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The Best Wineries to Visit in Anderson Valley

I consider myself lucky to have discovered California’s Anderson Valley early in my wine journey. To me, the region is less a hidden gem and more a hard-to-find gem, neatly tucked away in the folds and crevices of the Pacific coastal landscape.

Secreted away though it is, it’s a Bay Area road-tripper’s paradise. Anderson is 2.5 hours from my childhood home of San Francisco and just under two hours from my humble abode in Sonoma. Driving through the American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a twisty, turny, hilly operation—but it’s well worth it to reach some of the finest wines NorCal has to offer.

Located just a few miles from the Pacific, this petite, 15-mile-long AVA is the coolest wine-growing region in the Golden State, with an average temperature of just 53°F. The valley runs from Northwest to Southeast, funneling in the cold ocean air along the Navarro River, which results in wind-chilled evenings and foggy mornings.

In terms of viticulture, that means the cool-climate-loving Pinot Noir reigns supreme. Resulting wines are vibrant with just-ripe red fruit profiles, fine-grained tannic texture, elevated acidity and an undeniable sea-air salinity that truly speaks to the sense of place.

While I find Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs to be amongst the finest expression of the varietal, one cannot forget about its white-wine counterpart, Chardonnay, and the beautifully crisp palate these wines offer.

But if you come for the classics, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, then stay for the secret stash of diversity: ripe Riesling that delves into a heady mix of honey-meets-petrol; Gewürztraminer that can actually maintain its acidity whilst developing those elegant fruit and floral notes; and Pinot Gris that pays respectable homage to Alsatian nobility.

There’s an elegance and grace to Anderson Valley wines—and yet there’s just a twinge of rusticity, earthiness and honesty. Sipping the wines tells a story of place, but also of people. Many of the region’s producers are farmers first, tending to the land, planting with intention, picking with clonal specificity. Great wines start with great grapes, but it’s in winemakers’ hands to see that through.

With 90 commercial vineyards and 62 wineries situated within the region, there’s a lot to discover. Here are a few of my tucked-away gems.

Baxter Winery Tasting Room
Baxter Winery Tasting Room / Image Courtesy of Baxter Winery

Baxter Winery

After finishing his viticulture and oenology degree at UC Davis, proprietor Philip Baxter interned at a small winery in the heart of Burgundy.

“Originally hailing from the Napa Valley where Cab is king, I was drawn to the subtlety of the Burgundian Pinots and how the intricacies of the different terroirs could show through so well in each of the finished wines,” he reminisces.

Upon returning to California, Baxter had his heart set on making Pinot Noir. Already familiar with Anderson Valley’s unique topography and coastal climate from family vacations, he knew this would be his winemaking forever-home. “I wasn’t looking to make a wine to mimic Burgundy, but to use the traditional methods I’d learned there on our home ground,” he says. “To let the delicate nuances of Pinot Noir shine and let the terroir show through in the finished wines.”

His terroir-focused wines aren’t his only nod to the Old World. “The experience is authentic here in Anderson,” he says, commenting on how most tastings—his own included—are hosted by the owner and/or winemaker. “And the unspoiled bucolic setting takes visitors back to yesteryear.”

Hours of Operation: 11am–4.30pm, Thursday through Sunday
Tasting Fee: $20 per person
Wines Served: 4-5 wines, mostly Pinots
Dog Friendly: Yes (on-leash)
Kid Friendly: Yes (Kids welcome but the experience is geared to adults)
Serves Food: No

Wine to Try: Baxter 2020 Oppenlander Vineyard Chardonnay; 92 Points, $42

Tasters cheers in a gazebo at Foursight Wines' outdoor tasting space in Booonville
Foursight Wines’ outdoor tasting space in Booonville / Image Courtesy of Foursight Wines

Foursight Wines

“My family has been in Anderson Valley since the 1940s,” says Kristy Charles, co-proprietor of Foursight Wines alongside her husband, Joe Webb. For Charles, the joy of the region is that wineries are still predominantly small and owned by families who all know each other. “I grew up here, so coming here to make wine was moving back home for me.”

