The 16th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival kicks off in about 2.5 weeks with a weekend filled with wine, food, music and wine appreciation. This wonderful festival is hosted by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers’ Association and its member growers and vintners. This year will witness a special farewell to one of the family, Londer Vineyards.
The Anderson Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is only 15 miles long and straddles Highway 128 with Boonville approximating its center. Boonville is about 19 gorgeous curvy miles west of Highway 101’s 3rd Cloverdale exit. The valley has high elevations on both sides with vineyards nourishing world class Pinot Noir as well as other classic red varietals. It also specialized in Alsatian whites and has an International Alsatian Festival in February each year. Also worthy of a visit.
The larger premium wine producers from Napa and Sonoma have taken notice and have begun to acquire vineyards and wineries in the area (think Duckhorn, Cliff Lede, Ledson, Twomey/Silver Oak). That being said, the typical Anderson Valley winery is family owned and operated with production levels well below eight thousand cases annually and includes some ultra-boutique wineries (under 500 cases). It is this relaxed and casual character which remains the hallmark of the Anderson Valley. Think Napa in the mid 1960s.
Friday evening’s kickoff BBQ, an attendees favorite, is hosted by Scharffenberger Cellars in Philo from 5-8:30 pm. Guests are encouraged to bring a bottle of Pinot Noir to share, if they like. The winemakers and growers from the valley join in and it is a great time to mingle and meet. This is a top flight event and should not be missed by those who enjoy the pleasures of wine country living or at least want to experience a piece of it. It is also a great way to recharge after a day filled with the Technical Conferences about wine making and wine growing (8:30am – 4:00pm) at the Mendocino County Fair Grounds in Boonville. Tickets for the Technical Conferences and the BBQ are available to the public.
Saturday is the Grand Tasting which takes place in the picturesque and well organized vineyards of Goldeneye Winery, 9200 Highway 128, in nearby Philo. An unrivaled setting for a wine festival, Goldeneye is part of the Duckhorn flock (or is it paddle, if you’ll pardon the pun) and is well known for the luxury nature of its Pinot Noir. The food, music, auctions and wines are amazing and worth the price of admission. Perhaps the best Pinot Noir Festival in California and there are several.
Nearly impossible to score are tickets for one of the four winemakers’ dinners held on Saturday night. The venues include the Little River Inn on the coast (Sold Out), Roederer Estate in Philo (Sold Out), the Apple Farm in Philo (Sold Out) and Aquarelle in Boonville (Almost Sold Out). Each has two or three wine makers present who answer questions, talk about their wines and the food they are paired with in a very relaxed and casual environment. Yum!!
Ultimately the festival is about the Pinot Noir grapes and wines of the Anderson Valley. Clearly, Goldeneye, Breggo (Cliff Lede of Napa), Zena Hyde Cunningham (Ledson of Sonoma), Navarro, La Crema (Kendall Jackson Family), Twomey (Silver Oak of Napa and Sonoma) and Scharffenberger (Roederer Estate) have excellent names with large followings and excellent wines. Additionally, smaller producers like Copain, Black Kite and Littorai have achieved exceptional ratings from the likes of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast et al. Perhaps more approachable and unique are the family owned and operated wineries in the valley.
Sunday, about 20 of the wineries along the Anderson Valley ‘wine road’ will host open houses with food and wine pairings, barrel samples, music and more opportunities to get to know these unique and fun wines. Five (or seven) favorites worthy of mention follow.
Foursight Winery is owned by the Charles Family. Mom (Nancy) and Dad (Bill) focus on the farming operations while daughter Kristy and her winemaker husband Joe Webb have control of the wine making, marketing and tasting room. The Charles are a dynamic family (two sons Matt and Tim have separate careers but come back for these big events). Kristy served as President of the AVWA last year.
Jason and Molly Drew of Drew Family Cellars, located in Elk, Mendocino Ridge AVA, have become very well known for very well balanced and well structured Pinot Noir. They also make an Albariño (a varietal grown in Galicia – northwest Spain & Melgaço – northwest Portugal) as well as a Syrah from their 26 acre estate. Jason is also the wine maker for Tim and Michelle Mullins’ Balo Vineyards in Philo. Another Pinot house whose first vintage release was in 2009.
The Sterling family has been growing grapes and making wine in Mendocino and Sonoma for decades. Esterlina Vineyards is their Anderson Valley presence high on the northern ridge over looking Philo and the valley. Specializing in Pinot Noir, the family also produces wonderful Merlot and Riesling. They also have Everitt Ridge Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. An amazing family totally collaborating to make fine wines and a welcoming experience for their visitors.
Brutacao Family Vineyards is based in the environs surrounding Hopland with tasting rooms there right on Highway 101 (historic old School House), on Highway 128 in Philo and a third on the historic Sonoma Plaza in the town of Sonoma. They make a huge variety of red wines with special attention to Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot, Primitivo as well as other Italian varietals.
Finally, Londer Vineyards! This years Pinot Festival will be the farewell lap for Shirlee and Larry Londer who have, sadly, but understandably decided to exit the vigneron and wine making scene for retirement number two. The Londer’s arrived in the Anderson Valley on May 1st, 13 years ago to live there decades old passion for wine. For their first vintages, their tasting room was their ‘red’ kitchen in their home located among their vineyards on the southern ridge above Philo. After having achieved critical success with several 90+ ratings from the Wine Spectator and other esteemed rating organizations for their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Dry Gewurztraminer, they sold their vineyards last year. They have continued to operate their tasting room in Boonville under the watchful and competent eye of their general manager Joe Webb while they proceeded into their 2nd retirement near Denver Colorado. They will be in the valley for the festival so come say goodbye during the festival. This writer and all the denizens of Anderson Valley will miss these gracious and wonderful people.
Last year nearly 900 people signed up for the Grand Tasting. A special treat and clearly a labor of love for the many local resident and winery volunteers. Get your tickets while you can.