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Anderson Valley: Newfound Perception of Quality

Since I first wrote at length about Anderson Valley Pinot Noir in 2007, the perception of quality has changed dramatically. Back then, Anderson Valley grapes were frequently sold to wineries outside the Anderson Valley AVA and the prices demanded for Pinot Noir grapes were among the lowest in California. Today, winemakers outside the Anderson Valley are still clamoring for grapes, but there has been an infusion of talented young winemakers (Phil Baxter, Jr., of Baxter Winery, Jason Drew of Drew Wines, Anthony Filiberti of Knez Winery, and Joseph Webb of Foursight Wines, for example), new wineries, new ownership of prominent vineyards (Ferrington, Savoy, Cerise, Klindt, Londer and Demuth), and a serious commitment by Kendall-Jackson Estates to Anderson Valley (Champ de Rêves, La Crema, Maggy Hawk and Wind Racer), resulting in more progressive ultra premium producers rooted firmly in Anderson Valley, bringing with them a new found perception of quality to the region. The name ‘Anderson Valley’ on a label really has cachet today.

Matt Kramer wrote in New California Wine in 2004, “Anderson Valley is one of California’s most desirable Pinot Noir locales. The results, however, are not yet in, so this remains (optimistic) speculation.” I think he would agree that today, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir stands with the best California has to offer, and there is no longer any need to speculate.

In 2007, I provided summaries for the 26 wineries based in the Anderson Valley. Since then, there has been a remarkable transformation, with several wineries departing including Christine Woods Winery, Claudia Springs, Demuth Winery, Esterlina Vineyards & Winery (moved to Dry Creek), Gryphon Wines, Jim Ball Vineyards, Lazy Creek Vineyards (new owners), Londer Vineyards, Standish Wine Co., and Raye’s Hill Vineyard & Winery, and many new faces joining the region including Angel Camp Vineyards, Ardzrooni Family Wines, Balo Vineyards, Bink Wines, Champ De Rêves, Domaine Anderson, Foursight Wines, Knez Winery, Lichen Estate, Nelson Hill Winery, Panthea Wine, Roma’s Vineyard, Seebass Family Wines, Signal Ridge, and Witching Stick, bringing the total to 36 wineries based in Anderson Valley (Drew and Baxter are technically in the Mendocino Ridge AVA).

More wineries than ever are sourcing Anderson Valley grapes, some exclusively and several predominantly, from Anderson Valley. Some are relatively new, but most are established names including Anthill Farms, Arista, Baliwick, Bravium (Mendocino Ridge), Briceland Vineyards, Bruliam, Cabot, Cakebread Cellars, Chename Wines, Copain Wines, Coulour Wines, CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs, E16, Dutton-Goldfield, Expression Vineyards, Frati Horn Wines, Fulcrum, Gros Ventre, La Crema, LIOCO Wines, Littorai, Lula Cellars, MacPhail Family Wines, Maggie Hawk Vineyard, Radio-Coteau, Rhys Vineyards, Texture, The Donum Estate, Twomey Cellars, Waits-Mast Cellars, Walt Wines, Williams Selyem, Wind Racer, Woodenhead, and Yorkville Cellars.

What makes Anderson Valley Pinot Noir special? Within stylistic differences, two constants are readily apparent. The wines can have lower alcohols than their counterparts from warmer growing areas within California, and the wines have a crispness and brightness due to good tug of acidity. Because of the cool climate, Pinot Noir grapes are able to slowly ripen, achieving full phenolic ripeness without high sugars, while still retaining bright acidity. Some have likened the Pinot Noirs to those from the Willamette Valley, and even anointed Anderson Valley, “Baja Oregon.”

Although the visible infrastructure in Anderson Valley never seems to change, and for many that is its charm, the winegrowing business is vibrant, evolving and prosperous, and the wines are among the most treasured in California not only by the pinotphile cognoscenti but the general consumer as well.

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