendocino and Humboldt County, the Anderson Valley essentially bookends California’s prime Pinot real estate that reaches as far south as Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills . Stretching for fifteen miles between the towns of Boonville and Navarro, the Anderson Valley pierces through the verdant hillsides of California’s coastal range. The landscape displays Northern California to its extreme – a frame of towering redwood trees barricade the valley with an imposing splendor as they march north to Oregon . It’s hard to imagine that palm trees grow tall on this same coastline just a few hundred miles due south. Naturally, the Valley’s peculiar southeast to northwest directionality invites the maritime influences of the Pacific. With the ocean meeting land just fifteen miles away, throughout the growing season, a morning fog blankets the appellation and ocean breezes take its place in the afternoon. The Navarro River runs through much of the course of the Anderson Valley before empting out into the ocean, further cooling the vines growing near its banks. Vineyards planted in the northwestern corner of the appellation find themselves in more marginal conditions, susceptible to more rain and fog in a sector vintners refer to as the “Deep End.” Both the Navarro River and the Pacific Ocean allow for an intense diurnal swing – the dramatic shift in temperature between cold nights and warmer days – that helps to preserve the elegance and vibrancy of the cool climate varieties that thrive in the appellation. The Wines The Anderson Valley’s palette of wines seems to encompass one of the most diverse in California, mastering sparkling wines, Pinot Noir, and a fleet of whites that run the gamut from dry to dessert. But as Joe Webb points out, “Our climate is actually very limited. Only white varieties and Pinot Noir really reliably ripen here, so that means Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, etc.” While the ingredients may be trim, winemakers in the Valley manage to generate extraordinary breadth from the fruit they can successfully grow. The Anderson Valley’s signature grape is Pinot Noir, whether in still or sparkling form. Nowadays, the appellation enjoys its status as a “hotspot” for Pinot Noirs of restraint and purity, but credit is due to the Valley’s sparkling wine for first putting the region on the map. Today, its sparkling scene remains dominated by Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger, both of which craft some of California’s most consistent and affordable bubbles. A rising number of the Anderson Valley’s smaller operations are trying their hand at sparkling wine, as well. Following the Anderson Valley’s sparkling successes, vintners began to realize the potential for Pinot Noir in still wine in the 1990s and early 2000s. That momentum continues today, as top winemakers both within Mendocino County and throughout California vie for fruit from a quorum of distinguished Anderson Valley sites, including the Savoy Vineyard, Ferrington Vineyard, Cerise Vineyard, and Morning Dew Ranch. Within the Valley, some contend that Pinot Noir’s spectrum of fruit flavors darkens from red to black the further north you travel towards the Pacific. The stylistic range for Anderson Valley Pinot extends from ethereal and nuanced to opulent and round, but all of these wines share crystalline berry flavors matched by a taut acid structure. Pinot’s sparkling partner-in-crime Chardonnay also gains some attention in the appellation as a still wine, but its most distinctive white wines come from Alsatian varieties. Riesling , Gewürztraminer , and Pinot Gris yield some of the most exemplary California bottlings in these soils, so much so that the Anderson Valley celebrates the trio with an annual Aromatic White Wine Festival, held each February. While the majority of these wines are made in a dry or off-dry style, the region also cultivates some of America’s most luscious dessert wines, especially in vintages affected by noble rot - the leader being Navarro Vineyards with their “Cluster Select” series. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you ever enjoyed a wine from the Anderson Valley? Scan the label and add your tasting notes on Delectable!


Brut Excellence Mendocino County Sparkling Wine

Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger both call Anderson Valley home and together yield some of California’s most consistently delicious and affordable sparkling wines. Of the couple, Scharffenberger vinifies rounder, more lush wines. Flavors of ripe pear skin, white rose, and baked apple find their footing against a backdrop of yeast, cheese rind, and patisserie in the image of Champagne. The perfect wedding reception wine or Tuesday night sparkler for its tremendous quality to cost ratio. — 2 years ago

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Hugh O'Riordan

Hugh O'Riordan

I agree on cost/value. Too bright for my taste

Balo Vineyards

Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2015

The Mullins family made their first vintage of Balo in 2009, after several years of selling their fruit. Following a string of all-star winemakers (Jason Drew and Anthony Filiberti, Alex Crangle is now at the helm, crafting tremendous Pinots from their estate property. The 2015 offers a juicy and broad expression of this middle sector of the Anderson Valley. Concentrated and pliant black fruit flavor - huckleberry, ginger, black cherry, sarsaparilla, and tarragon - it tastes medieval in its primal, earthen tones. — 2 years ago

