Daytripping Mendocino County: Heirloom Apples and Warm-Weather Wines

Philo’s Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

The end of Labor Day Weekend is a milestone that I anticipate every year. For one thing, it’s the last three-day weekend of the season, which is fine by me, since I don’t have normal weekends off anyway. Unlike most people in America, I derive zero joy from the almighty three-day weekend. Monday holidays make restaurant work extra difficult, as Saturday and Sunday essentially become back-to-back Saturdays (already the most difficult day of the week), and an otherwise benign Monday is subsequently transformed into a Sunday (the second-most difficult day of the week). But that’s just the perspective of a line cook, although I do admit, there’s an inherent satisfaction in pushing out an insane amount of covers over a three-day span, at least every once in a while.

Beyond my own professional gripes, the end of Labor Day also means something more important: The height of Gravenstein Apple season in Mendocino County. For the past several years, I’ve made a post-Labor Day pilgrimage up to the Boonville-Philo area to stock up on heirloom apples and to procure enough “warm-weather” wine — bubbly, whites, and rosés — to see myself through the end of summer. A day trip to Mendocino County is the best way to escape the congestion of Napa Valley, to decompress after the last crazy weekend of the summer, and to enjoy the open roads of Northern California.

A Taste of History: The Gravenstein Apple arrived in America in 1790.

Gravenstein apples are an heirloom varietal worth seeking out. These apples are listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, which serves to promote noteworthy foods (and methods of food preparation) that are in danger of extinction. The Gravenstein has its American roots in Sonoma County — specifically, the town of Sebastopol — where it was originally planted at Fort Ross by Russian settlers in the early 19th century (German settlers are credited with first introducing the apple to California in the late 18th century). Before being planted in America, the Gravenstein established its earliest origins in 17th century Europe, within the gardens of the Duke of Augustenburg, who presided in Schleswig-Holstein’s Graefenstein Castle (now a part of Southern Denmark).

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A large still-life of Philo Gold Apples, an offshoot of the popular Golden Delicious varietal, provides the backdrop to the Apple Farm’s self-serve stand. The honor system applies.

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Shhhhhh. Wine tasting in Mendocino County is vastly underrated. At least for me, it appeals to my bargain-hunter side, and it’s the go-to place for light and refreshing wines. Aside from the occasional Pinot Noir, I really don’t seek too many reds when I’m roaming the Anderson Valley; I can find plenty of Cabernet here in the Napa Valley, and I can find plenty of Pinot Noir over in Sonoma. Instead, I typically trek to Mendocino to search for easy-drinking wines, usually priced around $20 per bottle. These may include the terrific sparklers from Roederer, the German varietals of Navarro, or the Rosé of Pinot Noir from Toulouse (although I do enjoy the regular Pinot Noir from Toulouse, as well).

As a line cook, I’m pretty much over $100 Napa Cab (although I still have a decent collection to drink through), and I’m also over wine reviews, especially the ones that assign points and silly flavor descriptors. Can we ever move past this pretense? Probably not. So I’ll just go ahead and mention what I enjoyed, with price as the main context. But really, why would you tolerate wine recommendations from a line cook and an amateur blogger? Well, nobody’s opinion matters anyway. But if it means anything, I’m a Certified Specialist of Wine, and even worse yet, I’m the winner of the Napa Valley Vintners 2009 Battle of the Palates. I’ve tasted a lot of local juice to get there.

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Please click any image for a full-screen view of the tasting sheet.

Circled numbers represent the order of the tasting. Stars represent wines that I would consider purchasing at the retail price. I actually took home the 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir. It’s one of the few California rosés (non-sparkling) that I enjoy.

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The Xs represent wines tasted, in order. “RS” stands for residual sugar, proving I’m still a wine geek at heart. Stars represent wines that I would consider purchasing at the retail price. I took home the 2010 Pinot Gris, the 2010 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer, and the 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir (a pleasant 13.7% alcohol).

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Circled numbers represent the order of the tasting. Stars represent wines that I would consider purchasing at the retail price. I took home the Brut Rosé, the 2003 L’Ermitage Brut, and two bottles of the Extra Dry.

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1 comment to Daytripping Mendocino County: Heirloom Apples and Warm-Weather Wines

  • Oh my gosh. I just became incredibly homesick. Philo is my favorite part of California! I adore all the bubbles in that area. Did you go to Handley? The brut rose is made by a woman and it got me thinking that the best wine makers are women.

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