Tag Archives: Baxter Winery

Mendocino County, Part 2 – How to get there, Wineries to visit

Good morning! Mendocino off in the distance

From the mouths of locals, check out the wealth of info provided by the Mendocino County Visitor’s Guide.

Driving Directions: From San Francisco to Mendocino (155 miles)

Route 1: Leave the city heading North on Highway 101.  Avoid the temptation to veer off-course and drink Pinots in Sonoma; rather, continue on to the Cloverdale exit.  From there, take Highway 128 west toward Mendocino.

Route 2: As an alternative to 128, you can drive through the West Sonoma Coast region, where you DO have permission to veer off-course and drink Pinots.  Take Highway 101 to River Road just north of Santa Rosa, CA.  Take a left onto River Road for 17 miles, passing through Guerneville, until hitting Historic Highway 1 along the coast, then head North up to Mendocino.  This is a slow, scenic route.

Good fences make good neighbors

If you take Highway 1, I am deadly (almost) serious when I suggest you try to incorporate Hirsch, Peay or Flowers into the itinerary.  All three are exceptional West Sonoma Coast wineries that are generally difficult to visit due to their far-flung location, so seize the opportunity.  Appointments are a must, however, so call in advance. If you didn’t call ahead, you can always try my technique of showing up at the door.  Winemakers seldom refuse you, but don’t say I sent you…

Where to Taste:  Highway 128 leads straight through the Anderson Valley, starting with Yorkville, a blip on the map.  Then 128 leads past the, comparatively speaking, larger towns of Boonville and Philo, before hitting the dramatic tunnel of redwoods that leads to the coast.  The majority of the wineries begin after Boonville.  Most are within sight off Highway 128, with a few up in the Greenwood Ridge along Greenwood road.

If you got an early start out of San Francisco, say 8 AM for a perfectly timed 11 AM arrival right as the wineries open, you can start tasting immediately!  Below is a list of both tastings from my trip, plus other recommended wineries I didn’t have time to visit.  The wineries are listed in geographical order from South to North through the Valley, assuming entry to the region on Highway 128.

Map of Anderson Valley Wineries

Londer Vineyard — Didn’t taste, didn’t visit. Was recommended by locals and has received press for their Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer.  They sold off the vineyard to their neighbor, but still produce wines from the Londer site, as do many other winemakers.  Tasting room located inside the John Hanes Fine Art Gallery, across from the Boonville Hotel.  Thursday to Monday, 11 AM to 5 PM (summer hours).  Call for off-season 707-895-9001.

Elke Vineyards and Winery— We didn’t have time to visit or taste, but heard Mary Elke is not only making great Pinot from Donnelly Creek Vineyard but a reasonably priced American “grower” sparkling wine at $20.  She sells grapes off to the sparkling houses Mumm and Roederer, but decided to make a few bottles of her own. Her wines are reasonably priced for the region.  Friday to Monday, 11 AM to 5 PM.  No appointment.

Tasting through the Breggo line-up

Breggo— My first stop of the trip.  Humble tasting room, excellent wines.  Disappointed to know that Cliff Lede bought them out (the purist in me likes family wines to stay in the family), but the juice was still high-quality.  The Alsatian varieties and the less expensive Anderson Valley Pinot were highlights. Daily 11 AM to 5 PM.  No appointment.

Goldeneye — Charming, country tasting room, with outdoor picnic tables and tableside tasting service; found the wines to be lacking in character, particularly for the prices.  Owned by another major player, Duckhorn in Napa.  Daily 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM, reservations suggested.

Elegant tableside tasting service at Goldeneye

Drew Family Cellars — One of the highlights of the trip and the reason I fell in love with the region.  The wines are savory and earthy with notes of the forest floor; a rarity in Cali Pinot these days. Loved the FogEater and Weir Vineyard. This is a do not miss.  The tasting room is located inside The Madrones.  Open 11 AM – 5 PM, but not every day.  Call ahead.

