The Anderson Valley is located in the western part of Mendocino. It is roughly 1 to 1 1/2 hours of winding road above Cloverdale in upper Sonoma. The Navarro River heads north & empties into the Pacific Ocean. It is that cut in the mountains which allows the cold ocean wind to creep into the valley, making it a very cool growing climate.
I first encountered wines from this region from wineries such as Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, Edmeades & most notably Williams & Selyem….& later from Jim Clendenen’s Ici La Bas label. For most people, they are, however, probably most familar with Roederer Estate sparkling wines. Later on, we then experienced highly lauded wines from headliner producers such as Copain, Littorai, Brogan & the THREE stellar 2006 Morning Dew vineyard bottlings from Whitcraft, just to name a few.
What was once a sleepy, low keyed farming community, most recently, this valley is a real hot bed for provocative, well structured Chardonnay & especially Pinot Noir. (New Age standouts now include Drew, Knez, Anthill Frams & Witching Stick).
I contacted a few of our wine friends who could shed more interesting & detailed light on the subject. Please keep in mind, there is NO ONE correct answer. But through different perspectives, one can get a better idea of what’s happening & therefore be better equipped to ask better questions.
WEBSTER MARQUEZ (Anthill Farms)
“It’s one of the most “continental” climates of anywhere Pinot is grown in California; it can get quite warm in summer (albeit the warmth is brief) and downright snowy in winter. Remember that Burgundy is smack in the middle of France, not near the coast — so its historic home can have the wide temperature swings you see in Boonville and other parts of the valley. Generally cool summers though encourage the development of thick skins and small berries, which lend themselves to concentrated wines. Mendocino is also far enough north that the days can be quite long, inching along ripeness in a distinctive way that favors flavor development and acid maintenance over sugar accumulation. The entire valley tilts northwest, allowing for a variety of sun exposures along its length at many different elevations. Soils generally have low fertility and quite high mineral content which also leads to low-yielding vines with small bunches of really powerful fruit”.
VAN WILLIAMSON (former winemaker of Edmeades & now his own label–Witching Stick)
“Age worthy wines are produced in Anderson Valley. Try some Anderson Valley wines with 10 years of age on them and they really shine. I think the terrain has something to do with the success. Anderson Valley is a narrow valley wtih rolling hills and ridges within the Valley carved out by years of erosion from the Navarro River. This created a multitude of different sun and wind exposures as well as soil profiles which makes for considerable differences between neighboring vineyards and within a single vineyard. Then add into the mix several winemakers from a single vineyard and you get even more variety. But the sense of the place Anderson Valley comes through in all the wines. Great acidity, tannin stucture, sea salt minerality and purity of fruit”.
JASON DREW (Drew Family Wines)
A personal summary on a region takes years of experience and a whole lot of tastings. I hate to talk in general terms but if one were to attempt to describe the character of the wines from Anderson Valley or at least in the vein/genre/style that I am aiming for and or the vacuum of which I believe the Valley’s optimum range is, it would be something like this:
Red earth, spicy red fruits with a secondary floral, stone fruit and a forest floor/fresh mushroom quality. The textures have a certain leanness or restraint which provides tension that works well with a minerality that is often found in the wines. The fruits I tend to see more of consist of the reds like cherries, raspberries, cranberry, pomegranate. In the 2012 Morning Dew, I get a very fine and fresh mushroom/Shitake and pomegranate.
Now, there are varying degrees of each of these threads. The Anderson Valley is still very young and the geography and geology/soils are just beginning to be understood in relation to the wines. In crude form we can cut Anderson Valley into 5 areas at minimum. Up Valley (Boonville area), Down Valley (Deep End), Mid Valley (Philo), North Slope and South Slope. Up Valley is Boonville which seems backwards but is called that due to slightly higher elevation on valley floor. The benches and slopes/hillsides seem more complex and deeper probably due to a higher content of shale, ancient weathered sandstone better drainage and thinner soils.
The next level is separating wine characteristics between the areas. Up Valley seems to be lighter in color with more red fruits and perhaps a slightly more green character. This might be attributable to the sugars climbing more ahead of the greener characters due to warmer temps? Down Valley benches seem to be a bit darker with more evolved red fruits and richer structure. Mid Valley has a lot of forest floor, darker berries and fungi.
ANTHONY FILIBERTI (Knez/ Anthill Farms)
“Seems the biggest influences continue to be climate and soil” but frankly most every wine I try from Anderson valley has a winemaker thumbprint all over it. Chasing trends one way or the other. Continuity seems more sought after than yearly or site character. Also the interplay of soil, rootstock, clonal material, mezzo climate etc is so complex and distinct in each site it’s hard for me to pinpoint what is the biggest affect, other than drastic differences in yearly weather that we had in 10, 11, & 12″