Friday, November 5, 2010

A Different (Better?) California Wine Valley

It's 3:30, and I'm stuck on 29 between Napa and St. Helena, waiting for the several dozen vehicles ahead of me to get waved through the second stretch of construction in five miles. My car is black, and the A/C is broken. On the passenger seat, a tourist bureau map is folded open, showing the road I'm on and the 100 or whatever wineries/tasting rooms that line it. How the hell am I supposed to choose which 2 or 3 are worth my $5-$20 tasting fee this afternoon?

Napa Valley sucks.

But grapes grow elsewhere in California. Quite close, actually. Head north. Not to Sonoma--maybe it's better, but I've never been and it sounds like more of the same. No, keep going north till you hit the 128, another of those surprisingly mountainous and windy CA highways that cuts through the gold-grass-covered hills and scraggly trees. Keep driving till Boonville.

Now you're in Anderson Valley.

There's only about 20 wineries here, and not all are open to the public. I went to one last month, Foursight Wines, because it was the closest to town. I loved it. One of its four employees was too busy doing her twice-daily "punch-down" (thrusting a large blunt metal punch into a fermentation tank full of a juicy grape mixture to stir it) to give us a tasting right away, so she invited us back to watch her, and to have a sample of an aging white right out of the barrel.

"Laid back" is a good descriptor for Anderson Valley.

The General Store is where you go to eat, that bar on Main St. across from the hardware store to drink. There are multiple camping options right up the road (I stayed at Indian Creek, the closest), and if you keep going towards the coast, you'll come to Pacific Star Winery, one of my favorites anywhere.

Perhaps best of all, Anderson Valley Brewing is located in Boonville, with tasting room and 18-hole disc golf course. I mean, you can't drink only wine all day.

Photo: JoePhoto