Driving the 15 miles of picturesque road between Boonville and Navarro, one thing instantly struck me. Why hadn't I heard more about the burgeoning wine region of Anderson Valley in Mendocino County?
The two dozen wineries dotting Highway 128 drew my husband and me to the valley, known for its pinot noirs, dry gewurztraminers and chardonnays. And while the wine offerings more than satisfied, we also discovered a growing food scene that makes this a gem of a weekend getaway.
Here are a few suggestions for sampling Anderson Valley, starting in Boonville: Pennyroyal Farms: By midsummer, owner Sarah Cahn Bennet hopes to open a retail space and offer tours at her 100-acre sheep and goat cheese farm in Boonville. A sneak peek tour offered us a glimpse of the milking station, goat barn and creamery. We also sampled the blue and three Boont Corners aged cheeses, which are sold at Navarro Vineyards in Philo. Closer to home, they are available at Albany's Wednesday farmers market during the summer. (14930 Highway 128, Boonville; 800-537-9463; www.pennyroyalfarm.com.) Buckhorn: Billing itself as a "fine grub pub," this restaurant feels like a mountain chalet with wood paneling, buck heads on the wall and a very cool antler chandelier. The menu includes hot sandwiches, burgers (including venison) and lots of sides. The crispy, seasoned steak fries are exceptional. We also got a chuckle out of a daily special: Guinness cupcake. (14081 Highway 128, Boonville; 707-895-3224; www.thebuckhornboonville.com.) Boonville Hotel: Two of Boonville's claims to fame can be found here. Bite Hard, a champagne-style hard cider, and piment d'ville, a Basque-style dried chile, are the creations of Brooks Schmitt, the 25-year-old son of the hotel's proprietor. The hotel serves as a de facto tasting room for the cider, while the hotel restaurant, Table 128, offers menu selections utilizing the sweet chile pepper. Both also are sold in the hotel gift shop. (14050 Highway 128, Boonville; 707-895-2210; www.boonvillehotel.com.)
Stone and Embers at the Madrones: The Madrones in Philo combines guest quarters for overnight stays, four tasting rooms and one of the area's most delightful restaurants. The intimate restaurant has just five tables and some bar seating. Chef Patrick Meany -- whose résumé includes Yountville's Bouchon and San Francisco's Gary Danko -- masters blending flavors and textures with a changing menu based on farm-to-table ingredients. The wine, beer and ciders all come from Mendocino County. (9000 Highway 128, Philo; 707-895-3471; www.stoneandembers.com.) Lula Cellars: This small winery has very big plans for its future. On May 1, winemaker Jeff Hansen plans to open a hospitality center at the 22-acre winery in north Philo. The new venture will include a tasting room, 8-acre pond surrounded by Adirondack chairs, guest cottage, 14-acre vineyard and 1-acre organic vegetable garden. "I want to make this a great sensory experience," Hansen says. "We don't want to be just another winery." Until then, sample wines at its downtown Philo tasting room. (Tasting room: 8627 Highway 128; 707-895-2904; www.lulacellars.com. New winery: 3101 Highway 128.) Phillips Hill Winery: Artist Toby Hill stumbled into winemaking when he accepted four barrels of unfinished pinot noir so he could design the wine label. A decade later, he has his own label and one of the region's most charming tasting rooms. Hill and fiancee Natacha Durandet have restored a former apple dryer, adding an outdoor tasting area overlooking a creek and a museum honoring the building's history. A cozy balcony is an ideal spot to taste the wines and sample cheeses. "This tasting room really fits our vision of what we want to bring to the valley -- nature, history, all the senses in one," Hill says. (5101 Highway 128, Philo; 707-895-2209; www.phillipshill.com.) Husch Vineyards: The valley's oldest winery, started in 1971, offers tastings in a rustic pony barn that dates back to the late 1800s. An incredibly knowledgeable tasting room manager tapped us into what the region had to offer -- and where else we could find top-notch chardonnays. Best of all, we got to sample six wines with no tasting fee. (4400 Highway 128, Philo; 707-895-3216; www.huschvineyards.com.)
Phillips Hill Winery has relocated its tasting room from downtown to an old apple dryer in Philo, Calif. Authentic equipment from its apple drying days remain on the property. (Ann Tatko-Peterson/Bay Area News Group)