Wendy Lamer is the most unpretentious wine genius you’ve ever met. Don’t let her flippant nature fool you: she knows all the stories about every wine on her shelves – what soil it grew in, who did it, and what you should be cooking to eat with it. His roadside shop on Route 128 in Boonville, Disco Ranch, it is the heart of this small community of craftsmen, artisans and creatives of all kinds, equal parts natives and exiled city dwellers. There is more seriously good food in the five miles between Boonville and Philo (to the north) – The Boonville Hotel, The confused pig, wickson, and Redwood Drive-In – which most cities 10 times bigger can boast. The neighborhood looks like a hippie glam place (Philo was once home to a famous lesbian community) or maybe Sonoma before it got so chic. Let’s just say it’s the anti-corporate balm we all need right now, whether we know it or not. There’s even a great cannabis dispensary, The bohemian chemistwhich looks more like a spa-apothecary.
This coming weekend is the Anderson Valley White Wine Festivaland so I have Boonville on my brain.
Lamer, who hails from Georgia, had long been an expert on French, Italian and Spanish wines, and when she landed in Boonville in 2019, she found herself sitting on a gold mine of under-the-radar local wines. . The Anderson Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) is just north of Sonoma County’s famous Russian River Valley, known for its cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. But now that entry-level prices for these wines are hovering around $100 a bottle, the Anderson Valley is getting even more appealing. But really, it’s always been the quieter, intentionally more austere AVA.
In addition to a curated selection of European wines, Lamer has an entire section in his little boutique dedicated to local wines, and I recently asked him to list his top 10 Anderson Valley wineries (and other AVAs in near Mendocino County) that are so small, they don’t have tasting rooms. These are the hard-working wine artisans whose bottles you won’t see on restaurant menus or on city shelves. They are all as hands-off as possible, from full biodynamics to manufacturing with native yeasts. Together, they have the character of terroir wines that speak of this peaceful place. In no particular order, with Lamer’s notes, these are:
“The wonderful trio who met in college saw their dream come true, which inspired me to do the same. It was my business model to focus on small wineries that had no no tasting room. Quality and price were exactly what I was looking for. I’m now on their third vintage of Pinot Noir, and it’s still my best seller. Look for Minus Tide’s Carignan Rosé from the 114-year-old vines from Feliz Creek Vineyard.
“Ashely Holland is known to sleep in the vines to make sure she gets the best sites picked at the right time. Love that she responded to a little addition in the newspaper selling old vine Riesling of Wiley Vineyard – her third vintage in tank is truly liquid sunshine. Ashley is also the winemaker of several other wineries, including the new Brashley Vineyards at Philo, whose tasting room is now open.
“Another excellent trio, Jennifer Waits and Brian Mast, along with winemaker Shalini Sekar, produce small batches of single-vineyard Pinot Noir. I tasted these wines just before opening Disco Ranch in 2019, and they were immediately in my top three to find. With a growing cult following for their pinots, don’t delay buying all the whites they make. Shalini released her first release under her own label, Ottavino Wineslast year with a superb Gruner Veltliner from Santa Cruz, and I’m looking forward to his new version this year.
“One of the best values in the area, Yamakiri also makes Sin Eater ciders and excellent pet-nats. I am sorry to announce that the 2019 vintage will be the last product.
“I met winemaker Sarah Wuethrich more than two years ago, and she quickly gained the respect of the Valley, so much so that she is now president of the Anderson Valley Vintners Association. Sarah has a passion for Pinot Noir – she listens to the vines and walks the vines every week. It’s amazing to taste his four Pinot Noirs side by side and see how different they all are from the same 58 acres. Glad to have Maggy Hawk as new neighbors filling the former Balo Tasting Room space, which has just opened to the public.
“It’s good to see Wells Guthrie making small batches again without the interference of others. His Pinots have an understated, old style.
“One of the most elegant and seamless wines I’ve had in some time – I wish they [brother Patrick and Jack Quigley, along with father, Jim] had done more! I purchased 25 of the 42 cases produced, and am looking forward to the 2021 vintage. Also try Quigley’s gorgeous red blend from Alder Springs Vineyard’s Lunatic Fringe block.
“It’s a shame people don’t see my facial expressions when describing GW Lussier’s Roma Vineyard Pinot Noir. This old school style wine is 100% basket pressed and will stand up to pinots twice as expensive. I look forward to buying more of these wines.
“I tasted with Patrick Callagy and quickly asked where he worked before launching this fantastic label, just to make sure his wines weren’t a blockbuster wonder. Patrick spent 11 years as an assistant winemaker at Radio-Coteau, so he’s the real deal. Its Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc both come from Filigreen Farm and are grown organically and biodynamically.
“I’m keeping an eye on this couple, Erin Mitchell and Randy Czech, who recently purchased a few acres in Comptche. I tasted their 2020 Chardonnay for four days, and it reminded me of the first time I tasted Stony Hill Chardonnay. Anyone with a cellar and patience should secure a few bottles to see how this develops.
In case you were wondering about the name of the Disco Ranch, it comes from Lamer’s days in Atlanta where after throwing a block party she went to bed and the guests stayed and threw a party disco (sounds like a real fairy tale from the 80s). As a tribute, guests hung a disco ball in her living room that inspired the name of the current store (and still spins here).
The next time you are within range, stop by Disco Ranch. Come for a delicious tapas-style lunch on the terrace and stay for a relaxed wine education. And of course, take home a few bottles to compare and contrast. Soon you’ll be talking like a local, well versed in the sensory nuances of Deep End and Mendo Ridge wines.
Tickets for this weekend’s Anderson Valley White Wine Festival can be purchased here.