Monthly Archives: March 2013

Exiting Boonville

It’s really exiting to see a wine community in the midst of explosive emerging growth. Watching tasting rooms go up and others moving to larger venues with big ideas and plans makes you wonder what it will be like when you return. What a great time to be in Boonville!

Sad to leave Anderson Valley but tomorrow is a new month and that means a new home to this Gypsy. April is all about Edna Valley.


Lots of locals recommend this Mexican restaurant in “downtown” Philo. Any Mexican food lover would be intrigued by what locals say about it. Almost all recommended the carnitas, which is a favorite of this cuisine. But, they have trouble with this typically tender flavorful meat. Libby’s carnitas were bland, tough, and dry. Same dry meat was served on second and third chance visits. One local even admitted to liking chewy carnitas.

Even the chicken caesar salad, also highly recommended by locals, was uninspired. They don’t even use chicken breast meat. It’s like chicken thigh with the skin on and you have to scavenge around the fat and tendons for a thin piece of meat. Perhaps locals are just so excited about the prospect of ethnic food options nearby that they turn a blind eye to mediocrity. It really is a long and winding road to the next town that promises real delicious Mexican food. Got to admit, I’ve been craving ethnic food here too. But Libby’s does not satisfy the craving.

To be fair, they have one of the best wine lists of any Mexican restaurant. But no margaritas.

To fulfill your Mexican cuisine cravings, head to Lauren’s instead. It’s a casual roadhouse family restaurant but they’ve got delicious farm fresh enchiladas, tostadas, and nachos. They use local ingredients whenever possible, never skimp on the best part of the meat, and they can’t possibly be marking up their wines much at the prices they charge.


It’s quite stimulating to see the personality of an entire California wine area emerge amongst all of its different influences. Mendocino County winemakers have a distinctive quality to make a difference and leave the planet better than they found it. It was not only the first county to sell solar panels and alternative energy products, but the first to ban GMOs. It has something like 5 times the organic acreage of Napa and Sonoma. It’s like all the business people trying to develop a lucrative wine industry didn’t come this far north. The ones who came to this county probably did so to get away from industry and live off the grid.

Mendocino County’s oldest winery had some of the newest ideas of its neighbors to the south. Parducci is 100% off the grid. They reclaim 100% of their water, allow nature to treat it, and feed it to the vines simply by creating a habitat for nature to do what it’s intended to do. They’ve got about a dozen owl boxes on the vineyard that attract barn owls who do natural pest control so they don’t have a rodent problem. Sheep take care of their weeds and chickens manage the insects.

But the best part is their wine. Cash in on these low impact solutions that provide you with higher savings. All are worth trying. But the fave for the day is their True Grit Petite Sirah for its hearty blackberry and plum, dark chocolate, and long lux finish. If you can buy wine just about anywhere, why not get it from a place you feel good about and support these values.

Handley Cellars

Anderson Valley is blessed with lots of elegant sparkling wine because its coastal influence is ideal for growing grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, commonly used in bubbles. Wineries like Roederer and Scharffenberger specialize in sparkling wine and may have some still wines but those are not their flagship products. Handley has a unique approach; they make stellar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, among other mouthwatering wines in addition to fine sparkling wine out of their star quality Anderson Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Their female winemaker is likewise full of unique community minded ideas. With some extra space on her property, she’s allowed the local fire department to build an auxiliary fire station to house extra trucks should they be needed in the area. Handley also has a large enough facility to allow micro boutique winemakers nearby to use their equipment.

The staff at the Handley tasting room are food and wine pairing superstars. Most of their events include tastefully prepared dishes invented in their tasting room kitchen. When you purchase a bottle of their wine, they just might send you home with a recipe showcasing that wine so you can become a wine and food star in your own kitchen and amaze your friends, family, and pets. For example, their Rhone style Syrah from the Redwood Valley will knock your socks off with red and blue fruit flavors of cherry and blackberry with a hint of blueberry. Its incredible depth of spice and chocolate with a hint of smoke makes it a delicious marinade for skirt steak that can be reduced with onions into a delicious steak sauce.

Mosswood Market

This place may feel like a coffee house. But they serve bakery style food that includes empanadas and some uniquely delicious wraps. They are best known for their mango chicken wrap. But what takes your breath away is the mango chicken salad, which is most likely the same stuff in the wrap.

Mango Chicken Salad

Mango Chicken Salad

Tender juicy shreds of chicken are tossed with mixed greens and blue cheese, topped with chunks of mango and toasted pecans. Aren’t mangoes a super food? I can’t recall. But don’t try this at home. To reverse engineer this salad, add avocado since it is also a super duper food and only makes any salad better. Also put some spice in the apple cider vinegar dressing (not a super food but a natural cure all). And, while we’re spicing things up, why not add arugula or cilantro to the medley. Then, instead of not-so-super pecans, use walnuts toasted in cayenne for more super strength.

