Sunday, December 14, 2008

Anderson Valley: My Happy Place

When life gets too hectic, my favorite escape is to the Anderson Valley, specifically to The Other Place . I wish I could say that it is really my other home, but sadly that is not the case :). It is a dog friendly rental home perched high above the town of Boonville and Hwy 128, and we like to go there once or twice a year for our vacation with the pups.

The dogs get a couple of fenced acres of their own to run around unfettered, and dig for moles and voles to their hearts' content. Sammie likes to swim in the pond, which also doubles as Kevin's Kayaking training area. And then there's a few hundred acres of private land to hike around on. Our favorite cottage is The Oaks, named after a couple of ancient oaks that shade it, and it offers 270 degree views of the mountains that surround Boonville.

I love the bucolic nature of Anderson Valley -- It is green and lush and still a whole lot unspoiled, at least compared to Napa & Sonoma. No fancy tasting rooms, low/ no tasting fees, no attitude, and no drunken frat boys veering wildly on the road. It is mercifully free of fancy hotels and resorts, and celebrity chef restaurants. What is has instead is several very good wineries -- most specializing in dry Alsace Whites and dustier, earthier Pinot Noir.

Navarro is a long time favorite of ours and we served some of their dry whites at our wedding - they are also very dog friendly, and have a nice picnic area -- make sure to taste their late harvest dessert wines -- sweet, but with enough acidity to make it interesting. We also like to stop by Roederer (preferable to go during the week when it's less crowded) Greenwood Ridge (the prettiest picnic area, and a very cool tasting room designed by one of Wright's disciples), Handley Cellars (with a female wine maker making some kick-ass wines) and Husch (their lighter white and dessert wines are a great value) and a comparatively new presence in the area: Zine Hyde Cunningham. I would be remiss not to mention, Golden Eye - they are the pinot arm of the venerable Duckhorn empire, but that venerability comes at a slightly higher price, at least by Anderson Valley standards. It is certainly worth visiting, especially if you can do a tasting in their beautiful outdoor tasting area overlooking the vineyards.

Our latest winery discoveries in this area are two of our favorites next to Navarro, and definitely fall in the not-to-be-missed category. And it is not just because they are really nice dog people, but also because they make great wines and are warm and welcoming when you visit. The first is Londer - chances are you will be tasting with Shirlee Londer in her kitchen, with her dogs at your feet. My favorite is their dry Gewurtaziminer but I also like their syrahs and pinots, especially the Anderson Valley Pinot.

The 2nd is Toulouse, which we found entirely by accident since they were one of the last ones open at the end of an afternoon of wine tasting. We really liked their wines and enjoyed talking to the owner, Vern, and his friends and bought a couple of bottles. The next day we went back and retasted the wines to make sure that our judgement had not been impaired the previous evening. We liked the wines almost as much, and bought quite a bit more. We have pretty much drunk our way through our Toulouse stash, and recently when I called to see if we could restock, learned that they had sold out of all our favorites. And that is also when I looked through their website and discovered that some their wines had been reviewed very favorably by both the Wine Spectator and SF Chronicle. Go Vern, we said, but we were just a little bit sad that it was no longer "our" secret winery. But we are happy at their most deserved success and wish them all the best!

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