A couple of months ago, I wrote about my early encounters with winery tasting room in Sonoma County. Back then, I promised to write about the early days of tasting rooms in Anderson Valley. While the early history of Anderson Valley tasting rooms isn’t scintillating, a promise was made and promises should be kept.
When the Newman family arrived in Anderson Valley in 1957, there were no tasting rooms here. Zilch. Zero. Nada. There were few vineyards – two or three small ones on the western ridges and one or two near Boonville - and no wineries in Anderson Valley back then. Anyone wanting to taste in Anderson Valley had to settle for apple juice. Whether from Johnny Peterson’s, Art’s Apples or Gowan’s Oak Tree, the apple juice (always unfiltered) was dark, sweet, delicious and served in a paper cup. Though I remember it being offered, I cannot recall buying a cup of apple juice. We bought it – mostly frozen and always in glass bottles – by the gallon.
New vineyard plantings and new wineries began arriving in Anderson Valley in the 1960s. Edmeades Vineyards was established by Dr. Donald Edmeades in 1962: Husch Vineyards was established by Tony and Gretchen Husch in 1968. Both families spent their early years in Anderson Valley planting vineyards.
Though Husch Vineyards began later, it opened Anderson Valley’s first tasting room in 1971, in a small old granary near the front of the property. I remember visiting that tasting room early on. The room was unusually dark and the one wine that stood out was a rosé made by blending Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Oddly, despite spending plenty of time in Anderson Valley in the mid-1970s, that may have been my only visit to the Husch Vineyards tasting room.
Edmeades Vineyards opened the valley’s second tasting room soon after, though in the beginning it was little more than a large table at the door of the apple dryer that had been converted into the winery. It was supplanted by a dedicated – but still rustic – tasting room in a nearby wooden shed. I began visiting Edmeades Vineyards around 1974, soon after Jed Steele became winemaker. Those visits were mostly for buying rather than tasting. Priced nominally and sold almost exclusively at the winery, Edmeades Anderson Valley White, a Chardonnay-based blend rounded out by Riesling and/or Gewurztraminer, served as our house wine for several years.
Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn founded Navarro Vineyards in 1974. In the tradition of Husch and Edmeades, their early focus was establishing vineyards. I first visited Navarro Vineyards in 1976. Since there wasn’t a tasting room, Ted and Deborah invited me into their house to sample their inaugural releases: 1975 Gewurztraminer and 1975 Sauvignon Blanc. The Navarro Vineyards tasting room opened in 1980; the first tasting room built for that purpose in the valley.
Typical of the times, tastings at the three wineries were free and tasting room appointments were never necessary.
Two additional tasting rooms opened in Anderson Valley in the 1980s: Greenwood Ridge Vineyards and Roederer Estate, both in 1986. Other Anderson Valley wineries established during 1970s and 1980s - Lazy Creek Vineyards, Handley Cellars and Pepperwood Springs Vineyards - likely hosted informal tastings during this era, though I never attended one. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s, when a plethora of new wineries arrived on the scene, that Anderson Valley tasting rooms expanded from their original base north of Philo to locations throughout the valley. Today there are 33 winery tasting rooms along Highway 128 in Anderson Valley, beginning just north of Yorkville and continuing to just south of Navarro.