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FEL Wines

Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

From one of Anderson Valley’s most pedigreed sites, FEL achieves a beautiful, broad expression of the Ferrington Vineyard. Notably, FEL, owned by Napa’s Cliff Lede, purchased the famous Savoy Vineyard. This bottling, however, charms with strokes of pomegranate, cola, sarsaparilla, chai, and black cherry concentrate. Medicinal and palate-coating, the wine lingers with autumnal spice. — 2 years ago

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Roederer Estate

Estate Bottled Anderson Valley Brut Rosé Blend

One of the most consistent values in sparkling wine from the famed Champagne house Louis Roederer's Anderson Valley label. Despite its Champenois pedigree, it’s broad, juicy berry flavors are all California. Red currants, muddled strawberry, pressed mint, grapefruit pith, thyme and crushed stones. Endlessly pleasurable. 56% Pinot Noir, 44% Chardonnay — 2 years ago

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Severn Goodwin

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Love these guys! Great QPR.
Bryce Wiatrak

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@Severn Goodwin completely agree! A total steal
Severn Goodwin

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Even better, seek out their L'Ermitage, we have the '07 at the house, it's great!


Langley Vieyard Pinot Noir 2014

Founded in 2002 by father son duo Phil L Baxter and Phil T G Baxter, Baxter Winery produces a range of Pinot Noirs from several of the Anderson Valley's top sites. Juicy and red fruited, with flavors of red currant, raspberry liqueur, their Langley Vineyard Pinot swiftly turns to more medicinal tones - wilted sage and tarragon. It's elegant and nuanced, but with precision and drive. — 2 years ago

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Lichen Estate

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2014

Douglas & Ana Lucia Stewart founded Breggo in 2005 before selling the brand four years later. They kept their estate property though, and from it the Lichen label was born. Their 2014 offers amid-weight expression of Anderson Valley Pinot that balances its fleshier frame with aromatic lift. Notes of hibiscus and pressed red rose meet sappier, medicinal tones on the palate - rosemary, underbrush, pomegranate and raspberry liqueur. — 2 years ago

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Drew Family Cellars

Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015

Located themselves on an apple orchard-turned vineyard just west of the Anderson Valley on the Mendocino Ridge, Jason and Molly Drew craft some of the most transcendent Pinot Noirs in the county. Their Morning Dew Ranch is nothing short of utterly magnificent. Elegant and silky, yet structured, it sings of rose geranium, salt and pepper, lavender, rosemary, and smoked cherry pit. The site's name itself is so evocative, and drinking this wine feels like swallowing the fog. — 2 years ago

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Phillips Hill

Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015

Toby Hill crafts a delicate Pinot Noir with a Burgundian ethos that speaks to the essence of site. This captures all the classic elements of the Cerise Vineyard, a site that remains a personal favorite. Rose petal, raspberries and cream, crushed minerals and salt, and of course its namesake tart red cherry flavors form a gossamer, ethereal wine that feels lighter than air. A taste of Chambolle in the Anderson Valley. — 2 years ago

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Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2015

The Charles Family had been growing grapes for several years before founding their Foursight label in 2006. The name refers to the four generations who've worked this Anderson Valley land, where they grow Pinot Noir, as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, which are far less common for the area. Foursight's 2015 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir exudes the red-fruit profile typical of this southern edge of the Anderson Valley - wild strawberry and cranberry meet Christmas spices and ginger.— 7 minutes ago — 2 years ago

Goldeneye (Duckhorn Vineyards)

Estate Grown Gowan Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

Goldeneye is the Anderson Valley branch of Napa’s Duckhorn, and Gowan Creek has routinely been a favorite among their single vineyard Pinots. Brooding and opulent, it matches blackberry, anise tones with more earthen flavors - tilled soil and mushroom caps. Meaty and gratifying. — 2 years ago

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Severn Goodwin

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Nice, haven't had the Gowan for a while. Last time was '05 & '07, they were still fresh about 4-5 years ago, we still have a couple bottles in hiding.