Why Is Anderson Valley So Good for Growing Pinot Noir?

Why Is Anderson Valley So Good for Growing
Pinot Noir?

Why so many area winemakers opt to grow this delicate, sometimes finicky grape variety

Essentially, we are only 15 miles long, by one mile wide, with such incredible diversity up and down the valley. There are sub-regions we have collectively loosely defined, but within those sub-regions there is even more diversity, which is why as winemakers we are so drawn to this area. – Maggy Hawk Winemaker Sarah Wuethrich

A mecca for Pinot Noir enthusiasts and winemakers alike, Anderson Valley’s distinct regional features and coastally influenced climate create an optimal setting for cultivating Pinot Noir grapes. Carved out by the Navarro River and situated in Northern California with close proximity to the Mendocino Coast, Anderson Valley experiences a dramatic diurnal shift, meaning there’s a sharp difference between its average daytime high temperatures and its average nighttime lows. 

This notable, 50-degree average difference means Anderson Valley sees one of the widest diurnal temperature swings of any winemaking region in the world. It also means the Pinot Noir grapes grown here benefit from slow and steady ripening that helps preserve their delicate flavors and characteristics. 

On a typical morning, a moisture-dense fog rolls in, blanketing the vineyards of Anderson Valley while helping shield the grapes from harsh sunlight. The region’s expansive valley floor, spanning 15 miles in length and one across, remains relatively cool throughout the day, with the surrounding ridges contributing to the region’s diversity by allowing fog to build up below.  

Higher-elevation vineyards, some of which sit above the fog line, garner more sunshine and wind than their lower-elevation counterparts, resulting in a slower ripening process. This allows grapes to develop complex flavors without losing their acidity, ensuring that the resulting red, white, rosé and sparkling Pinot Noir wines produced there hit a high note in terms of both ripeness and freshness.

Exploring the Deep End Part of the Wine Region With Sommelier Tonya Pitts

Sitting at around 300-600 feet in elevation and known locally as the “Deep End,” the northwesternmost portion of Anderson Valley sits about 15 miles from the coast. The area’s distinct climate characteristics make it the coolest grape-growing region in the Valley. Cool temperatures and coastal fog make it well-suited for the cultivation of delicate, finicky grape varieties like Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, and many winemakers in The Deep End capitalize on this, crafting wines that take advantage of the area’s unique terroir.  Sommelier Tonya Pitts led a rare discussion in 2021  with winemakers about this unique area of our wine region.

Anderson Valley Deep End Region

Take Wiley Vineyard and one of its winemakers, Derek Rohlffs of Bravium Wines. A minimalist and traditionalist, Rohlffs approaches winemaking by focusing on simplicity and concentrating on Pinot Noir and other grape varieties that thrive in cooler climates. In the 2021 webinar focused on the Deep End, Rohlff explains Wiley is “a little bit elevated… and our highs are a little lower, and our lows are a little higher. It’s a farming advantage in the Deep End. Frost isn’t something that keeps us up at night like it does others in the Valley.”

Anderson Valley’s Pinot Noir Festival, held annually each spring, presents the perfect opportunity to sip on some of Rohlff’s Pinot Noir as well as offerings from other Deep End Pinot Noir producers. Handley Cellars, a family-owned winery set atop almost 60 Deep End acres, will serve up Pinot Noir produced at its Estate Winery Vineyard, while Philo Winemaker Sarah Wuethrich will also pour estate Pinot Noir, sharing wine made from grapes grown exclusively at Maggy Hawk’s redwood-surrounded Deep End Maggy Hawk Vineyard.  

Higher Elevation Conditions Offer Different Opportunities for Grapes & Winemaking

Perched atop the eastern and western ridges of Anderson Valley, standing proudly at elevations surpassing 900 feet, lies a domain of cool serenity distinct from the valley floor below. Here, where the fog curls and dissipates beneath these elevated areas, vineyards sit in a varying microclimate. Sitting above the fog line, they enjoy uninterrupted sunlight and a constant flow of wind, helping to guard against extremes. With the morning sun reaching the vines quicker than those saturated with fog, their temperatures are moderated by the persistent breeze. Throughout the day, they reach 10 to 15 degrees apart from their counterparts in the lower reaches.

With elevation, the vines thrive from the sun and protective wind, producing wines of distinction and character. Some believe the most celebrated wines in Anderson Valley are located within the inversion banana belt areas of the appellation, such as Handley Cellar’s RSM vineyard, which was planted by Rex McClellan, Mila Handley’s husband or Golden Fleece Vineyard planted in 1979 and farmed by Justin Miller. Anderson Valley’s mountain-top vineyards produce highly regarded wines without experiencing the extreme diurnal shift of the lower elevation areas of the wine region..

Dive Into Pinot Noir at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Fest BBQ & Grand Tasting

Guests can get a taste of a variety of Pinot Noir produced by Lula Cellars and its winemaker, Matt Parish, during the spring red wine festival, with Lula Cellars serving as the host of the 2024 Casual BBQ & Sunset in the Vineyard Friday, May 17. Featuring live music, delectable BBQ and plenty of wine, the event promises great food, great company and great conversation in a casual, laidback setting.

Grapes grown in the Wendling Vineyard, the furthest northwest site in Anderson Valley, will also have their time to shine during Pinot Noir Fest, with several local wine producers taking advantage of the site’s cool climate and maritime influences to craft their own Pinot Noir varieties. Ask Black Kite Cellars, Cobb Wines, Drew Family Wines, Littorai Wines, or Texture Wines about this incredible vineyard site.

Look for these and other small producers at this year’s Pinot Noir Fest, slated for Friday through Sunday, May 17 through 19, 2024, in Anderson Valley, and ask them about the passion, craftsmanship and artistry they pour into every bottle. 

Use these questions as a guide when chatting up Anderson Valley winemakers – or feel free to come up with your own! 

  • What unique elements of the Anderson Valley terroir do you think shine through in your Pinot Noir? How do you work to preserve or protect them?
  • How does the location of your vineyard influence your Pinot Noir’s flavor profile?
  • When it comes to crafting Pinot Noir, how do you balance tradition with innovation? 
  • What’s your favorite food to pair with your Pinot Noir?

Versatile and distinct, Pinot Noir produced in the Deep End and throughout Anderson Valley exemplifies the region’s viticultural excellence. Whether visiting for the Pinot Noir Festival or just passing through, stop into a local winery or tasting room and see why so many winemakers and wine enthusiasts alike consider Anderson Valley one of the best places in the world to produce and sample Pinot Noir.