Don’t get the wrong idea– we’ve been to Napa and Sonoma — a lot. Love it, naturally. It’s impossible to tire of. Stunningly beautiful, and people there have such obvious and admirable reverence for the soil and the grapes and the food produced. (Imagine the magnificence of the South of France, but everyone speaks English!) This time of year the pruney, sweet smell of the crush is redolent in the crisp night air; it’s utterly magical.

This trip to sunny CA (round trip coast-to-coast $179 bargain dollars) instead of Napa, our destination was a place we’d never been before: the Anderson Valley.  Our mission? Great, outside-the-Williamette Valley, made-in-the-USA, Pinot’s. Headed up route 1 from San Francisco along the magnificent coastline through National Parks. We drove and drove and drove some more–a postcard stunner of a ride.  Midway up we crossed over and headed through the Redwood Forest. (You know all those ridiculous cell towers dressed up like insanely tall pine trees but that really resemble cheesy plastic bottle brushes? Imagine a whole forest of them, but bigger and wider and—oh yeah—real. It was awesome.)

Unlike the tastings in the more famous valley’s just to the south in this part of California, the wineries in the Anderson Valley generally do not charge you for a flight. Yes, we’re talking free. Hallelujah, sister! Free wine for the asking! We stopped at three vineyards/tasting rooms that are a must for every northern-bound bitch: Navarro, Phillips Hill, Esterlina. Wait, there’s more: one of the wineries didn’t even charge for shipping their bounty. Unheard of.

IMG_1640We loved Esterlina’s Pinot, produced on the side of the hill, and went bonkers for Philips Hill Oppenlander and Toulouse Pinot’s; they produce in a burgundian manner, less fruit forward, more balanced and lean. Look for them. And they were so charming they gave us a very pricy bottle that we brought to dinner with us that evening. So nice.

We left the Anderson Valley very, very happy and drove back through the bottle brush forest on steroids to spend a night in Napa. (We’ll fill you in later on the hotel steal of the century in Yountville.)

All this reminded us yet again of the glory—and savings—to be had off the beaten path.