Wisps of river fog, rising from the Navarro River, veiled the Anderson Valley as we descended the narrow ribbon of Highway 128. The valley opened as vineyards climbed their way up the gentle folds of tawny hills. The morning sun quickly melted the fog, revealing curly-coated sheep and flocks of wild turkey. A herd of deer clustered under rings of oaks behind an old split rail fence that zigzagged along the pasture, seeming docile and unlikely to sprint into the road.
Arriving in Booneville we felt transported to an earlier and slower paced era in California’s history, the wooden planks of the Boonville Hotel‘s steps creaked under our feet. This California classic was originally built in 1862 as an elegant stagecoach overnight for travelers heading to the towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. The interior was inviting. Warm hues of mustard, lime, and persimmon walls framed large windows overlooking gardens of arbored grape vines, and beds of flowers and herbs. Were we somehow transported to rural France or Italy? No, Boonville, a quaint and curious remnant of old California just three hours north San Francisco.
Owner/chef Johnny Schmitt greeted us with the welcome query, “Would you like lunch inside or outside?” I was ravenous. He continued, “Here. Could you fill this bowl with purple basil for the pasta? It’s behind the hotel on the right side of the garden.”
I walked through French doors toward a trellis of green beans, hedges of basil, sprawling zucchini tendrils, and towering tomato vines. Around my head swarmed bumblebees and darting hummingbirds. The pungent scent of the garden in the sun was intoxicating. Johnny masterfully chopped handfuls of basil and herbs and quickly tossed it into the pasta. We followed the fragrant, steaming platters into the garden where we dined at a table under dappled shade from a gnarled apple tree and the deep blue sky.
Paired with the meal was a Pinot Gris, from Navarro Vineyards, an amber-rose colored liquid that twined around the flavors of salty lardon bits, piquant jalapeno pieces, chunks of summery tomato and the multi-colored basil folded into the pasta. California now has several wine countries. The Anderson Valley being the country cousin of Napa and Sonoma but all the more delightful as the conga line of tourists is missing.
We ate, drank, laughed and told stories. Delisa, my hedonistic traveling companion, and I are massage junkies. During the course of the meal we discovered that the woman sitting at the table next to us was a masseuse. An affirmative nod signaled that our day was shaping up just fine.
We hired a car to tour some wineries before our massage appointments lured us back to the Boonville Hotel. Our masseuse, Debra, dug and prodded and exorcized the tension demons. The woman was relentless and went deeper and deeper. The stress was vanquished. The massage a blissful door to deep relaxation.
I floated into the dining room and our evening meal commenced. Our waiter didn’t seem very waiter like. He was inattentive for prolonged periods without bringing wine or food or water. Time was stretching out and I got annoyed. It was a leisurely dinner but I noticed tension in my mind. I stressed and fretted about the missing appetizer. This led me to wonder: do we create the tone of our experiences with our inner state? Wine helped cultivate these ruminations. I let go of the fact he had forgotten to place my order. As soon as I relaxed and accepted the situation, he got friendlier and told us that he has a family vineyard where he is the winemaker and distributor.
After dinner, it was time to enjoy the quiet of the cottage and get in the gigantic hand-sculpted bathtub. Delisa, who resembles a six-foot-tall Amazon goddess, exclaimed, “Even I fit in the tub!” Johnny later told us that he spent quite awhile personally molding the tubs to achieve the right reclining angle. He would get in the tub while the mud was still drying and lay against the clammy surface. Not many hotel owners go to those extremes to get it right but Johnny did not stop there. He decorated the hotel with a selective eye for clean creative lines softened by warm Mediterranean colors and sprays of unusual flowers with a sharp counterpoint to the careful use of recycled industrial accents. No lacy doilies here.
The next morning songbirds went berserk with the sun pouring in every window like golden honey through the curtains. Another perfect day for a ride and a wine country picnic…
DETAILS, DETAILS . . .
The Boonville Hotel room rates start at $125 and go to $275. An extra person or dog costs $25. There is a two-night minimum on the weekends. 14050 Highway 128, Boonville, CA 95415. ( 707) 895-2210. Google maps
If you’re planning a visit to the Anderson Valley why not extend your visit to take in some of the other attractions in the area?
Navarro Vineyards makes superb wines.
Hendy Woods State Park has many shaded campsites along the Navarro River and a first growth redwood grove worthy of long strolls.
Anderson Valley Wine Growers has details maps and lists of the wineries in the valley.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company makes outstanding microbrews.
Anderson Valley Chamber of Commerce has a list of fun festivals, including:
- April: Spring Wildflower Show
- May: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival
- June: Wild Iris Folk Festival
- July: Woolgrowers Bar-B-Que & Sheepdog Trials
- September: Mendocino County Fair And Apple Show