From rustic eateries to pubs, Boonville’s a small town with much to offer
For a short stopover on the way to the North Coast, or a leisurely weekend in the country, head to Boonville.
The old Anderson Valley village is filled with hidden treasures - from a quaint ice cream shop and wild gardens to boutique hotels and wineries.
Settled in the mid-1800s, the isolated farming and logging community also served as a stagecoach stop. Today, the town is accessed from Cloverdale by a winding 30-mile section of two-lane Highway 128.
Boonville's population of just over 1,000 is widely known for its quirky, recalcitrant side, and for its own, now nearly extinct, language called Boontling, which once enabled residents to ignore visitors.
A copy of the local newspaper makes for entertaining reading, especially the no-holds-barred essays by denizens of the town. Founded more than 60 years ago, the Anderson Valley Advertiser calls itself “America's Last Newspaper Fanning the Flames of Discontent” and promises “you haven't read another paper like it because there isn't one.”
So grab a newspaper and a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, and find a sidewalk table in front of the Boonville General Store - the perfect perch for watching the passing scene of old-timers and long-haired Bohemian types, grape-stained farmers, and snazzy-dressed urbanites on the hunt for cult wines.
Then browse for hand-fashioned kitchen tools, natural fiber clothing, and artisan crafts at Farmhouse Mercantile next door. Located in a century-old, peaked-roof building, the store is your grandpa's emporium with a 21st-century vibe. It's run by Karen Bates, whose family owns the Apple Farm orchards, inn and cooking school in nearby Philo; Sandy Mailliard, who returned to her roots in the valley for this enterprise; and Vicki Moss.
The Anderson Valley Chamber of Commerce advises visitors, “Once you cross the Mendocino County line, put your head in vacation mode - don't wait until you ‘arrive.' It's all about the journey!”
“Watch for cyclists and pedestrians, and remember that food made fresh from scratch takes longer to prepare, but is awfully delicious,” it adds. “The slower pace will give you time with your family, your sweetie, or just your thoughts … “
Settling in for the weekend
Before taking part in all the noshing, shopping and people-watching, set up base camp at the Boonville Hotel, a much-lauded foodies' destination.
In a miracle of timing, Valley native Perry Hoffman was available to step in when the hotel's chef recently left for greener pastures. Hoffman, whose grandparents founded the Apple Farm and Napa's French Laundry restaurant, was a natural fit. His uncle co-owns the hotel, where Hoffman worked in the kitchen as a youngster.
After helping earn Michelin stars for Napa Valley restaurants Auberge du Soleil and Étoile and spending five years at Shed Cafe in Healdsburg, Hoffman and his young family are building a house in the valley.
He's producing a rustic, wood-fired menu at the hotel's eatery, The Restaurant.
Hotel partner Melinda Ellis owns the Paysanne, a sweets shop across the street behind a yellow vintage gas pump. Here is where some high school kids have obtained their first jobs, scooping gourmet ice cream and selling housemade caramels, popsicles, and cookies.
Word has it that a new pizza place is in the works next door to Paysanne.
In a lofty, three-domed building a few doors down, visitors will find the John Hanes Fine Arts Gallery & Studio. Hanes has hundreds of artworks on display, including his own striking bronze sculptures.
And just beyond the gallery, the new Disco Ranch Wine Bar & Specialty Market serves snacks and local wines on its rustic terrace. On Friday evenings, the Boonville Farmers Market assembles in the parking lot, where live music sets a friendly tone as growers from around the valley and the coast sell their produce, olive oils, baked goods, seafood, cheeses and meats.
Wineries in and near Boonville
With hot days, chilly nights and fog drifting in from the coast, the Anderson Valley is classified in viticultural terms as a Region 1 growing area, as the coolest climate in which grapes may be commercially grown with success. World famous for pinot noir, sparkling wine and Alsace varietals, nearly 30 wineries in the area welcome visitors for wine tasting, food pairing and picnicking.
On the outskirts of Boonville at Foursight Wines, two generations of the Charles family have won awards for their sustainably grown, unfiltered pinots - Zero New Oak and Paraboll. On hand most days, Kristy Charles, the executive director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, regales visitors with tales of the winemaking history of the valley.