The bucolic vineyards, sheep ranches and apple orchards of Anderson Valley often race by in a blur as drivers navigate Highway 128 on their way to the Mendocino coast.
But as more wineries plant grapes in the valley's cool climate and new restaurants open their doors, the rural valley is gaining a reputation as a destination.
"We're getting a lot of day-trippers from Sonoma (County)," said Jim Roberts, owner of The Madrones in Philo. "I had guests check in today who said, 'We've passed through so many times. ... We just wanted to stay this time.'"
Exploring Anderson Valley
The Madrones — a complex that encompasses four guest rooms, four wine tasting rooms, a gift shop and the new wood-fire restaurant Stone & Embers — is located in what's known as the "deep end of the valley," a prime grape-growing region for cool-climate varietals such as pinot noir and gewurztraminer.
According to Roberts, winemakers in Mendocino County tend to be independent-minded. Far from the pressures of Sonoma or Napa counties, they are free to follow the fruit and the climate, resulting in unique wines. And the ambiance is decidedly down-to-earth.
"Travelers are searching for a region that's not quite developed and still feels rural," he said. "You can meet the winemakers, and tasting fees range from nothing to $5."
At old favorites like Roederer Estate, Navarro and Husch wineries in Philo, you can sip delicious sparklers, pinot noirs and chardonnays while soaking in the views and the rustic charm. But more adventurous types may want to seek out under-the-radar, boutique wineries, such as Toulouse Vineyards, Balo Vineyards and Esterlina Vineyards in Philo.
If wine is not your thing, there are lots of other things to do, including beer tasting. Just outside of Boonville on Highways 253 and 128, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company offers two daily tours plus an 18-hole disc golf course.
"We've got 30 acres of land," said Rebecca Toohey, tasting room manager at the brewery. "And some real enthusiasts on the staff."
Tours start in the hops field, then wend their way through the brewhouse and the cellar. Afterward, you can taste a few of the 20 beers on tap, including small-batch brews not found anywhere else.