Guests to Foursight can taste with the owners and winemakers and enjoy the outdoor space, sipping under ancient oak trees and with a beautiful view of the valley’s eastern hills. Charcuterie boards and lunches can be ordered ahead of time.

New this year, Charles and Webb are planting a lavender farm and pollinator garden, located directly behind the winery. “The garden … will be comprised of only native plants that we will never cut down, creating habitat and shelter for all our bees and bugs,” says Charles. “We’re calling it Mendocino Lavender & Pollinator Garden. Visitors will be welcome!”

Hours of Operation: 11am–4.30pm, Wednesday through Monday
Tasting Fee: $20 per person
Wines Served: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, rosé and sparkling wine
Dog Friendly: Yes
Kid Friendly: Yes
Serves Food: Yes, by prior reservation

Wine to Try: Foursight 2020 Paraboll Pinot Noir; 94 Points, $63

Goldeneye Vineyard
Goldeneye Vineyard / Image Courtesy of Goldeneye Winery

Goldeneye

“I was personally drawn to the rugged beauty of the Anderson Valley, its proximity to the coast and its ability to produce world-class Pinot Noir,” says Goldeneye winemaker Kristen McMahan. Founded in 1996 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Goldeneye has a strong historical reputation for doing just that. Today, guests can experience the winery’s Essentials Tasting, which showcases the versatility of the estate’s single-vineyard Pinot Noirs, as well as several Elevated Tastings, including A Toast to Bubbles and Caviar and the Estate Tasting with cheese and charcuterie.

Not to be missed is the scenic outdoor space, often used to host events throughout the year. But for a more intimate affair, Goldeneye also offers a wine country picnic for two, which pairs wines sold by the glass. There’s even a Barkuterie Board for canine guests.

Asked about the Anderson Valley community, McMahan notes that “there is a slower, more serene pace here that really instills an appreciation for the rugged beauty of this place. There is also a sense that the community cares deeply about the land, and each other—which has a profound impact on our region’s wines.”

Hours of Operation: 10am–4pm, daily; reservations recommended 
Tasting Fee: $25 per person minimum (more for elevated experiences) 
Wines Served: Pinot Noir, Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, sparkling, along with selections from other wineries in the Duckhorn Portfolio.
Dog Friendly: Yes
Kid Friendly: Yes
Serves Food: Yes

Wine to Try: Goldeneye 2019 Split Rail Pinot Noir; 92 Points, $88

Handley Cellars Vineyard
Handley Cellars Vineyard / Image Courtesy of Handley Cellars

Handley Cellars

“My parents came [to Anderson Valley] because my mom wanted to make wine in a region away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” says Lulu Handley, daughter of founding winemaker Milla Handley and current proprietor of her family’s wine business. “They wanted to be really rural, be in a place where they could be themselves and hear their own thoughts and make wine from cool-climate fruit—wine to pair with food and to make with a light hand.”

Handley Cellars boasts a broad portfolio: Reds range from single-estate, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs bursting with fresh fruits and florals to full-bodied, peppery Syrah, juicy Zinfandel and balanced blends. White-wine lovers can enjoy the crisp, acid-driven Alsatian noble varieties of Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris, plus estate Chardonnay and an expressive Sauvignon Blanc.

If you haven’t noticed, the love of wilderness is a recurrent theme of this list. It’s no different here. “We intentionally manage for this, leaving forested areas surrounding our vineyards rather than planting every possible square foot of our property,” Handley says.

Visitors can enjoy that beauty on one of the many vineyard tours the winery offers, take in a picnic on the property or, as Handley suggests, just exist. “This area is less about doing and more about being,” she says.