The Madrones (multiple tasting room facility) — While in the building tasting Drew, you can check-out Lula Cellars and Bink.  Lula has a friendly proprietor and approachable if uneventful line-up of wines.  Bink wines are made by two women from the Yorkville Highlands, including a lovely rose.  I originally stopped in to taste their Weir vineyard Pinot, but found it less interesting than others on offer.

Berridge — Intense, aromatic Pinots; another favorite of the trip. However, the vineyard designates are a $100 a bottle.  Production is miniscule, so if you can afford it, you are one of few with the privilege.  Budget for a bottle (two if you’re rich), but wait to purchase at the end of your trip in case you find others you like for less.  Tasting room at The Madrones building.  Open Seasonally, Friday – Monday, 11 AM to 6 PM, or with an appointment in off-season.

Phillips Hill Estates— Toby Hill, a formally trained artist now winemaker, samples and sells his wines in this country-chic tasting room off the highway.  Each bottle label features his artwork. I enjoyed the Gewürztraminer at $18, as well as the Oppenlander and Wiley vineyard Pinots.  Daily 11 AM to 5 PM.

Toby Hill’s original art on every Phillips Hill label

Toulouse Vineyards— Former fireman turned winemaker, and beloved by everyone in the region, Vern Boltz produces a handful of balanced Pinots, a rose and a few Alsatian varietal whites.  Daily 11 AM to 5 PM.

Phil Jr. at Baxter’s Greenwood Ridge Winery

Baxter — Love the elegant, pure Pinot Noir fruit of Baxter wines.  Another regional favorite! They make an unusual Carignan as well.  Brand new tasting room opening in downtown Philo in October/November 2012.  See my winery profile for more on Baxter.

Navarro — Didn’t visit, didn’t taste, but they are one of the better known wineries of the region. Daily 9 AM – 5 PM, 6 PM during summer.  No charge, no reservations.  This is a good one to catch on the way out of town, or for an early start to the day, since they open at 9 AM.

Black Kite — Didn’t visit, but tasted the wines on recommendation after returning from trip.  Wow.  Pinots are intense and profiles varied, depending on the vineyard. Would definitely seek an in-person visit on a return trip.  Small, family winery focusing on artisanal Pinot.  No tasting room open to public; email info@blackkitecellars.com or call 415-923-0277 to ask for an appointment.

Standish Winery (their website isn’t working, so link is to another informational site) — Recommended by locals, Standish is located in a 2-story apple dryer from the late 1800’s.  Extremely limited production wines; as a result, on the pricey side.  Only tasted one or two, as they were out of many bottlings at time of visit.  Worth a look for the atmospheric digs alone.  Daily 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM, Friday-Saturday until 5 PM.

Standish Winery tasting room in an old apple dryer

Lazy Creek — Well-known, older winery as far as Anderson Valley recognition goes.  Excellent white Alsatian varietal wines made here.  Brought several back, which is saying something considering the limited space in my wine shipper.  New winery under construction, so tasting room temporarily closed.  Check their site for updates.

Husch — Didn’t visit, didn’t taste.  Recommended by locals.  Tasting room in an old pony barn with outdoor picnic tables.  Daily 10 AM – 5PM, summer until 6 PM.

Roederer Estate— Didn’t visit, but have had the sparkling wines in the past.  Focus is on bubbles, a nice change from all the Pinot drinking.  (Strangely, website is not functioning, so I don’t know tasting room hours.)

Exotically themed decor of Handley’s tasting room

Handley — Interesting tasting room featuring international folk art, but wines overall came too generously recommended, although I appreciated the RSM and Zin.  They have a big line-up of styles and varieties, from whites, reds and sparkling in a range of price points, so tasters might find a gem or two.  Daily 10 AM to 5 PM, summer until 6PM.

Esterlina Vineyards — Located in the smallest AVA in the country, Cole Ranch, Esterlina has a dramatic ridge top perch offering sweeping valley views.  Tasting room, however, is a little rough around the edges.  Perhaps expectations were set too high based on all the praise, but I found the wines underwhelming for the price point.  Tasting by appointment only.

Claudia Springs — Didn’t visit, didn’t taste.  Recommended by locals.  Call the tasting room for hours: 707-895-3993

Next up: Where to stay!

