A Northern California Wine Bootcamp Adventure: From Healdsburg to Boonville

A trio of Domaine Anderson’s 2014 Pinot Noirs (Trevor Felch)

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After the trip’s only full morning run for me (late dinners and early wine tastings make that extra hour of sleep extra tempting during Wine Bootcamp!) and the sun shining brightly, John and I were in good spirits heading north on 101. John had a frustrating long phone call during the drive and, as I later informed him, it’s a good thing it ended just before the exit for 128 to Mendocino because...the loss of phone service would have ended it anyways! We were in mostly off-the-grid country now.

All the Anderson Valley wineries are right off 128, so most visitors either go in a direct line Boonville-Navarro or Navarro-Boonville, with the wineries clustered at those ends and tiny Philo in between. All the wineries also are heavily focused on Pinot Noir. So I warned John to get ready for a marathon of Pinot Noir and a marathon of wine because there would be even more tasting than Day 2 since each tasting experience was close to each other.

As the Anderson Valley locals would say in their Boontling dialect, “Bahl hornin!”

Skip to any of these sections:

  1. Pennyroyal Farm
  2. Foursight Wines
  3. Roederer Estate
  4. Lula Cellars
  5. Domaine Anderson
  6. Witching Stick Wines
  7. Baxter Winery Tasting Room
  8. Drew Family Cellars Tasting Room
  9. Smith Story Wine Cellars Tasting Room
  10. Dinner: Table 128


Pennyroyal Farm

14930 CA-128
Boonville, CA 95415

Goat cheese, Pinot Noir and spectacular views at the Anderson Valley’s Pennyroyal Farm
Goat cheese, Pinot Noir and spectacular views at the Anderson Valley’s Pennyroyal Farm (Trevor Felch/KQED)

Goat cheese and Pinot Noir? Count me in! Don’t count John, though, as goat cheese is pretty much the only food he won’t eat. He had no problems with the wine, fortunately, at this spot located at the gateway to Boonville. The $5 tasting fees at Pennyroyal Farm were also sticker shock from the $$$ Northern California norm for us. We already loved the Anderson Valley just for that reason.

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3 wines to try: 2017 Anderson Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2015 Eye of the Needle Pinot Noir

Foursight Wines

14475 CA-128, Boonville
Boonville, CA 95415

Goat cheese, Pinot Noir and spectacular views at the Anderson Valley’s Pennyroyal Farm
Goat cheese, Pinot Noir and spectacular views at the Anderson Valley’s Pennyroyal Farm (Trevor Felch/KQED)

This was the first winery I visited in the Anderson Valley a few years ago and it remains the region in a nutshell for me: lovely, fruit-tinged, tightly wound Pinot Noir and an uber-relaxed tasting room on the Charles Vineyard, where owners Kristy and Bill live. Along with the Cuda Ridge Semillon (Livermore), Foursight’s Semillon has made me a believer in that fickle white varietal.

3 wines to try: 2016 Semillon, 2015 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2016 Clone 05 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir

Roederer Estate

4501 CA-128
Philo, CA 95466

Where all of the magic happens, from grapegrowing to winemaking, at Roederer Estate’s home in Philo
Where all of the magic happens, from grapegrowing to winemaking, at Roederer Estate’s home in Philo (Trevor Felch/KQED)

We traversed most of the Anderson Valley en route to the legendary Champagne house, Louis Roederer’s, American sparkling wine domain. John continually reminded me that Champagne isn’t really his thing but, of course, a) we legally can’t call this Champagne (it’s California!) and b) Roederer is a different breed of sparkling wine than the average bubbles at a party.

How Day 1 Went!
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I was fortunate enough to sample the house’s legendary 2008 Cristal at an event during the fall, so there was no way to go but down sparkling wine tasting-wise for me (and the bubbly at Roederer was really quite impressive).

