By Mary Charlebois
Hwy 128, a two-lane road, twists, turns, and curls through a long coastal valley. Take it slow, enjoy the view. Meander along, soaking up the shifting landscape of woodlands, mountains, terraced vineyards, orchards, pastures, chaparral, and valleys.
Ninety minutes north of the Golden Gate, things slow down in Mendocino County’s, Anderson Valley (AV). It’s a collage of vineyards, farms, ranches, and micro-towns. AV is a hub for organic food producers and laid-back hospitality. Wine, cheese, beer, hard cider, meat, fruit, and veg thrive in the hands of passionate producers. Anderson Valley is made for slipping under the radar, unplugging, occupying nature and stocking the pantry with handcrafted food and beverage.
How to Ag tour AV style
- Wear your explorer hat in AV and bring a cooler.
- Turn off your phone.
- Take it easy, no schedule, no hurry.
- Feel free to hang out.
Start at the south end of the valley, where Hwy 128 intersects with Hwy 101, north of Santa Rosa. Take your time. Pull over occasionally in a safe pull-over spot. Turn off the engine and get out of the car. Soak-up the clean air and natural beauty. Take some photos, eat an AV apple, chill, you’re on Mendo-time.
Stop in tiny towns like Yorkville and Philo. Park your car and take a stroll. Check-out the general store and market. They sell locally produced treasures of all types.
AV micro-towns are home to artisan studios, hand-made chocolates, hand-spun yarn, home-made jams, jellies, and condiments of every description. Winery tasting rooms, cafes, farmers markets, and county fairs have been deep agriculture traditions for 150-years.
Wine, beer, cider and cheese tasting stops are frequent. Find locally grown meat and produce at shops, farmers markets, farm stands and pop-ups. Don’t pass-up local cheese at sheep and goat farms along the way.
One of the best is Pennyroyal Farm. Prepare yourself for heaven at this place “where every goat, sheep, and cheese has a name.” Don’t miss the creamery, winery, and farmstead. Have Sunday dinner at the community table and meet farmers and local friends.
As you wander, look for signs that announce, ‘fresh fill-in the blank,’ or ‘Open Studio.’ Plan to do a lot of turning around to catch those ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ pop-up farm stands, tasting rooms, and artist.
Wineries are everywhere. They are all good. Stop for some tasting and purchasing. Buying directly from the winery is cheaper. Case prices can be a real value. Most will ship your purchase for you. The Anderson Valley Grange host breakfasts, dinners, music, arts, and crafts. Everyone is welcome at the Grange. Local information for festivals and entertainment can be found on bulletin boards or from locals.
Picnic on the beach
Gather picnic supplies and drive to Navarro River Redwoods State Park. It’s about 30 minutes from Boonville on Hwy 128. You’ll meander through an old-growth redwood forest, cross the Noyo River and hit the beach. This is the perfect place for a picnic.
The driftwood beach is home to temporary sculptures. Driftwood comes downriver to the ocean. It’s taken away by the tide and re-deposited onshore by waves. The shelters and sculptures made by impromptu artist and builders range from tiny to condo size. All are short-lived and leave with the next high tide.
Make it a fizzy picnic and stop at Scharffenberger Cellars. Their sparkling wines have been made in AV for more than 30-years.
Hotels are scarce in AV. Boonville offers the Boonville Hotel. It’s an ideal location to bivouac over a weekend. Everything here is unique, just like Boonville. They have a full restaurant and bar and serve some of the county’s best. There are exceptional vacation rentals in the area, some are old California style ranches that can manage a group.
Camping is another option. Not into tents? Have a camping trailer delivered. Just bring bread, cheese, and wine from your day of foraging the abundant farms, wineries, and breweries. Luv-2-Camp Mendocino will deliver a luxury camp trailer to your reserved location at one of several AV state parks. The trailers have entertainment systems, chef’s kitchens, and a full bathroom. No matter where you sleep in AV, you’ll find a relaxed country feel. Nature and agriculture join hands and make Anderson Valley a yummy wine and cheese ag tour weekend getaway.
All photos by Mary Charlebois