Home California Paradise For White Wine Lovers, Anderson Valley

Paradise For White Wine Lovers, Anderson Valley

written by Penny Sadler
I first learned of aromatic white wine varietals like Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling while studying for my WSET 2 certification.  Prior to my studies, I had no idea that white wine could be so full of flavor and yet, dry. Or, that wine could be sweet, but still have body and acidity. Suddenly, it was a whole new world. I knew what I liked and I could state it definitively. I vowed to travel to Alsace, France to one day to discover the origins of these wines. 
Then, in a conversation with a colleague, I learned that I didn’t have to travel all the way to France (though I will next month). Within two and a half hours of San Francisco is a white wine lovers paradise. Anderson Valley wineries have been producing outstanding examples of these Alsace-style wines for decades. 
landscape image of Anderson valley

Sweeping view of Mendocino by W. Hardcastle flickr CC

Anderson Valley, in Mendocino County, is the most northern California wine region. Vineyards have been planted here for over 100 years, but winemaking as it is today is relatively new; first farmers had to learn which grapes would flourish in the unique microclimates of Anderson Valley. The four most commonly planted varietals are; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay (mostly used for making sparkling wine), Gewürztraminer and Riesling. 

Anderson Valley Wineries – White Wine Paradise

 Though Anderson Valley wineries excel when it comes to award-winning Pinot Noir, once upon a time, after apple and prune orchards but before Pinot Noir vineyards, Alsace-style varietals were planted everywhere. Today, some of the best expressions of these wines can still be found there, though more and more winemakers are turning their focus to Pinot Noir. 
 Tourists and wine lovers visiting Northern California don’t often make it this far north, but for those seeking something unique, something other than a California Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, a trip to Anderson Valley is a must. Not to mention the main road that runs through the valley, Highway 128, is one of the prettiest wine roads anywhere. Anderson Valley has the charm of an area that is just beginning to be truly appreciated by the masses but is still devoid of the crowds of popular destinations like Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

Tasting Anderson Valley Wine

What is it about these Alsace varietals that makes them worth seeking out? I mean, I’m going to France next month, largely because I want to immerse myself in the culture that nurtures these wines. As San Francisco Chronicle wine writer Sara Schneider states, 
“these wines are a labor of love in Anderson Valley, as the spotlight has now been trained on its highly sought-after Pinot Noir fruit, pushing vineyard prices higher and higher. Producers here simply can’t charge as much for a bottle of Riesling and yet, they persist.”


Lula Vineyards arial shot

Photo of Lula Vineyards and tasting room courtesy of Ben Davis 2016

What Makes Mendocino County Wine Unique?

If you love floral aromas like jasmine, honeysuckle, rose and lavender; ripe stone fruit and honey, high acidity and low alcohol, these wines are for you. They pair well with many different foods from seafood to richer dishes like duck breast and stinky cheese. In an area dominated by Chardonnay and red wines, these white wines are a delightful surprise.
I have written and easy to read guide to understanding these wines which you can find here.
If you go, I have a few recommendations. I only had a half day there but I managed to visit a reasonable number of places that are all quite different. 

Penny Royal Farm

14938 Highway 129

penny royal farm wine tasting, Mendocino county
A dairy, creamery and vineyard, one of the best things about Penny Royal Farm is the animals. Fresh seasonal cheeses are made daily and the dairy offers ample opportunities for you to watch the process. Tours of the barns and vineyards are also available by appointment – something you can do with the kids. You won’t find Riesling or Gewüztraminer here, but you will find delicious Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and their award-winning cheeses. (However, their original family vineyard and tasting room is just down the road and there you will find the Alsace-style wines). Penny Royal Farm is just fun! Socialize with the goats then sit outside and enjoy a cheese and wine tasting. A great way to spend an hour or two.
vineyard goats

Navarro Vineyards

5601 Highway 128

navarro vineyards, Anderson valley winery

exterior Navarro Vineyards

One of the oldest Anderson Valley wineries, Navarro offers an astounding number of wines and all of the white wine varietals one goes to Anderson Valley for; they make both a dry and late harvest Riesling and dry and sweet Gewurz.  Be sure to try them all because this is a great chance to taste a lot of Alsace varietals in one place. They also make what’s known as a field blend which is a typical Alsace wine. Be sure to try that!

