Big Wines on Small Change

Grand Oz Wine Husch Vineyards

We even got a taste of this limited edition bottle during our free tasting at Husch Vineyards

It didn’t take us long to spend the money we saved passing up pricey Napa Valley wine tastings. While we left Napa without purchasing even a single bottle, we didn’t come away empty-handed in another of California’s great wine regions.

The Anderson Valley is more off the beaten path than Napa and Sonoma, further north and harder to reach but well worth the effort. In fact, the effort is part of the fun. Driving from the coastal town of Mendocino we followed a beautifully winding, redwood-lined road that was as much a joy to drive as it was breathtaking to observe.

Highway Redwoods

Beautiful Highway 128 winds through redwood groves on its way from Mendocino and through the Anderson Valley

Along with being blessedly less crowded than its better-known counterparts, the Anderson Valley has the enticement of offering low- and no-cost wine tastings. It was such a shock after Napa’s seemingly standard $20 tasting fee that we felt almost indebted to the wineries for allowing us to sample their great wines gratis. Feeling well ahead of the game we eagerly repaid our debt by picking up some consumable keepsakes from the trio of vineyards we visited.

First Stop: Handley Cellars

Vintner Maya Handley’s tasting room is adorned with folk art acquired from Mexico, Bali, Africa, and other locales—reason enough for avid travelers to choose this vineyard out of the many in the Anderson Valley. After admiring the art and the wine during a free tasting, we settled on a 2011 Viognier, traditionally grown in France’s Rhône Valley ($22). This not-too-sweet white, with aromas of orange, guava, peach, and cinnamon and a creamy finish, is best drunk young. And so we obliged.

Next Up: Husch Vineyards

Husch Vineyards

A sheep-filled pasture caught our eye and, on impulse, we pulled into the tasting room next to it, a cottage-like building that dates to the late 1800s and was once a pony barn. The oldest winery in the Anderson Valley, Husch Vineyards produces twenty-two different wines, most of which are only available on site. A complimentary six-wine tasting motivated us to put the money we didn’t pay for sampling towards a bottle instead. Our purchase: 2012 Muscat Canelli, a dessert wine with shades of apricot, peach, orange zest, and fresh flowers ($16).

Lunch Break: Libby’s

One word: Carnitas. Two words: Holy Cow.

If we seem a bit inarticulate it’s because Libby’s left us a little speechless. It’s the kind of place that has every reason to suck but is awesome instead. With so few other lunch options available in remote Philo, CA, they really could do a fine business serving boilerplate burritos to tourists and even some captive locals. They have no reason to work hard for our repeat business and yet they still cook up some of the crispiest, most succulent caramelized pork we’ve ever tasted.

There’s one downside, though. Libby’s has ruined us for lesser carnitas. Consider yourself warned.

Grand Finale: Goldeneye

Goldeneye Winery Tasting

Now this is a wine tasting!

When the owners of a Napa winery known for merlot decided to try their hand at another grape, pinot noir, they headed to the Anderson Valley to find the perfect patch of terrain. The only tasting of the day we paid for was at Goldeneye, where for a comparatively modest $10 fee we had an elegant, restaurant-style experience. No bellying up to a bar here, we were ushered onto a patio with umbrella-covered tables and a gorgeous view of vineyards and offered almonds and dried cranberries as palate cleansers. We sampled eight different wines, including five pinot noirs—the region’s best-known varietal—and found a surprisingly wide spectrum ranging from lighter-bodied to bold.

Alas, we left Goldeney empty-handed. Not because their wines weren’t delicious, they were exceedingly so, but because our far-and-away favorite also happened to be a bit out of our price range. That their Gowan Creek Pinot and other bottles carrying $80 price tags were part of our $10 tasting shows just how far from Napa we had gone. And yet not so far as to prevent a lovely and affordable day trip from that other California wine country.

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10 Comments on “Big Wines on Small Change”

  1. Anita Mac June 28, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    Sounds like you had a most amazing day! Pinning this for future reference! Thanks for the tip – had not heard of Anderson Valley before…it is certainly a quieter gem in the shadows of Napa/

    • Brian June 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      We enjoyed it and we didn’t even scratch the surface of the wineries there.

  2. TinLizzie72 June 28, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    Don’t tell too many people about Anderson Valley! Keep it a secret gem!

    • Brian June 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      Oops, sorry. ;-)

  3. cravesadventure June 28, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Love this wine region – thanks for sharing – great captures:)

    • Brian June 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      It’s a great place. Thanks for your comments.

  4. wineandhistory June 28, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    I have had the Husch Muscat Canelli and thought it was fantastic too! And we heard great things about Libby’s but they were unfortunately closed the day that we were there. I suppose that just means we will have to go again!

    • Brian June 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      We can’t speak for the rest of the menu, but they do a mean carnitas. Enjoy and tell us what you think when you get back there.

  5. Heinz Barthel June 29, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    What a beautiful, interesting story. I got so exited and resolved that the next time I am up in that neck of the woods I would undertake that same tour o enjoy both, the great scenery through the Redwoods as well as the Wineries. I got especially excited when it came to the last, the Goldeneye winery because I really like Pinot noire. I figured I would buy a case or so until I read the price tag! That’s a bit out of my budget: it would have to be a ‘super-super occasion for me to drink an $80 bottle of wine with a really special person. Any volunteers? Heinz’

  6. Nealys on Wheels July 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    Hello, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but don’t think I’ve commented before. We’re heading to wine country in August – we’ve always preferred Sonoma and Russian River to Napa. I’m going to add Anderson Valley to the list for this trip!

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