After graduating from U.C. Davis, Milla Handley began her winemaking career working with Dick Arrowood at Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood. After a three year apprenticeship, she moved to Anderson Valley where she worked with Jed Steele at Edmeades. In 1982 she obtained a bond for a winery and began making wine under her own name underneath her home on Guntly Road near the western end of Anderson Valley. (She later sold the house to Bob and Claudia Klindt who use the now expanded cellar to produce Claudia Springs wines.)
Handley Cellars is normally considered to be the third oldest winery in Anderson Valley.* Whether that is the case depends on how you count but the numbering has no affect on the high quality of Handley wines. The first wine was a 1982 Chardonnay with a North Coast appellation made with fruit from the Anderson Valley and Dry Creek Valley. Later came Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling wine and after a trip to Burgundy, Pinot Noir. Handley now has over thirty acres of estate vineyards, some of which are certified organic. It also purchases some fruit.
Now celebrating the winery’s 30th Anniversary, it continues the tradition of making wines which reflect the vineyards and Handley emphasizes equally winemaking and viticulture to achieve “wines of place.” Lots are treated individually and plantings are matched to the soils that differ from vineyard to vineyard and even within a single vineyard. As Milla says, even after thirty years making wine in the Anderson Valley “the learning process can be slow” and “I’m still learning to understand the complexities of the Anderson Valley.” All of Milla Handley’s wines reflect that learning process and all are carefully crafted and amongst the finest produced in Anderson Valley.
Notes on some of the current releases follow. If you are not familiar with Handley wines you should make an opportunity to try them. If you can’t find them locally, contact the winery: www.handleycellars.com. And note that some of these wines are now being offered at reduced prices on the website and some of Handley’s offerings are only available at or directly from the winery. Don’t delay, they will all grace your table and enhance the meal.
The 2003 Brut, Estate, Anderson Valley, $30, 12.5% alc., 892 cases, is a blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay. The Pinot was fermented and aged in stainless steel, the Chardonnay in neutral French oak. Aromas of toast and nuts introduce flavors of lemon, apple, peach, and a hint of guava before a medium-broad,
medium-long finish with persistent citrus notes. It has good acidity and mousse and a lively palate feel. Lovely alone, it also pairs well with foods and is an outstanding example of an Anderson Valley, California style sparkler. Very Good and bargain priced.
The 2010 Chardonnay, Estate Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $22, 12.3% alc., 704 cases, spent five months in French oak barrels and puncheons, 19% new. A nose of honeysuckle, lime peel, melon, mineral, and a hint of oak introduces flavors of lime, melon, green apple, mineral, and a touch of brown spice accented with good acidity and a touch of tannin. The broad, medium-long finish shows some creamy lemon. Well balanced, structured, and integrated. Good.
The 2010 Chardonnay, [Ukiah], Mendocino County, $20, 13.5% alc., 616 cases, replaces the Chardonnay which Handley made from a vineyard it owned in Dry Creek Valley and sold in 2009. This permits continuation of the winery’s tradition of making two distinctive Chardonnays with each reflecting its vineyard source. Lemon, lemon peel, apple, pear, toast, and floral notes introduce flavors dominated by bright lemon and green apple with zippy acidity before a long, broad finish with a creamy texture. Well integrated, structured, and balanced. Very Tasty.
Fifty percent of the 2011 Gewürztraminer, Anderson Valley, $18, 13.5% alc., 888 cases, spent three months in old oak and the result is a wine with spice and floral aromas with touches of banana before creamy textured flavors of spice, soft orange, and mild honey laced with nice, moderate acidity. The medium-broad, medium-long finish shows persistent spice underlain with honey notes. Even with its honey notes, the wine is dry and well put together. Tasty.
The 2010 Pinot Gris, [Helluva, Romani, and Navarro Vineyards], Anderson Valley, $18, 14.4% alc., 855 cases, has a light nose of floral, lemon, and orange blossom. Round, mouth filling, bold flavors of lemon and orange with a hints of mineral and sweetness and good acidity finish medium-broad and medium-long with the addition of key lime. Well structured, integrated, and balanced. Good to Very Good.
