To me, California still seems like a vast uncharted land. There are still places not all that far from my home that feel completely untouched by development and I find it easy to imagine the landscape that early explorers must have discovered upon hitting the coast. Thanks to mighty preservation Route 1 winds along a coast dotted with trees instead of houses, rocky outcroppings instead of tourist shacks. It's so gorgeous that you can't understand why every road isn't choked with people, clamoring for the view.
We spent the weekend up in the Anderson Valley, which is quickly becoming (or has already become) the home of some very fine wine, produced by some very nice folks. The cosy valley offers just the right climate for grapes, including pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and syrah and the area is dotted with top-notch wineries that eschew Napa's snobbery and tasting fees in favor of nice, neighborly banter and generous pours. We arrived at Navarro Vineyard's tasting room just before closing, but still had time to enjoy a flight of their wine. I think the Kahn's are making some superior wine, none of which sell for more than $30 a bottle. They are easy drinking wines that stand up well to food, and their gerwurztraimner is this year's Thanksgiving wine: dry, complicated, hinting at apricots, maybe. Hinting at delicious, for sure.
Navarro's 2003 pinot noir accompanied the dinner we enjoyed a few hours later at the Boonville Hotel. We stayed in the hotel, a ten room affair just off the main road, with a lovely patio and gardens and roosters crowing in the wee morning hours. The hotel is owned by the Schmitt family (the folks that sold the French Laundry to Mr. Keller) and the kitchen is overseen by Johnny Schmitt. His parents own the Apple Farm, just down the road in Philo, an organic orchard that produces cider and fruit, as well as offering lodging and cooking classes. I have heard the cooking classes, taught by Sue Schmitt, book a year in advance and are well worth it. Apple Farm's organic apples, most unusual varieties that grow well in Philo, are brought to the ferry building's Saturday farmer's market.
The Boonville's food was exceptional, made doubly so by the roaring fire in the dining room and the cool air outside. We ate Sonoma duck with polenta and olives and Niman Ranch pork with roasted apples and braised radicchio and found that they were both enhanced by the local wine. Dessert was a coffee pot de cream and hand-churned ice cream, the latter served with delicate Mexican wedding cookies and pecan shortbread dipped in chocolate. The best part was that we only had to totter up a flight of stairs to reach our room.
The next morning found us at the Meyer Family Winery, just down the road in Yorkville, where 10am was met with glasses of port and Scharffenberger chocolate. Matt Meyer is a friend of a good friend, so he showed us around, explained their wine and port production, and generously spent his time with us before sending us down the lane with some of their ambrosial port, just the thing to cap off holiday meals. Currently their distributorship is quite small and limited to the West Coast, but it's definitely one to keep your eye out for. The flavor is sweet and rich and well-balanced--though port is high-alcohol you never feel like you're being overwhelmed.
Not only did Boonville and the Anderson Valley feel like a great break from the city, it also felt like home. Here's hoping it stays that way.