The tasting room is casual, just walk up to the bar and tell them what you’d like to try or ask for suggestions. This is one of the busiest tasting rooms in the valley perhaps because the wines are delicious, a great value, and the tasting is complimentary. Most customers left with at least one case. If the weather is nice you can take a picnic or pick up some cheese at  Penny Royal Farm, and sit outside with a bottle. 


Phillips Hill

5101 Highway 128

Phillips Hill winery, Mendocino County

exterior Phillips Hill

One of the prettiest Anderson Valley wineries I visited is located in a wooden building that was once an apple drying barn next to a small grove of towering redwoods. When you are in the tasting room upstairs it feels as if you are in a treehouse. Winemaker Toby Hill is also an artist so the labels are as good as the wine. Phillips Hill makes a bone-dry Gewürztraminer and  Riesling, along with some dynamite Pinot Noir. 
Phillips hill apple orchard

There are still some fruit trees planted on the property at Phillips Hill.



9001 Highway 128
Balo wines are made from 100% estate-grown organic fruit. Before they made wine they were grape farmers and sold the fruit to other winemakers. These grapes became 93 points and higher rated wines by Wine Spectator. Today, they are making some outstanding examples of Pinot Noir and one of the prettiest Pinot Gris. If you’re a wine geek you can talk clones with the guys in the tasting room. Go for the Bocce Court, the friendly staff, and the Pinot Gris, of course. At the time I visited it was the only white that was offered for tasting, but the wines change with each new vintage.

Visiting Anderson Valley – What To Know

Boonville is the main town in Anderson Valley. There are no stoplights but there are several nice shops and more than one place to stop for coffee, The Boonville General Store and the Mosswood Market. Both also offer food options. The Farmhouse Mercantile offers really lovely gift items, textiles and pottery to tempt you. If you want to stay overnight, book in advance at the Boonville Hotel. Accommodations are scarce in the valley and if there’s an event you simply won’t find anything.  
Just north of Boonville is Philo. There are many more tasting rooms but the only lodging is the Madrones. An upscale Mediterranean-style complex with nine luxury rooms, the feeling is of a small Italian villa. Stone and Embers is the local restaurant serving wood-fired pizza and other small dishes, all sourced locally.
The Madrones, Philo California winery

Italian cypress outside The Madrones in Philo, CA


Other recommended tasting rooms for Anderson Valley wine: 

Paradise for White Wine Lovers Anderson Valley

Great artwork and great wine!


Foursight Wines

Goldeneye Winery

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

Handley Cellars

Husch Vineyards

Lazy Creek Vineyards

Lichen Estate

Lula Cellars

Philo Ridge Vineyards


Toulouse Vineyard

How To Get There

If you’re driving from San Francisco, head north on the 101 past Healdsburg to Cloverdale. At Cloverdale, you’ll turn off the highway and onto Highway 128, one of the prettiest and most serpentine roads in wine country. Be safe and either take a designated driver or stay overnight. 
Anderson Valley, Mendocino, CA

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Farespapa November 20, 2018 at 6:17 am

Excellent blog post, and thank you for sharing some very helpful thoughts!!! Best of luck with your travels.

Aaron Bennett September 26, 2018 at 6:25 pm

Hi Penny, thank you for the kind words and we’re glad you made a visit to this corner of the globe. Give us a holler any time you plan on coming back!

Penny Sadler September 26, 2018 at 10:35 pm

Will do!

Rusty Eddy September 26, 2018 at 5:42 pm

Thanks for such a well-written piece on the Valley. We live close by and are there at least once a month. Don’t forget one of the best small County Fairs is the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show in Boonville, usually the third weekend in September…don’t miss the sheep dog trials on Sunday!

Penny Sadler September 26, 2018 at 5:50 pm

I envy you! Such a lovely place with great great wine! I hope to be back there next year for the Pinot festival. But, who knows, hard get lodging!
Thanks for the quick comment! How did you find the article so fast?


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