However, the experience was one of the most enjoyable and informative of the trip, just like the day before at Mauritson. The sparkling wine house’s Strasbourg-born winemaker Arnaud Weyrich showed us the winemaking process from start to finish, a system that John had no idea about and many avid wine drinkers only know about vaguely.

Roederer Estate’s winemaker Arnaud Weyrich pours some of the superb Anderson Valley sparkling wine that the winery is known for
Roederer Estate’s winemaker Arnaud Weyrich pours some of the superb Anderson Valley sparkling wine that the winery is known for (Trevor Felch/KQED)

Weyrich’s delightful sparkling wine lesson for us also got John to ask more questions, something that he felt much comfortable doing at the rest of the wineries from this point. And the big takeaway from our tasting: indeed, sparkling wine improves in magnums. I never knew why before walking around Roederer.

3 wines to try: Brut, Brut 2011 L’Ermitage, Extra Dry

Lula Cellars

2800 Guntly Rd.
Philo, CA 95466

A 2016 Lula Cellars Costa Vineyard Pinot Noir from near Comptche in Mendocino County
A 2016 Lula Cellars Costa Vineyard Pinot Noir from near Comptche in Mendocino County (Trevor Felch/KQED)

The last tasting room on 128’s “deep end” before Navarro’s redwoods wasn’t really a tasting. My girlfriend Meg joined the Lulu Cellars wine club last summer because she loved the dog-friendly atmosphere. Yes, this is the place to take our four-legged friends, but it’s also a fan favorite for the regular Pinot Noirs. John and I enjoyed those but the meager Chardonnay and Rosé of Pinot Noir struggled.

3 wines to try: 2016 Pinot Noir, 2016 Costa Pinot Noir, 2015 Peterson Pinot Noir

Domaine Anderson

920 CA-128, Philo
Philo, CA 95466

Some of the Domaine Anderson 2017 Pinot Noir test examples recently taken from barrels
Some of the Domaine Anderson 2017 Pinot Noir test examples recently taken from barrels (Trevor Felch/KQED)

Roederer’s still wine sibling Domaine Anderson also opened its doors and barrels graciously for us. The relatively newly hired winemaker Darren Low is on a quest to correct the direction of an estate with deep assets that so far hasn’t fulfilled its vision. John got the barrel tasting experience here, something that he has maybe done once or twice before, but certainly never in as much detail as Low provided.

The barrel visit and gazing at the biodynamic, organic vineyards nestled to the hills on the side of the winery with Low describing his growing techniques was easily a trip highlight...and made us feel like we had just taken a few classes at UC Davis’ winemaking school.

Domaine Anderson winemaker Darrin Low discusses the latest vintage
Domaine Anderson winemaker Darrin Low discusses the latest vintage (Trevor Felch/KQED)

It really was compelling to hear Low’s creativity, knowledge and sheer desire to succeed. The tasting also showed how the past wines were merely good and won’t improve with age. However, those in barrel had all the structure and developing nuance of turning this winery into a powerhouse.

3 wines to try: 2014 Dach Pinot Noir, 2014 Pinoli Pinot Noir, 2015 Walraven Chardonnay

Witching Stick Wines

8627 CA-128
Philo, CA 95466

Witching Stick Winery owner Van Williamson presents his wines and offers decades of wine industry knowledge
Witching Stick Winery owner Van Williamson presents his wines and offers decades of wine industry knowledge (Trevor Felch/KQED)

One of the region’s newer wineries, Witching Stick Wines, is pretty much exactly what you expect in the Anderson Valley: friendly dogs milling about, winemaker/owner Van Williamson presiding over the tastings and cracking jokes and zero pretension. The longtime Edmeades Winery winemaker is now making the best wine in the Anderson Valley on his own, per my opinion after two recent visits across a wide range of grape varietals, along with beautiful Pinot Noir.