Hours of Operation: 11am–5pm, daily 
Tasting Fee: $15 per person
Wines Served: Flight of 5, rotated monthly; mix of red and whites
Dog Friendly: Yes
Kid Friendly: Yes
Serves Food: No

Wine to Try: Handley Cellars 2021 Pinot Gris (Editor’s Choice); 92 Points, $28

Maggy Hawk Vineyard
Maggy Hawk Vineyard / Image Courtesy of Maggy Hawk Vineyard

Maggy Hawk

“I love the diversity of the land, the tight-knit community, the rusticity, simplicity and remoteness of Anderson Valley,” says Maggy Hawke winemaker Sarah Wuethrich. Unlike other California wine regions, she adds, you won’t find “over-the-top tasting rooms and annoying party buses.”

“There’s this big sigh of relief, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, whenever I’m here,” Wuethrich continues. “It certainly is one of my happy places.”

Petite and intimate, the Maggy Hawk tasting room is a happy place indeed. Buy a bottle and step outside the front entrance for a game of bocce or cornhole; bring a snack and settle down at one of the picnic tables with wines offered by-the-glass. During summer and fall, on the second Sunday each month, staff fire up the pizza oven and offer a Pinot and pizza pairing on the back patio. “We’re dog and family friendly, too,” adds Wuethrich.

Hours of Operation: 10am–3pm, Thursday–Monday
Tasting Fee: $30-45 per person
Wines Served: Pinot Noir, White Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, pét-nat
Dog Friendly: Yes
Kid Friendly: Yes
Serves Food: Yes

Wine to Try: Maggy Hawk 2019 Afleet Estate Pinot Noir (Editor’s Choice); 94 Points, $65

Navarro Vineyards & Winery

“Wine Country, a term I despise, is not quite what you’ll find in the Anderson Valley,” says Navarro Vineyards winemaker Jim Klein. “There’s no tasting village, no castles or tram rides. We still have more campsites than hotel rooms.”

Navarro Vineyards is one of the OG Anderson establishments. Proprietors Ted Bennet and Deborah Cahn have been growing grapes and making wine (as well as non-alcoholic grape juices) in the region since 1974. The two realized early on that their favorite wines were from Alsace. “So why not produce a California equivalent?” says Bennet. On their Philo ranch, one finds the noble Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat, as well as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “And we are planting five acres of Sauvignon Blanc this season,” adds Bennet.

The Alsatian model goes beyond just the grapes grown and wines produced. “Our model for a winery was definitely influenced by the many Alsatian cellars we visited over the years,” Bennet explains. There’s no charge for tasting the current releases, while a tasting list of 12 different wines changes monthly. “[It’s] offered daily and guests can choose as many as they want.”

Hours of Operation: 10:30am–6pm (summer); 10:30am-5pm (winter) 
Tasting Fee: Free
Wines Served: Changes seasonally
Dog Friendly: Yes
Kid Friendly: Yes
Serves Food: Yes

Wine to Try: Navarro 2021 Estate Chardonnay; 90 Points, $25

Pennyroyal

“Having grown up in the country, I constantly meet people that talk about falling in love with Navarro wines when they first tried them at the tasting room’s deck 40 years ago, and I often reply, ‘Oh, I was probably that wild toddler that was building forts out of wine boxes,’” laughs Sarah Bennet, daughter of Navarro’s Bennet and Cahn. The younger Bennet began her own Anderson Valley grape-growing and winemaking venture when she planted an old, family-owned 100-acre parcel, previously used as a hayfield.

Besides crafting beautiful estate wines, which include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc as well as rosé and sparkling, Pennyroyal is the only commercial farmstead cheesemaker in Mendocino County. Among the experiences offered at the homestead, the estate kitchen curates a small menu for visitors. “We [also] host special wine and food events, highlighting seasonal cheeses and ingredients from the garden or local farms and our estate-raised meats.”

