Anderson Valley can get downright hot, I'm told. No doubt, the mature trees shading a patch of turf in the Mendocino County Fairgrounds provide welcome shade. Even in the midst of winter, it's clear enough: just north of the Lamb Palace, arrayed around a gazebo, thick-trunked redwood trees bear the mark of summer fairgoers past, who have lounged in their shade, year on year, rubbing the bark smooth to a height of just about six feet.
As a wine region, it's Anderson Valley's comparative coolness, of course, that's lately made it a haven for Pinot Noir. But Pinot, most often hitched with Chardonnay in such cool-climate locales as this remote valley, shares the spotlight here with a few other French cousins: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Riesling.
Although the latter two are commonly associated with Germany, France's Alsace region grows them, too, and the style there is much like the style here: dry. For eight years running, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers have held their International Alsace Varietals Festival at the fairgrounds in Boonville. It's a small event, but to keep it even simpler, I stuck with Riesling. Happily, it was well represented.
Truly international, the event includes imports from Germany, Alsace, New Zealand, even Napa. Stony Hill Vineyard's Peter and Willinda McCrea, who make the trip from St. Helena every year, appreciate that this event attracts a more serious sort of taster. Sure enough, only one glass was heard crashing to the floor—to no applause. All the better to appreciate Stony Hill's sizzlingly crisp, floral 2011 Riesling.
Oregon winemaker Chris Williams concurs. Whether or not it's a boon to sales, says Williams, he likes the vibe of this friendly, little festival. And it's great to get another taste of Brooks Winery's outstanding 2009 Willamette Valley Riesling. From down south, look for dry Riesling from San Luis Obispo's Claiborne & Churchill, and Santa Barbara's up-and-coming Tatomer.
Local highlights include Breggo's orange-blossom-scented 2010 Riesling and Toulouse's 2012 Riesling, cashew-scented and creamy as per usual. Greenwood Ridge's 2011 Riesling is lean and dry, with a hint of petroleum—if you know, and like, what I mean—and apricot. And Riesling from Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula—who knew?
Why have I spent so much time talking about an event that won't happen again until February 2014? Because Anderson Valley is not really that far away, and it rewards the adventurous taster who can keep a firm hand on the wheel.
Meanwhile, check out the 16th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, May 17–19. Mendocino County Fairgrounds, 14400 Hwy. 128, Boonville. Tickets go on sale March 15 at www.avwines.com.