California’s Anderson Valley wineries produce some of America’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The climate is very cool for a California wine-growing region and the season is somewhat short. This means the wines can often be more similar to those from Willamette Valley than those of any other California AVA.
Anderson Valley is in Mendocino County, which borders Sonoma County on the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The northwestern mouth of the valley, known to locals as “the deep end,” is just 10 miles from the chilly Pacific Ocean. Cooling sea breezes and fog flow into the valley, gradually decreasing in intensity as they move 20 miles southeast along Highway 128 to the other end of the AVA.
The difference between mid-afternoon and early morning temperatures during the growing season can exceed 40 degrees. This variation allows the grapes to ripen readily during the day, but retain acidity during the cold nights. Generous daytime ripening is key here, because Anderson Valley gets a late start to the growing season due to cold temperatures. The end of the season can also come quickly due to fog and risk of frost.
Anderson Valley wineries produce three distinct personalities of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, depending on the vineyard location and the wineries’ preference. Vineyards in the southern half of the half of the AVA producer the ripest fruit, so the wines tend to be fruit-forward and round in the mouth. This juice is also able to match up to a substantial percentage of new French oak. These wines are full-flavored and rich, but still lighter than most from Carneros and the Russian River Valley.
In the deep end, grapes get much less ripe. The result is light, fresh, precise wines with delicate, somewhat tart fruit flavors. This fruit often takes a backseat to non-fruit aromas and flavors: spice, dark flowers and forest floor in the reds, mineral in whites. New oak is used sparingly, if at all. These productions are lovely, age-worthy wines and are the closest California gets to Burgundy.
The most common style produced by Anderson Valley wineries, though, is a happy medium. These are wines that will satisfy most anyone. They have plenty of lip-smacking fruit, complemented by just enough new oak to soften the wines and add complexity.
Anderson Valley’s cool climate and excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir also make it a stellar region for traditional-method sparkling wines. Crisp and lively, but not lacking fruit, these bubblies provide excellent value and the very best can hold their own with Champagne.
This region isn’t just about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir though. Since it’s start as a modern growing region in the early 1970’s, Anderson Valley wineries have been making excellent wines from Alsace varieties. These include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. For the most part, these wines are made in a dry, fresh style.
Organic and sustainable growing is important in Anderson Valley. Mendocino County overall has a higher percentage of its vines grown organically than any other growing region in the country. There are only 2,500 acres of grape vines in Anderson Valley, so the wines can be as exclusive as they are delicious.