The West is wine country

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Taste your way through Anderson Valley

For farm-fresh food and sublime wine, spend an autumn weekend in California's least known, most beautiful wine country

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  • Though the Philo Apple Farm is one of the most prestigious cooking schools in the country the farmstand is a rustic casual friendly place to come and go.

    Philo Apple Farm in Anderson Valley

    Emily Nathan

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  • Apples from Philo Apple Farm in Anderson Valley

    Stop by the Philo Apple Farm to pick up apples as well as jams chutneys and ciders.


From the river, we walk across the bridge to the Philo Apple Farm, which is, in itself, reason enough to visit the valley. With its orchards and gardens, its rustic farmstand where chutneys and jams are sold on the honor system, and its handful of modern-design cottages hiding in the trees, the Apple Farm is the kind of place that makes country living look appealing enough to get even the most jaded city dweller dreaming of moving out to the country. Which, in a sense, is what owners Don and Sally Schmitt did.

Back in the late 1970s, the Schmitts founded the French Laundry in Yountville, where Sally was chef, and where Don was the sommelier (as well as the mayor of the town). As Yountville transformed into a world-famous capital of food, wine, and ritz, the Schmitts began to yearn for a simpler, more rural lifestyle, which is how they ended up in the Anderson Valley, a place that was, even more so back then, virtually unknown. With the help of their daughter Karen and her husband, Tim Bates (who are now co-owners), they rehabilitated these orchards and started the cooking school, where they still teach all the classes themselves.

But you don't need to know any of this to appreciate the Apple Farm's appeal. Case in point: our kids. They seem just as content as we are to wander among the perfectly manicured orchards, stopping to watch Tim bottle cider, and to admire Karen's potting shed, which is so meticulously tidy it looks like something out of a Beatrix Potter picture book. We round a bend and come upon a set of cages where bunnies clamber and flop over one another, to the sheer delight of our kids.

As late afternoon light washes over the orchards and gardens, and the sun warms our river-chilled bodies, a chicken crosses our path. Toby sprint-crawls in its general direction while Lilli pipes up: "Need chickens for eggs!"

My husband and I look at each other and grin, proud that our daughter has internalized the concept of knowing the source of her food. And then we drive away, in search of a good glass of wine.


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