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Harvest heaven in Anderson Valley.


For drivers making their way from the Bay Area to the Mendocino coast, Anderson Valley signifies progress: after about 130 miles of sometimes challenging roads, the ocean is only half an hour away. But many who stop here for a look or a meal succumb to the charms of the place, and somehow never make it west of Navarro--despite the fact that locals harbor a lingo known as Boontling to maintain a good-humored privacy in the presence of what they call "bright-lighters."

The valley, which embraces the towns of Boonville, Philo, and Navarro, is known mainly for sheep ranching, apple growing, and winemaking. From late September through October, as the coast begins to cool, the Anderson Valley's vineyards color up, its apples grow crisp and winy, and the air takes on a beautiful clarity.

Wine tasting in the valley is sure to waylay all but the most driven bright-lighter. The misty mornings, sunny afternoons, and cool nights seem to favor slow-maturing varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling. At least eight wineries clustered along State Highway 128, mostly in Philo, are open daily for tasting. The newest attractions are the sophisticated facilities at Scharffenberger and Roederer, which both make highly acclaimed sparkling wines, but you can also enjoy the down-home hospitality of smaller family-run wineries that have been here awhile. We especially liked Pepperwood Springs Vineyards (open by appointment; call 707/895-2920) for its lofty view of the entire valley, and a Pinot Noir that has a cult following.

This productive agricultural region has other ways to tantalize your taste buds. At organic fruit-juice tastings at The Tinman, on Anderson Valley Way just north of Boonville, you'll learn to detect subtle differences between locally grown varieties (try the blend of Rome Beauty apple juice with Cabernet Sauvignon grape juice for a not-too-sweet autumnal treat). On October 10, The Apple Farm in Philo (18501 Greenwood Road) hosts a tasting of hard-to-find fall apples, as well as an orchard walk and cider pressing; call 895-2333 for details and reservations. Other days, just stop by and help yourself to honor-system apples, dried-apple wreaths, jams, chutneys, and apple twig bundles for barbecue or hearth. While you're on the apple trail, don't miss Gowan's Oak Tree, on State 128 near Philo: the produce assortment is limited but freshly picked and flavorful. Downtown Boonville showcases the valley's agricultural bounty, along with music and crafts, with a new Farmer's Market open every Saturday morning through October.

With so many good things in nearby orchards and fields, it's no wonder the valley has attracted top-notch chefs to a pleasantly unpretentious culinary scene. Reservations are deservedly required at both the Boonville Hotel (895-2210) and the Floodgate Store and Grille (895-3000), the two best restaurants in the area. Resurrected under new ownership since its days of fiscal infamy, the hotel now serves appealing California cuisine in a less-is-more setting that incorporates simple pieces (such as the willow bar stools) by local artisans. The Floodgate offers up wonderful grilled meats with cheerful informality. You can linger with a well-chosen local vintage at either spot. The Buckhorn Saloon, a brew pub on Boonville's main drag, is a friendly place for a drop-in supper of meat-and-potatoes fare served with outstanding beers drawn straight from the basement, where the Anderson Valley Brewing Company resides.

Those who just want to stop somewhere for a light lunch can try the rustic Boont Berry Farm Store, which has a small deli area with natural foods and juices, or The Cream Pump, with homemade ice cream concoctions and sandwiches. A newcomer, Biscotti Notti, now serves coffees, homemade biscotti, and pasta-type lunch and salad plates.

But perhaps a leisurely picnic seems the best idea. Most of the wineries have attractively landscaped picnic areas, but you might also consider Hendy Woods State Park ($5 day-use fee), near Philo; it has tables with barbecues in a sprawling walnut grove on the Navarro River. The park's two stands of old-growth redwoods are blessedly quiet and tour bus--free, as well as disabled accessible (by the newly built All Access Trail). With a rich green cover of sorrel and salal, violets and ferns, the big tree groves make a great place to dodge the heat of an Indian summer afternoon or walk off a wine tasting or two.

What about shopping? Fortunately, franchise holders and souvenir vendors have not yet found their way here. But there's pleasant art-and-crafts browsing at Boonville's Rookie-To Gallery, which takes its name from the Boontling word for quail. All That Good Stuff sells cards and gifts in a fine old general store filled with the yeasty aroma of Bruce Bread, baked just behind the store and featured with pride on local menus.


The Boonville Hotel, on State 128 in downtown Boonville; (707) 895-2210. The rooms are serenely unfussy and a craftsman's delight (though the two grandest, which sit over the bar, can be noisy).

The Philo Pottery Inn, on State 128 in Philo; 895-3069. This well-kept B & B is in a century-old redwood farmhouse surrounded by gardens. Owner Sue Chiverton, a font of insider tips on local touring, has arranged for her guests to use private roads for a woodsy 12-mile mountain-bike loop.

Anderson Creek Inn, on Anderson Valley Way in Boonville; 895-3091. Though this B & B is a bit suburban in feeling, king-size beds, in-room fireplaces, handsome grounds, and a large pool make it very comfortable.

Toll House Restaurant & Inn, on State 253 north of State 128; 895-3630. Absentee ownership has dimmed the charms of this handsome hostelry a little. It's relatively remote, but worth the trip if dinner is served (call to find out). The owners support a magnificent organic produce farm on the Navarro River in Philo, planned and tended by former students of horticultural guru Alan Chadwick; ask at the inn or call 895-3999 to arrange a visit.

Highland Ranch, off Hendy Woods-Elk Road in Philo; 895-3600. Newly opened to individual parties as well as small groups, this resort is beautiful, secluded, and quite expensive, with a comprehensive package that includes tennis, bicycling, swimming, fishing, and horseback riding.

Sheep Dung Estates, Yorkville; 894-5322. These private, contemporary cottages have minikitchens, wood-burning stoves, and nonstop views over sheep country. And you can even bring your dog.
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Title Annotation:includes directory of where to stay; California
Author:Williamson, Marcia
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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