Discover the aromatic whites of Anderson Valley at the 6th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival

Anderson Valley above the fog (photo: Anderson Valley Winegrowers Assoc)

Some of the most popular food wines today are the mostly dry, aromatic whites such as gewurztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc, riesling and muscat.  These rich and balanced aromatic whites pair so well with our California, Mediterranean and ethnic foods. 

Once the province of Alsace France, these grapes are now grown around the world.  One of the leading wine regions in the US for these aromatic whites is the Anderson Valley, a 15-mile long, 2,000 acre appellation in Mendocino County that straddles the Navarro River as it heads northwest towards the Pacific.  With the cooling influences of Pacific breeze and fog, and elevations rising up to 2,500 feet, the appellation is well-suited to growing distinctive whites.

Anderson Valley’s tradition of growing aromatic white varieties is not in response to fashion – remote Mendocino is anything but trendy when it comes to wine or its green credentials as the most organic wine region in the US by certification.  The appellation has been growing these varietals since the beginning of their modern era of winemaking beginning in the early 1960’s with Dr. Donald Edmeades.  He reviewed contemporary studies by UC Davis viticulturalists who concluded that the Anderson Valley had the climate and soils to become a premier winegrowing region, listing varietals like gewurztraminer as being ideal.

Following Edmeades in the late 60’s were Tony and Gretchen Husch who planted chardonnay, gewurztraminer and riesling, making their first wines in 1971.  Longtime lovers of Alsatian whites, Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn arrived in the early 70’s with the specific intention of making gewurztraminer and their winery Navarro Vineyards has been making exquisite wines ever since.  Several other wineries have been making these wines for 30 years and more including Lazy Creek Vineyards, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards and Handley Cellars.

The best opportunity to compare and contrast these varietal wines locally is at the annual International Alsace Varietals Festival hosted by Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association each February which features aromatic whites from leading growing regions around the US and the world including Alsace and Germany.

The 6th annual two-day festival begins on Saturday February 12th with a technical conference between 9:00 am and 11:30 am on the topic of “Old World vs. New World” winegrowing.  In the afternoon between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm, relax and explore the world of aromatic whites at the Alsace Varietals Grand Tasting which will include live music and tasty morsels of local food.  Location for the day’s events is at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds at 14400 Highway 128 in Boonville. 

Cost for the technical conference is $45/person, $65/person for the Grand Tasting (or $50/person for designated driver), or $95/person for both events.  Order tickets at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association website.

On Sunday the 13th, over a dozen wineries will host open houses between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm for tastings of current releases, special library wines and perfectly paired bites.  Check the website for participating wineries and locations.