Daytripping Mendocino Wine Country's Anderson Valley: Toulouse, Navarro and Roederer

The welcoming sign for Toulouse Vineyards, Anderson Valley.

I’d spent most of the spring stockpiling some quality Napa Cabernets, taking advantage of the lauded 2007 vintage. But while these big reds gain some age and finesse, I needed a mixed case of white wine and sparkling wine to provide some relief from the summer heat. I suspect that the weather here in the Napa Valley could become very serious in the near future, and while most of June has been relatively cool by Napa standards, the end of the month did deliver a more realistic taste of summer, and July temperatures may soar. I certainly didn’t want to be caught drinking the few Chardonnays that I keep on hand. I rarely turn to Chardonnay as it is. Instead, I was looking for some crisp, fruit-forward wines at reasonable prices: Wines that were killer for quaffing, but that didn’t demand for each sip to be scrutinized. Thus, Mendocino County.

• • •

I began the afternoon at Toulouse Vineyards, and I tasted seven or eight of their current releases. I’ve noticed that whenever I visit Toulouse, owner and winemaker Vern Boltz is always up to something, though it’s not always winemaking. In the past, I’ve seen Boltz pouring wine behind the tasting bar, chatting up the guests, and a couple of years ago he was hand-labeling a few of his future releases (for those folks in search of truly artisanal winemaking, look no further). Today, Boltz was building a new tasting room for the winery, which is scheduled to be finished within a couple months (just in time for harvest, most likely). As for the wine, the entire portfolio featured the consistency that I’ve come to expect from Toulouse, and the winery has even expanded its line-up to include Muscat, which makes its debut with the current 2009 release.

My purchase history with Toulouse elicits an interesting pattern: I tend to gravitate towards the same two varietals, namely Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir. Although there have definitely been times when I’ve purchased the full complement of Toulouse wines, the Gewurz and Pinots usually see the bulk of my business. Today was no exception — I purchased a bottle of the 2009 Toulouse Gewurztraminer ($24), and even though I was scouting specifically for summertime whites, I couldn’t resist buying the 2007 Toulouse Estate Pinot Noir ($50). Normally, I would’ve probably also purchased the 2009 Toulouse Pinot Gris ($24) and the 2009 Toulouse Estate Riesling ($24), but I’ve been making an effort to curtail my wine buying, and to just cherry-pick the selections that really demand my attention.

As a side note to my visit to Anderson Valley, there seem to have been concerns and reports about the 2008 Mendocino wildfires affecting that vintage. If I remember correctly, these fires, which were originally sparked by lightning, scorched nearly one million acres in Mendocino County that summer. At the time, there were accounts of ash dusting the vineyards and of smoke obscuring the summer sun. Then, in March 2010, there was even a report in the Wall Street Journal that some Anderson Valley wines were, as some had feared, smoky (Boltz is actually quoted in this particular WSJ article). As part of today’s flight, I tasted the 2008 Toulouse Estate Pinot Noir ($50) and the 2008 Toulouse Anderson Valley Pinot Noir — the latter of which was scheduled for bottling next week — and neither wine tasted nor smelled of smoke (Boltz mentioned that he successfully removed the smoky element through osmosis filtration).

• • •

After tasting at Toulouse, I continued northward to Navarro Vineyards, where I tasted 10 of their 16 current releases. People just seem to adore Navarro, which always features the busiest tasting room, by far, whenever I make my mid-week visits to Mendocino County. And really, what’s not to like about a winery that produces a solid portfolio and that prices most of its wines at $20 or less? I purchased the 2009 Navarro Riesling ($18), the 2008 Navarro Mendocino Pinot Noir ($16!), and the 2007 Navarro Zinfandel ($19). Many other wines were tempting, especially the 2009 Navarro Pinot Grigio ($15), the 2009 Edelzwicker ($13) and the 2008 Navarrouge ($14), but again, I really didn’t want to return to Napa with three cases of wine.

• • •

About half the reason for my visit to Mendocino County was to purchase some sparkling wine from Roederer Estate. In my mind, if anyone cares to discuss California sparkling wine, the conversation begins with either Roederer, Schramsberg or Iron Horse (although I do have a predilection for the sparkling wines from J Vineyards, as well). I purchased a couple bottles each of the Roederer Anderson Valley Brut MV ($23), The Roederer Anderson Valley Brut Rosé MV ($27) and the Roederer Anderson Valley Extra Dry ($23). The latter bottle is a winery-only offering, and the Extra Dry is only a 400-case production (in contrast, the Anderson Valley Brut MV is about 70,000 cases). The Extra Dry features a little more residual sugar than the Brut (since “Brut” means “dry” in French, this concept is counter-intuitive, I know), which really makes it easy to sip. And that was the whole point of this trip, right?


1 comment to Daytripping Mendocino Wine Country’s Anderson Valley: Toulouse, Navarro and Roederer

  • I have to agree with you on how great Roederer is. With one sip of the Brut Rose, I knew why I moved to California. With the second sip, I knew I was never leaving.
    Anderson Valley is my favorite wine area in the state, no offense to someone who lives in Napa 🙂

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