Saturday, June 27, 2009

One Day in the Anderson Valley

The Anderson Valley in Mendocino County is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Napa Valley. Tasting rooms tend to be small, friendly, and less pretentious. If you like PinotNoir, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and other Alsatian varietals, you'll enjoy a day of winetasting in the Anderson Valley.

Seventeen wineries that are members of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers have tasting rooms that are open to the public for drop-in tasting. Over the past few years I have visited all of these tasting rooms except for Brutacao. Here's my list of tasting rooms to visit if I had but one day in the Anderson Valley and did not want to make any appointments.

Navarro Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in the Anderson Valley. The wines are terrific and the tasting room is friendly. Navarro produces a wide variety of wines with grapes from the Anderson Valley and other regions in Mendocino County. It's a great spot for a picnic lunch.

Roederer Estate consistently produces some of the best sparkling wine in California. When Champagne Louis Roederer planted its first vineyards in the Anderson Valley in 1982 and released its first wine in 1988, the world noticed.

Toulouse Vineyards is nothing fancy. You just taste some great wines among the tanks and barrels. Plus I'm a sucker for silly mottoes like "Too tense, Toulouse."

Claudia Springs Winery's tasting room makes Toulouse's look pretentious. The tasting room is in an old building with "warehouse ambiance" on the side of route 128. When we visited, Claudia walked us through an array of Claudia Springs and Harmonique wines.

I like folk art as does Milla Handley, winemaker and owner of Handley Cellars. When you visit the tasting rooms, you get to taste some pretty good wine and see part of Milla's folk art collection. Like Navarro, Handley Cellars makes a wide array of wines.

Since five wineries is the most I can visit in one day, I'm going to stop here. I've limited this posting to wineries that do not require appointments. If you want to make an appointment or two, you might check out Esterlina, Londer, or Foursight. If you would like to take a private tour of the Anderson Valley and the Mendocino Coast that includes visits to some of these wineries, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Too Tense? Toulouse

Toulouse Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery, made its first wine in 2002. Today Toulouse makes well regarded Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Rosé. The wines had been commended to me so I thought I would check out the winery on my recent visit to the Anderson Valley.

I knew I would like Toulouse as I soon as I saw the sign with the large duck and the winery's motto, "Too Tense? Toulouse." The tasting room is inside the winery and has no pretensions. The staff is friendly and guides you through a leisurely tasting of Toulouse's current releases. When we tasted the rose, we were given a small creme brulee to pair with the wine. I've never been a Rosé fan, but I loved the creme brulee.

If you're winetasting in the Anderson Valley, you'll taste a lot of Pinot Noir and Alsatian varietals. I would definitely include Toulouse as a stop during your visit. The tasting room is open daily from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. If you would like to take a private tour of the Anderson Valley and the Mendocino County Coast, please contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Monday, June 08, 2009

Northern California: An Explorer's Guide

This new guidebook, written by San Francisco resident, Michele Bigley, was just released on June 1. It's a great resource for travel in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and all of Northern California - from Big Sur to the Oregon border.

Here's what Michele had to say about Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel, "A wealth of knowledge, Rick takes folks on customized tours of the Bay Area, Wine Country, Central Coast, Mendocino, and even the Sierra Foothills. You tell him what you want and he'll create the ideal trip. He knows more about wine and food than most."

Many thanks to Michelle for the nice review. If you're planning a trip to San Francisco, you can pick up "Northern California: An Explorer's Guide" at most good bookstores.

If you'd like to take a tour with a guide who "knows more about wine and food than most," please phone me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me at

Monday, June 01, 2009

Great Breakfast on the Mendocino Coast

As I've written in the past, the small village of Elk is one of my favorite places on the Mendocino coast. There are at least 5 bed and breakfasts sitting on the bluff overlooking the coast.

On our recent trip, we stayed in a vacation rental so had to cook our own breakfast or eat out. We, of course, headed to Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe. This unpretentious restaurant shares an old building with an auto mechanic. When you walk into the cafe, you are likely to see locals and tourists enjoying Queenie's egg dishes, waffles, pancakes, and other breakfast specialties. You'll also notice the fresh made pie sitting on the counter and the many signs on the walls extolling the virtues of being a Queen.

Come with an appetite as the portions are huge. But don't come if you're in a hurry. Each dish is individually prepared by Queenie herself so your breakfast may take some time to come to the table. Just remember that you're on vacation and good food is the top priority. Also, people watching on the Mendocino coast can be interesting. To paraphrase Dorothy, you'll know that you're not in Kansas anymore. When the food arrives at your table, you won't be disappointed.

Queenie's is open for breakfast and lunch from Thursday through Monday. Elk is located on California Route 1 about 20 minutes south of the town of Mendocino. Queenie's has a street address but it won't do you much good. Just look for the sign on the inland side of the road near the southern end of Elk. If you're coming from the Anderson Valley, take the Philo-Greenwood Road and turn right on Route 1.

If you would like to take a private tour of the Anderson Valley wine country and the Mendocino County coast that includes one of Queenie's meals, please contact contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 or