Lorded over by 2500-foot-high hills, the narrow Anderson Valley opens to the coast at its eastern end, allowing a finger of summertime fog to drift inland 25 miles. Pinot noir—a particularly fragile grape—and chardonnay thrive under these cool conditions, as do gewürztraminer and riesling. Up in the hills, heartier heat-loving varietals do well, but you just won’t find a lot of big, jammy wines such as zinfandel in the Anderson Valley. For those, head to Sonoma County’s inland valleys; read our Healdsburg wineries guide for a good primer.) Most wineries allow picnicking; as a courtesy, buy a bottle of your host’s wine before unpacking your basket.
If you see only one winery in the valley, make it Navarro Vineyards. Tucked in a dell beneath rolling hills, Navarro is famous for its Alsatian varietals, particularly a big-nosed gewürztraminer that dances on the palate. Also stellar, a long and lingering pinot noir, and a crisp late-harvest riesling. You can only get these wines here and at a few select indie shops and restaurants, making them an ideal gift. A bonus for non-drinkers: Navarro also makes a terrific selection of unfermented grape juices. Bring a picnic – and your camera: the winery sits in one of the valley’s prettiest spots. Bottles range from $16 to $27.
Pet the cat and meet the ducks at romantic little Lazy Creek Vineyards, the valley’s smallest winery, which lies at the top of a half-mile-long driveway. The owner is a landscape architect as well as a chef, so the gardens are gorgeous—come when the roses are in bloom—and the wines pair exceptionally well with food. Most of them are organic and unfiltered, lending a specific fullness to their mouthfeel. This is the only winery in the valley to grow pinot blanc, and its gewürztraminer vines are among the oldest in America (nearly 40 years old). The funky little tasting room is also the barrel room so it’s chilly: bring a sweater. If the gate is open, so is the winery. Look for the rusted-metal sign, marked “LCV,” on the east side of Hwy 128. Bottles range from $16 to $38.
High above the valley on the road to Ukiah, Esterlina Vineyards has gorgeous views, making it an ideal spot for a picnic. Because the winery sources its fruit from five different vineyard—including the hot, inland Alexander Valley and the (much) cooler Anderson Valley—Esterlina makes a wide variety of wines. In addition to the locals specialties—pinot noir, chardonnay, and riesling—there are some big, chewy zinfandels and cabernets. The winery’s hilltop location and distance from the valley makes it ideal if you want to combine a scenic drive and a bit of wine-tasting, but if you’re a nervous driver (or tend to get hammered when you taste), the winding road might prove nerve-wracking (or dangerous). Bottles range from $18 to $40.
Creeping roses grow up the walls of the 100-year-old redwood tasting room at Husch Vineyards, which has the oldest pinot noir vines in the valley—nearly 40 years old. Husch makes both California- and Burgundy-style pinots—the former more fruit-forward, the latter earthier; do a side-by-side taste test and broaden your knowledge of wine. There are two styles of chardonnay as well, one of which undergoes no malolactic fermentation, yielding a clean, high-acid food-friendly wine with zero butter. All are estate-grown and bottled, and most are single-varietals. For a good photo op, take a self-guided vineyard tour to see the fat trunks of the old vines, then snag a table for a picnic. Bottles range from $9 to $35.
Check out the cool collection of African and Eastern artifacts at Handley Cellars, which makes good estate-grown gewürztraminer and chardonnay. There’s also a worthwhile pinot noir, pinot gris, and an interesting pinot rosé—a nice back-porch wine on a hot day. The wines are definitely worthwhile, but it’s the artwork that captures the imagination here. If you’re into tribal and primitive works, don’t miss Handley. Bottles range from $12 to $30.