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The Winery Report – Baxter Winery, Mendocino, California

The Winery Report: Baxter Winery

By Lauren Mowery

Phil Jr. at the “wine-cabin in the woods”

Who: Baxter Winery.  A small, family affair. Phil Baxter Sr. heads up vineyard management and finances, having been in the biz since ’69, which includes a 10-year gig as head winemaker for Rutherford Hill.  Phil Baxter Jr., Baxter winemaker, earned his winemaking creds first from UC Davis; then later in Burgundy at Domaine de La Vougeraie, Domaine Raymond Launay and several spots in Napa.  His wife, Claire Baxter is the marketing brains behind the team, with seven years PR experience.

Wine: Small-production, single-vineyard Pinot, with a Rosé, Carignan and Zinfandel to round out the portfolio. Their top of the line Pinot is expensive at $60, but quality is high and only 150 cases of the Oppenlander were produced.

When: Founded in 2002.

Where: Mendocino, California. The winery is perched on a ridge-top above the Anderson Valley, a glorious 4-mile stretch from the Pacific Ocean.  Grapes are sourced from vineyards throughout the region including Oppenlander, Run Dog, Langly and Caballo Blanco.

Why: Winemaking is their life, their trade. They are the antithesis of the uber-rich who scoop up land to erect temples and bottle egos.   They live where they work, and are humble, young and cool. They are having fun, but take their wine seriously, and they care for their wines as much as their neighbors whom they depend upon to grow much of their fruit. They prove multi-million dollar facilities aren’t required. They make it a pleasure to drink wine because it is pure and simple and good.

How (to visit and buy): The winery isn’t open to the public. Call for an appointment.  Wines can be purchased online or through their Club Baxter Membership.

The Comedy Cellar with Phil Jr.! Two shows a day, folks. Except during harvest.

The Visit:

Driving along Greenwood Road in Mendocino County, the path lifts us higher into the dense and lofty redwoods; sunlight periodically glimmers through breaks in the trees, stamping holes through the veil of shadows. I finally spot glimpses of the ridge’s famous clouds, pooled between the mountain valleys, creating islands out of peaks.  Although we are mere miles from the pounding surf of the Pacific, the drive feels like a scene from Twilight.  Yet we are on a hunt for wine, not RPatz (or his action figure), and we’ve been told to follow this path.

I called Phil and Claire Baxter about a visit, having heard through the proverbial grapevine that they were making some special juice, tucked away in a “cabin in the woods.”  Their wines, not surprisingly, if they are in fact made in a cabin, are produced in small amounts with limited distribution. I hadn’t come across them on the East Coast, so I wanted to sample them while in the region.

When we arrived, I was bemused to be greeted by a young, married couple, maybe late 20’s (I have been in NCY too long), who seemed fit, happy and smiling—these weren’t your typical Napa/Sonoma vintners. Their home nearby was a 120 year old farmhouse, and their winery was a converted redwood building (cabin!), once a cabinet maker’s shop.  Their set-up was a recluse’s dream, yet they were outgoing and eager to share their story. I thought that I should like to BBQ with these guys.

Phil Jr. had been in the business about 10 years, and his time making Pinot in France helped solidify his winemaking style: “don’t mess with it.” The couple was working with Phil’s dad, Phil Sr., who came to Baxter with 40 years of experience.  Together, they bought the property on the Greenwood Ridge—about 24 acres—and founded the winery before they even had a grapevine planted.  Their mutual winemaking philosophy was low-intervention: allow native yeast fermentation, use neutral oak barrels, no fining or filtering of the wines, and let the grape and terroir speak louder than the winemaker.

Their winemaking philosophy certainly felt on point after tasting the wines.  The fruit was fresh and vibrant, tannins soft and silky.  We went through their current releases, some barrel samples and an off-the-books Syrah I hope to see bottled.  Baxter is a keeper in my opinion, and one to seek out if you are in the region. The drive to the winery is worth the trip, let alone the outstanding wines and the chance to recreate your Team Edward fantasies among the trees.

Nearby redwoods. They don’t live THAT deep in the woods!

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