3 wines to try: 2016 Gewurztraminer, 2015 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2015 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel Dessert

Baxter Winery Tasting Room

8660 CA-128
Philo, CA 95466

Baxter Winery in tiny Downtown Philo
Baxter Winery in tiny Downtown Philo (Trevor Felch/KQED)

I’m not sure what’s happening with Baxter’s 2014 and 2015 vintages. The all-Pinot Noir lineup was collectively mediocre for both of us with some of the wines, dare I say, given the dreaded “boring” label. This is a huge bummer for me as Baxter was previously the standout Pinot Noir producer of the region for me during my first few visits.

Sadly, my summer 2018 visit and now fall 2018 visit proved that the wines have lost some polish and character. Then again, this is wine, an agricultural product — so maybe it’s just the vintage? I hope so and knowing Baxter’s past track record, I certainly think so.

2 wines to try: 2015 Weir Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir, 2014 Valenti Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

Drew Family Cellars Tasting Room

9000 CA-128
Philo, CA 95466

Drew Wines in Philo
Drew Wines in Philo (Trevor Felch/KQED)

Located in the luxurious Madrones hotel-tasting rooms-pizza restaurant complex, Jason and Molly Drew’s tasting room is on every Anderson Valley must-try list for good reason. Drew’s Albariño, Pinot Noir and Syrah are brilliant expressions of wind and fog-beaten Mendocino County ridges.

It’s a rather sleepy tasting setting and John’s palate didn’t love the very cold weather leaner style of Pinot Noir and Syrah, but it’s a wholly unique style of wine that speaks deeply of where Jason Drew sources his fruit. The reds are polarizing (not a bad thing necessarily), but the Albariño is consistently a universally praised favorite.

3 wines to try: 2017 Albariño, 2015 Perli Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Syrah, 2016 The Fog-Eater Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

Smith Story Wine Cellars Tasting Room

9000 CA-128
Philo, CA 95466

Smith Story’s Riesling that literally comes from the Rheingau region in Germany
Smith Story’s Riesling that literally comes from the Rheingau region in Germany (Trevor Felch/KQED)

By this point, I had to rally John’s spirits after two straight misses in his tasting book. I was bummed that Smith Story’s beloved Goldendoodle Lord Sandwich wasn’t on hand to welcome John when we visited this other tasting room in the Madrones, but, dog or no dog, Smith Story is always one of the best fun to quality wine ratio destinations in the Anderson Valley — and for miles beyond.

The six-year old winery offers a wide variety of Sonoma County and Anderson Valley wines, so it’s also one of the region’s more comprehensive tastings like Witching Stick. Husband-and-wife team Eric Story and Alison Smith-Story also craft a Pinot Noir rosé and Riesling from Germany, which is the only actual German wine “made” by Californians that I’m aware of.

3 wines to try: 2016 Rheingau Riesling, 2015 Nash Mill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2015 Pickberry Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Merlot

Also consider: Lichen Estate, Balo, Navarro, Handley, Greenwood Ridge, Phillips Hill, Scharffenberger

Dinner:Restaurant at Boonville Hotel, Toulouse Vineyards Pinot Noir

14050 CA-128, Boonville

Don’t even think of going to the Anderson Valley without a reservation for the relaxed, exceptional single menu prix fixe at the restaurant in the Boonville Hotel (formerly known as Table 128). It’s also “reasonably priced” by Bay Area prix fixe standards. Perry Hoffman, formerly the chef of Healdsburg SHED, will soon be taking over the kitchen (update: as of publishing time, he's now in charge of the kitchen) and I can’t wait to see what he does with the menu — yet I also hope things don’t change much since it’s pretty perfect as is.

Toulouse Vineyards crafts some of the deeper, giant fruit Pinot Noirs of Anderson Valley, and is one of the veteran stalwarts of the region.

Also consider: Stone & Embers, The Bewildered Pig, Harbor House Inn (in Elk, not too far from Anderson Valley)

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Head back to Wine Bootcamp Central for the full guide of wineries and eateries we visited.

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