We took a daytrip up to the Anderson Valley last weekend from our vacation base in Healdsburg. We were going to a five-course dinner at Cyrus that evening so we didn't eat a lot, but here are some thoughts on what we experienced.
The drive up 128 was the most beautiful I've taken in California, and the atmosphere in the Valley was what I imagined Napa or Sonoma might be like before I visited for the first time: casual, familial, and bit beat up around the edges. In Boonville it seemed the town was just waking up around 10 a.m.: on the four-block main drag, we saw a few dreadlocked farmers out for coffee, a couple walking a dog, teenagers in the café taking about their track team.
Mosswood Market Cafe
We dropped in for coffee first thing. I wish I hadn't eaten at the Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg just an hour before, because Mosswood had four of five types of empanadas on display that looked awfully tasty. When I return, we're stopping here for breakfast.
Winter Farmer's Market
Once the market really comes into action it's in the hotel parking lot on Saturday mornings, but in off season it's on the sidewalk in front of Lauren's. There were just a few vendors with luscious winter greens, eggs, early chioggas, and preserves. From Petit Teton I bought an apple butter spiked with triple cream sherry. It was spicy, rich and not too sweet, with a silky texture—probably the best apple butter I've eaten. The hand-made label on the mason jar says "Return when done." I will.
Boonville General Store
We had wanted to stop in at the Boonville Hotel's restaurant, but it's not open for lunch, and in the end we were too short on time before our brewery tour to order anything at one of the sit-down restaurants. The store is a café with perhaps 20 seats that sells picnic baskets and a few other supplies. The menu includes house-roasted Marin Sun Farms brisket, sweet potato fries, Taylor Maid coffees, a sausage and smoked mozzarella omelet, and a scone of the day served with crème fraiche. We ordered a stone-baked Margherita pizza and a Point Reyes blue cheese and beet salad. The texture of the pizza crust was excellent, though I wished for a sparkier yeast flavor to the dough. The salad was fresh and bright, with big lumps of deep red beets.
We visited with Husch, Toulouse, and Jim Ball. I had wanted to try Baxter, but discovered that they don't offer tastings or tours; the woman at Husch told me that the vinter at Baxter had been hired to produce the wines at Jim Ball. We very much liked the wines we tried at all three (especially the new Baxter-type wine at Jim Ball, which hasn't been bottled yet), but the wines at Toulouse particularly resonated with me. The Estate 2008 Pinot Noir, aged in Hungarian and French oak, was the right blend of earthy, rich and slightly sinister; it's a blind date that wears a low-cut velvet dress to dinner and then steals your wallet from your jacket while you're in the bathroom. At $50, I couldn't commit, but I walked away with the 2008 Lautrec Pinor Noir, which the owner described as a "hamburger wine," and was deliciously affordable at $26.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company
We took the 1:30 p.m. tour for $5 per person (which comes with a taste of two beers at the end). Our tour included just one other guest, a home beermaker who asked interesting questions, and our guide, who had worked for the brewery for a few years. You see all there is to see on the brewery floor—grain and hop storage and mixing, bottling, packaging and the tubs of used hops that will be picked up by local farmers to feed to their animals. Inside the main guest building there's a little bar which was full (there are about 10 seats) before our tour and after; with my two free tastes, I asked to try something I can't find in San Francisco, and the barmaid guided me toward two sour beers I liked a lot.
Philo Apple Farm
To give a sense of the size of the valley: the family who used to own the French Laundry and now owns the Boonville Hotel and restaurant, as well as the Mercantile across the street (where I bought a lovely Japanese brass pencil), also owns the Philo Apple Farm where they make vinegar, cider and other packaged goods, some of which I've seen in San Francisco (for instance, at the Fatted Calf in Hayes Valley). The farm "store" is a stand out front with a slot where you drop in your money. You can wander a bit to see the orchards, the bee hives and the chicken coops; there are also a couple of pretty (and pricey) cabins for rent on the property. I picked up a bottle of (alcoholic) cider, which I had not seen elsewhere.
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
14111 Highway 128, Boonville, CA
14040 Highway 128, Boonville, CA 95415
18501 Greenwood Rd, Philo, CA 95466