Many of the articles on Opening a Bottle focus on wine by the bottle and how it changes from start to finish. But every now and again, a single glass at a single locale in a singular moment creates something completely indelible.
“Damn you, Sunset Magazine,” I was thinking. “You sold me on a place called Boonville, California, and lo and behold, its in the boonies.”
I was tired and road-weary. So was my newly found-out-as-pregnant wife, Hailey. As each twist in Highway 128 revealed yet another oak-laden forest, or empty hillside of brittle yellow grass, Boonville and its namesake hotel seemed impossibly far away. For a long weekend away from Denver in the middle of summer, time in this precious place wasn’t on our side.
But then we descended a hill, and there was Boonville in all its unremarkable glory: just another Western farm town with a county fairground, rustic storefronts and pickup trucks — lots and lots of pickup trucks. The valley scenery around it was rather stunning, and if you looked carefully on the hills, you could make out emerald rows of vineyards — the reason for my interest in this place — crowning each one.
I would soon learn that the charms of Boonville were mostly under the surface, and few places better personified this than the Boonville Hotel. It looked like a general store from the outside, but inside, it was comfortable yet luxurious without a hint of pretension. Reception was housed in a make-shift wine shop, with bottles of all the Anderson Valley’s top producers lining the shelves. It was a subtle but welcoming message: Buy a bottle and settle in. This is the place to do it.
We checked into the Front Room, which was secluded and rustic but with some incredible creature comforts: a couch facing a wood-burning fireplace; a comfortable bed tucked into the corner; a veranda with butterfly chairs; and best of all, a miniature outdoor courtyard with a clawfoot tub, which was completely private and accessible only from a swinging door in the shower stall.
The hotel’s garden was also particularly inviting, with a comfortable gazebo and bumblebees pollenating a host of flowers in the surrounding plots. We both felt like a drink, but given our (exciting) circumstances of expecting, we had low expectations at the hotel bar.
“I’ve got just the thing,” the bartender told us when we informed him Hailey was pregnant. “It’s Pinot Noir grape juice from Navarro Vineyards. No alcohol at all.”
We learned that the winemaker had been at the grocery store, buying grape juice for her child, when the checker pointed out how ironic it was that a grape farmer was buying — instead of making — her own grape juice. She agreed, and now they sold it by the case.
My wife was very understanding (and of course, disciplined) about alcohol during her whole pregnancy. She could have easily asked me to abstain in a show of solidarity, but she didn’t. She encouraged me. “We’re here. It’s why you wanted to come,” she said matter-of-factly.
And so, I enjoyed a glass of Knez Winery’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir out in the garden while she had her juice.
“It’s actually quite good,” she remarked. “Better than most grape juice. We should buy a case for the kids.”
And the Knez was exceptional. Bursting with cranberry and cherry tones, it had a clear identity and pleasant acidity that suited the environment. The next night, after a long rainstorm, we’d have another glass of each in our room’s tiny courtyard — a massive fir tree the only one looking in upon us over the walls.
There is a stillness at the Boonville Hotel that’s hard to describe, but it is the kind that can only be found in … well, the boonies.