I enjoy visiting the Anderson Valley because it reminds me of what Napa Valley was like 30 years ago — simple, accessible and low-key. All the wineries are lined up along Highway 128, and because many are small operations, you often have the chance to meet the owners, who may well be tending the tasting room. The valley is about 15 miles long and joins the coast at its northern end. This gives critical access to sea air, which floods into the valley each evening, cooling the growing grapes to their considerable benefit.
The standout varietals grown here are Pinot Noirs and Alsace varietals — Gewürztraminers, Rieslings. If your passions are Cabernets and Chardonnays, this may not be the place for you. The wines are more in the European style, the Pinots being translucent in color and refined in aroma and taste.
There are some showcase properties that would fit right in in Napa, including Roederer Estate, which makes superb sparkling wine; Goldeneye, which is the Pinot Noir property in the Duckhorn portfolio; and Lazy Creek Vineyards, which is owned by Ferrari-Carano. Here, however, I focus on smaller producers, starting at the north end of the valley and proceeding south.