Witching Stick Wines

We all need a little help from our friends. Their diversity creates balance and structure. What works with people, we see in nature all the time. Can you tell yet I’m still pondering the wine I had last night? The first was a Chardonnay with tremendous diversity of flavors and textures that it was balanced and complex enough to start and finish any meal. Its lemon citrus and crème brulee are what grab you at first but it moves on to a hint of minerality with soft summer fruit and then finishes light with little or no sugar aftertaste.

Many different layers of complexity naturally form in a field blend. It’s not a wine blended from different fields. It is the wine made from a single vineyard that has different grape varietals growing side by side. Witching Stick’s field blend is from a Zinfandel vineyard that has a few Carignan, Grenache, and other varietals throughout. All vines are harvested and fermented together just like other vineyards. Yet, it is called a Zinfandel because that grape dominates the blend and vineyard.

What’s in your glass is a bit more elegant than a blend that was made of different juices or simply blended wines. And it makes sense because of their close-knit living spaces and relationship. These vines are like your wingman, teammates, or backup singers. The vines share the same soil, sunlight, wind, fog, and all the elements that contribute to flavor. Yet, they have their own personalities and diverse flavor profiles. So, the Grenache brings a beautiful bouquet of flowers and harmony, Zin has strong fruit and acidity, while the Carignan is the base that keeps the beat going.


You’ve probably noticed the beautifully bucolic white picket fence on your way to or from Mendocino. The Goldeneye regal and elegant building is like a beacon inviting you to stop for a tasting. The tasting room experience is likewise as compelling. You’re first welcomed by a warm intimate seating area instead of the typical wine bar landscape. Then, your wines are paired with petite bites selected to enhance the flavors you experience: aged cheddar, raw almonds, and dried cherries. They are the only ones in the valley to do a wine pairing like this and it elevates your spirit. Everyone knows the hallmark flavors in an exquisitely designed Pinot Noir is cherry. But the salty nutty flavor of almonds combined with dried cherries and rich cheese balances the fruit in these delicious wines leaving just the layers of complexity on your palate.

They start with a lush crisp lightly oaked Chardonnay. Then, their quintessential Pinot Noirs with vivacious red fruit of strawberry, raspberry and cherry just might surprise you. Not because the fruit structure is so delightful but because the crisp acidity and hint of spice balance it so well. While there’s a sense of the earth, it’s not too overwhelmingly barnyard or dusty. Be prepared for some sophisticated wines here.

Table 128

Special occasion meals at the Boonville Hotel are always at this roadhouse restaurant. This month, it is only open on weekends for a prix fixe dinner but every course served would make Julia proud. Farm-to-table fresh ingredients inspire the cooking staff based on the season. So, check the latest menu upon arrival. Their wine list also changes weekly but always has a wide assortment of local juice and bubbles.

Drew Family

The Drew family photos posted around their tasting room make you wish you were part of their family. The wines make you wish you were part of a family dinner. Drew Family Cellars has the only Albarino in Mendocino County. Albarino lovers have probably just left the building. But, those of you who don’t know about this lively white grape, its juice is an amazing pairing for spicy Indian, Thai, or Chinese as well as rich picnic fare of any cuisine. It’s got great acidity and a sliver of minerality with the round fruit of apple and rich citrus of lemon curd.

Then, the reds. Ah, the reds have it all. It’s like girl meets boy all in one sip. Their soft supple fruit flavors are seductive. Yet, the strong structure stays with ya. This small family winery has a big future.


The newest kid on the block in Philo is Baxter yet they were serving some of the oldest wines. They finish their tasting flight with a full Carignan from a 2006 vintage, a grape most would have used for blending because of its rough tannic nature. Yet, Baxter definitely tamed the chewy chalky beast that can overwhelm Carignan. Theirs has a deep dark blueberry and plum purity with light layers of savory licorice. This is from a dry farm, which means the only water they get is from the sky. Dry farmed fruits are stronger having the fight in them to survive, producing more pronounced flavors and character.

Other Baxter wines show similar strength and character. Their Chardonnay has neutral oak so the rich fruit shines through. Their Pinot Noir’s charm might come from its distinctive history. Baxter heard Roederer was grubbing up some old Pinot Noir vines. Not sure why but they often do this when older vines stop producing as many grapes as they’d like. Even though older vines have more complexity, they produce fewer grapes so winemakers have to weigh the cost/benefits of quality and quantity. Luckily, Baxter saved these old vines, replanting them just north of Boonville with surprising success, losing fewer vines in the transition than expected. These must be survivor vines and they sure taste like it. Their Pinot Noir is strong and vibrant with tremendous finish, leaving you wanting another sip long after you’ve left the tasting room.