Pinot and Cannabis? Bloomberg Spills the Beans

dave the wine merchant specializes in pinot noir I know that Elin McCoy, a writer for Bloomberg’s leisure section, had a field day when she visited Peter Knez in Anderson Valley.  Peter is a former financial industry Titan Turned Gentleman Farmer, and he was the subject of Bloomberg’s recent article entitled “Wild West Pinot Draws Banker to Vineyards Among Cannabis Crops“.  

McCoy must have found the beautiful and quirky Anderson Valley to be a pleasant change from news of Occupiers, global financial problems, and Fund Manager indictments.  Best of all, she tasted some killer Pinot, which is always a great way to spend a day.

But it almost felt as if McCoy had asked me to recommend some of my favorite Anderson Valley Pinot growers.  In addition to Knez, – most of the producers she mentions have been included in my rotating portfolio of artisanal producers, which have been given a little additional limelight, below.  

Mythical Anderson VAlley
But first, just where is this mythical valley?  Described as one of the top ten wine getaway destinations, Anderson Valley runs for 15 miles, just about dead-center of Highway 128 as you drive from the ocean at its Northwestern end (just south of Mendocino) to its Southeasterly terminus in Cloverdale (in the Northern tip of Sonoma County).  This is an odd and rare orientation for a valley, as most valleys on the planet run North and South.  

And that’s exactly why this unique little spot is ideal for growing the cool-weather grape variety known as Pinot Noir – with its opening to the Pacific, the valley pulls the cool Pacific air inland to moderate naturally high temperatures, giving Anderson Valley cooler days and chilly nights all summer long.  Pinots from vineyards in this area are typified by aromas of cherry juice, spicy cedar,  and roses, with a leanness born of an acidic structure that makes them sure bets for pairing with a wide range of foods.

Car Trip Trivia
Here’s a little trivia you can share on the 40-minute drive from Cloverdale to Boonville.  When you first get on Highway 128, note that the water in the streams flow inland, into the Russian River watershed.  But once you come to the “town” (five run-down buildings, actually) of Yorkville, there is an undetectable shift in the liquid traffic control that directs water toward the Pacific.  And while you won’t be able to see any obvious division, you will note the change in direction of all the road-side streams.

Looking for the cannabis fields?  Try the same approach the DEA uses and see if you can spot the growing fields here on Google’s Satellite map.  And while the agricultural product of the green leafy variety might be the county’s number one cash crop, there’s no question that Anderson Valley owes its quaintness to the wine industry.

My Favorite Producers
McCoy mentions several of my favorite producers, which I’ve highlighted here:

  • Knez Winery – Peter and Heidi’s affordable 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot ($29) was selected for our most recent wine club shipment.  It is, perhaps, the best value in the valley.  Buy it here.
  • Breggo Cellars – This was the first Anderson Valley pinot that was ever selected for our club members, some three and a half years ago.  Their success has led to price inflation, however, and they are now a bit too rich for most of our selections.  Recently purchased by Cliff Lede, of Napa fame (just one of many recent purchases by big name outsiders)
  • Copain – Wells Guthrie crafts Pinots of great elegance, and his entry-level Anderson Valley wine is fairly affordable.  Try the last few bottles of his 2007 “Tous Ensemble” ($37), built from declassified barrels of his single vineyard Pinots.  Buy it here.
  • Anthill Farms – One of Wine & Spirit’s topp 100 wineries of 2011, this three-man operation has garnered raves from the start, and Winemaker Anthony Filiberti doubles as the craftsman behind the Knez wines as well.  Sadly, I have none of this wine in current inventory, and with more accolades than wine, these prices are not going down anytime soon.
  • Drew Family Cellars – Another long-time favorite of our club members, they recently enjoyed Drew’s 2008 Pinot from Rio Vista ($42).  And while that delicious wine is from the also notable Sta. Rita Hills appellation in the Central Coast, it was selected as a substitute for their Anderson Valley wines, which I thought didn’t quite match this wine.  Some years it excels, but 2008 it was merely good.  Buy it here
Another favorite she missed!
  • Phillips Hill – Any visit to Anderson Valley includes a stop at Libby’s for lunch and/or Lemon’s grocery store for provisions.  Well, Phillips Hill’s tasting room is smack dab between the two, and about as convenient as you can get, with their parking lot being the shoulder of Hwy 128.  And while McCoy didn’t mention them, she should have!  Elegant Pinots (including this 2008 from Comptche Ridge, $40), that are built to age, and surprisingly affordable Gewurztraminer ($18) and Chablis-style Chardonnay ($29).  Artist Toby Hill is the man behind the wine, and their crafty labels and visitors will often find him (or his alluring partner, Natacha) lurking in the office  just behind the tasting bar. 
I must close with a confession that I hesitate to further promote this little slice of heaven, as the Anderson Valley is ill suited to hordes of tourists.  But my job as a curator of wine is to share my discoveries, and to help you find your next favorite.  One of these is a very likely candidate.