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17th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival May 15-18, 2014 Anderson Valley, California

I am always glad when the Pinot Trail leads me to the annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. I am attracted by the convivial winegrower hosts and organizers, the informal, country fair atmosphere, the delectable local artisan foods, and the superb, world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs. When I leave Highway 101 at Cloverdale and begin the leisurely drive on winding, pastoral Highway 118 toward Anderson Valley, I leave my cares behind, and look forward to visiting a rather peaceful, reclusive Valley dotted with picturesque vineyards, moss-covered oaks, old apple-drying barns, split-rail redwood fences, and welcoming wineries.

This year’s Festival marked the 50th (or 51st depending on who you ask) anniversary of the planting of wine grapes in the Anderson Valley in 1964 by Dr. Donald Edmeades, a cardiologist from Pasadena, California. In 1963, he bought 108 acres of grazing and orchard land north of Philo and began planting 24 acres of grapes excluding Pinot Noir. (Note: the Edmeades website reports that the first plantings were in 1963, but other sources date the plantings to 1964) The locals were skeptical and Edmeades, in good humor, put up a sign on Highway 128 that read, ‘Edmeades Folly.’ In truth, Edmeades had carefully researched the potential for wine grape growing in the Anderson Valley and had been visiting the region on vacations since the 1950s. The University of California at Davis viticulturists had completed a survey of the climate of the Anderson Valley, and classified it primarily as Region I (up to 2,500 degree days), ideal for cool climate grapes.

Edmeades was the not the first to successfully grow wine grapes in the Anderson Valley. According to the book, Images of America Anderson Valley, wine grapes were a valley crop since the late 1800s when Italian immigrants from San Francisco settled in Greenwood located on the ridges of Anderson Valley (what is now known as Mendocino Ridge). The Valenti Ranch Vineyard is believed to be the first in Greenwood. Prohibition and frosts ended the early wine era in the valley with only the Zeni, Ciapusci and Dupratt vineyards surviving. Joe Pinoli was the first to established grapevines on the valley floor in 1911-1912, and he founded the first bonded winery in the valley.

Edmeades grew French Colombard, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the grapes, which struggled to ripen, were sold to many buyers including Parducci. In 1972, the Edmeades winery and label was launched, but both Donald and his spouse passed away from cancer just after the winery was built, and a son, Deron, carried on. Edmeades achieved the most notoriety with Zinfandel produce from grapes sourced from vineyards in the Mendocino Ridge, but was never a major player in the Anderson Valley with Pinot Noir. The winery averaged ten Gold Medals a year in major competitions from 1994 to 2004, primarily for Zinfandel. The exact history of Pinot Noir planting at Edmeades is unknown although John Haeger dates it probably to 1980. The Edmeades property was acquired by Kendall-Jackson Estates in 1988, and Jesse Jackson modernized the winery and replanted vineyards.

The Edmeades property is also now the home of Champ de Rêves, a winery dedicated to Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley’s Boone Ridge Vineyard, also owned by Jackson Family Estates. The two wineries recently opened for tasting daily from 10:00 to 5:00 at 500 Highway 128 in Philo.

The first Pinot Noir planted in Anderson Valley was by Wilton (Tony) Husch at Husch Vineyards in 1967. He had acquired the 60-acre Nunn Ranch halfway between Philo and Navarro and planted a 3-acre parcel known as the Knoll block. In 1971, the first crop was harvested, and the same year, the back room of the Nunn Ranch house, built in 1920, became the first modern winery in the valley.

The Festival kicked off on Friday with a Technical Conference held at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds followed by a casual BBQ at Foursight Wines that evening. On Saturday, a Press Tasting of Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs was held at Balo Winery, followed by the Grand Tasting in a tent at Goldeneye Winery. Sunday was devoted to Winery Open Houses. Reportedly, 1,300 people including consumers, trade and media attended the event.

In the following pages I will report on the following: the Technical Conference, the Press Tasting, and my visits and tastings with the winemakers at Balo Vineyards, Drew Family Cellars, Knez Winery, Bink Wines and Signal Ridge Vineyard.

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