“Just like [Navarro Vineyards] was for me and my childhood, Pennyroyal Farm was constructed not just to be a creamery and winery,” she adds. “[It’s the] home that I and my family welcome visitors to this special valley.”

Hours of Operation: 10am–5pm, daily; reservations recommended
Tasting Fee: $25 wine-and-cheese pairing; $15 wine-only tasting; $10 cheese-only tasting
Wines Served: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, white blends, sparkling and fortified
Dog Friendly: Yes (on-leash on outdoor patio; off-leash dog pasture available for use). No dogs in culinary garden or on farm tours.
Kid Friendly: Yes (enjoy Navarro Vineyards non-alcoholic grape juice)
Serves Food: Yes

Wine to Try: Penny Royal Farm 2019 Monty In Pinot Noir (Editor’s Choice); 94 Points, $59

Phillips Hill Tasting Room
Phillips Hill Tasting Room / Image Courtesy of Phillips Hill Winery

Phillips Hill Winery

How’s this for a unique wine tasting experience: Guests to Phillips Hill Winery can sip inside a 150-year-old Anderson Valley apple dryer, where apples were once skinned, cored and dried on site. It’s situated in a rustic space complete with hand-hewn posts and beams from old-growth redwoods.

“When I first moved here, I knew one person from high school and nothing about winemaking,” comments winemaker-proprietor Toby Hill. His motivation for moving to the region had nothing to do with wine, he says, but was rather to find a peaceful homestead.

He was eventually bit by the wine bug. “I studied all the books and videos and with the help of local winemakers on the block I figured it out,” Hill recalls. His modest start at 100 cases in 2002 has today expanded to 2,000 (still boutique by any standard), including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. A former abstract artist, Hill is also the design-mind behind his unique labels.

During the summer, Hill, along with his tasting room associate Natacha Durandet, host guests outside on top of the creek that runs underneath the historic barn, in full view of Anderson’s bucolic setting. “There aren’t many wine regions where ancient redwood forests are across the road from a vineyard,” he says. “Or small, independent wineries where you can meet the owner and their dog.”

Hours of Operation: By reservation
Tasting Fee: $15 per person
Wines Served: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, white blends, sparkling and fortified
Dog Friendly: Yes
Kid Friendly: Yes
Serves Food: Yes

Wine to Try: Phillips Hill 2020 L’Air De Mer Pinot Noir; 93 Points, $50

Thomas T Thomas Vineyards
Thomas T Thomas Vineyards / Image Courtesy of Thomas T Thomas Vineyards

Thomas T Thomas

It was a trip to the winelands of Burgundy that inspired Thomas T. Thomas, Anderson’s only Black vintner, to career pivot into wine—so it’s no wonder that his primary focus is Pinot Noir.

Thomas, a financial executive who also has a degree in music (and is an operatic baritone), bought his 36-acre estate in 2001. “But it was awful looking,” he remembers. “Overgrown with weeds and un-trimmed trees, but I could hear the land talking to me.” His first project was building a home for his family; in 2008 he finally planted vines. “It took me some time because I never did this before,” says Thomas. “I had a lot of decisions to make, a lot of learning to do—particularly research into clonal material.”

Indeed, planting with clonal specificity in mind has become a cornerstone for Thomas’s wine production. He creates a delicate balance with his planted Dijon 115 and 777, Pommard 4 and Calera clones.

Tasting with Thomas is an intimate affair. It takes place in his small, recently built tasting room, decorated with BIPOC art sourced from around the world, including some of his own work. The experience is a master class in Pinot Noir, and guests will be amazed by the range of expressions Thomas crafts throughout his portfolio.

Hours of Operation: By reservation
Tasting Fee: $45 per person
Wines Served: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
Dog Friendly: No
Kid Friendly: No
Serves Food: No

Wine to Try: Thomas T Thomas 2020 Estate Grown Pinot Noir (Hidden Gem); 94 Points, $70

A map of Anderson Valley
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