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Boonville Bound

The Anderson Valley makes an offbeat wine county getaway

An Adirondack chair at the Other Place was the perfect setting for enjoying the view of the Coastal Range.

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As we turned off the two-lane highway onto a narrow gravel road flanked with grapevines, I knew we’d made the right choice. In search of a quiet honeymoon escape after the chaos of planning our wedding, my new husband and I had booked a cottage in the Anderson Valley. Our friends thought we were nuts—Lanai or Tuscany might be more like it, they said—but we knew good food, great wine and isolation could be had a mere two hours from Marin. Our destination, the Other Place, was just what we wanted—four little secluded houses on 500-plus acres of golden, oak-dotted hills. The closest town: blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Boonville.

The cottage we rented, named Buckeye, was perched just below a collapsing barn and a skeletal oak. Inside, we found a woodstove, two inviting leather recliners, a huge bathtub, and a fridge stocked with wine, organic apple juice and milk. Perfect for newlyweds, it would be great for families too: dirt-resistant and durable tiled floors, sturdy furnishings and dog-friendly.

Near the patio, a worn Adirondack chair faced the coastal range. I opened the bottle of white, parked myself and settled in for the sunset. Mother Nature wouldn’t cooperate, though. A swath of fog swallowed the sun without much ado. But no matter—we had dinner reservations: the Thursday night set menu at the Boonville Hotel.

When the hotel’s restaurant debuted about 15 years ago, it became known for what’s now on every Northern California restaurant menu—fresh local food. Ingredients for some dishes come from as close as the hotel garden. We started the evening on the Christmas-lit back patio with roasted chestnuts dipped in olive oil. Inside, we finished our meal with a variety of apples layered into a luscious tarte tatin.

Apples (in addition to wine grapes) are one of the area’s bumper crops. The ones we enjoyed that night were from Oz Farm, along Mountain View Road toward the coast. More accessible for tourists is Philo Apple Farm, an organic orchard co-owned by the family that owns the hotel. The farm has resurrected American heirloom varieties and is well known for its cooking classes (often sold out); the farm’s self-serve stand is a good place to stop for apples to take home as edible souvenirs.

The next morning we caught the view up the valley from the hiking paths above our cottage. Then we couldn’t get to the car fast enough—the grapes were calling. Drifting in and out of cell-phone reception heading west on Highway 128, I made an appointment at Esterlina Vineyards, a family-owned winery.

It wasn’t until we were bumping along on a dirt road, the trees alongside powdered brown with dust, that I realized we were a far cry from Napa.

“Don’t veer off,” I’d been told when given directions on the phone. I wondered: did a lot of people get lost? Then came a split in the road that bent toward a lush green canyon, and my other half, who is

Mendocino County born and bred, reminded me about the region’s third major crop: branching onto an unknown byway could put us smack amid fields of plants offering a different kind of buzz. We continued up.

When we pulled into the winery driveway, I felt more like we’d arrived at the neighbors’ for a barbecue. But the modest house that served as the tasting room had a surprise in store: a massive tiled deck overlooking 30-year-old Pinot Noir vines and much of the valley. The tasting coordinator, Patty, sat with us at the picnic table and presented daring accompaniments that fit right in with Esterlina’s casual hospitality: Lay’s Classic Potato Chips, Cheetos and pretzels. With the Zinfandel, redolent of chocolate and mocha, she served Kit Kat wafer bars—although they were covered in dark chocolate. The Cheetos, I should point out, were best with the Riesling, which had good fruit but wasn’t overly sweet.

Image 2: Boonville Hotel, popular for weekend getaways and dining on local organic cuisine.

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