The 2008 Riesling, [McFadden Vineyard in Potter Valley and Cole Ranch], Mendocino County, $18, 12% alc., 408 cases, has evolved with a restrained bouquet of sweet grapefruit, touch petrol, pear, almost ripe banana, and a hint of nuts. Round, mouth filling flavors of grapefruit-lemon-lime and mineral are touched with a hint of sweetness and finish long and medium-broad. The wine is almost lush with good body and presence. Well balanced, structured, and integrated. Good.
The 2010 Brightlighter White, Anderson Valley, $15, 14.2% alc., 301 cases, spent 10 months in French oak, 23% new. A blend of 51% Gewürztraminer and 49% Riesling, it was made entirely in stainless steel. Aromas of spice, apple, cinnamon toast, rose face powder, and floral introduce broad, light bodied, intense flavors of citrus and spice with creamy notes. It finishes long and broad. Well put together, it is an excellent value for an everyday white that will pair nicely with many foods. Very Tasty.
(Brightlighter is a term in the local dialect known as Boontling. It refers to people from the city who visited Anderson Valley.)
Handley produces four Pinots Noir. Each was handled differently and reflects its source. The 2009 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $32, 14.2% alc., spent ten months in French oak, 23% new. Aromas of earth, red and black cherry, brown spice, and mineral repeat as round flavors laced with moderate acidity and fine tannin. The finish is long and medium-broad sharper and persistent spice. Well integrated, balanced, and structured. Very Tasty.
The 2009 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, $25, 14.2% alc., was aged in French oak, 19% new, for ten months. It opens with black cherry, blueberry, smoke, sweet cola, and lavender before soft flavors of the same plus rhubarb and cranberry and spice at the sides all shot through with good acidity and fine, dry tannin. It finishes broad and medium-long. Well structured, balanced, and integrated, it will be even nicer with another year or so in the bottle to smooth out the tannins. Tasty.
The 2006 Pinot Noir, Holmes Ranch, Anderson Valley, $40, 14.0% alc., 715 cases, was matured in 39% new French oak for nine months. A bouquet of lapshang souchong tea, unsweetened chocolate, and Bing cherry precede juicy flavors of cherry, cranberry, rhubarb, spice, and black tea laced with good acidity and a significant amount of fine tannin before a medium-broad, medium-long finish. This is a big, assertive Pinot that is easily drinkable now but will improve with more time in the bottle. Good to Very Good.
The 2009 Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $52, 14.2% alc., 266 cases, was aged in French oak, 37% new, for ten months. A nose of earth, cherry, chocolate, raspberry, lavender, and a hint of oak leads to bright, juicy flavors of the same plus spice at the front and great acidity and very fine, integrated tannin. On the broad, long finish the chocolate becomes mocha. This is an elegant, balanced, integrated, and structured Pinot that needs another three to five years in the bottle to develop, open, and begin to show at its best. Excellent. (The name of the vineyard honors Milla Handley’s late husband Rex Scott McClellan.)
The 2009 Ranch House Red, North Coast, $16, 15.0% alc., 350 cases, is a blend of 54% Syrah, 33% Zinfandel, and 14% Pinot Noir. Aged in French, American, and Hungarian oak, 30% new, for nine months, it has aromas of blackberry, currant, coffee grounds, and some smoky oak. Sweet accented flavors of blackberry, currant, cherry, and raspberry hard candy are accented with fine dry tannin and nice acidity and finish medium-broad and medium-long with the ground now dark roast coffee and everything underlain with oak. A well put together, everyday red.
The 2007 Late Harvest Riesling, Mendocino Ridge, $29/375ml., 10.5% alc., 245 cases, has 24.3% residual sugar with acidity to balance and keep the wine fresh and not cloying. Floral, honey, apricot, and a hint of spice on the nose introduce flavors of the same with nice richness before a medium-broad, medium-long finish. Well structured, integrated and balanced, it is Good now but give it five or more years in the bottle to mature and gain in richness and depth and it will be Excellent.
(*The question of numbering depends upon where you place Edmeades. Husch Vineyards holds the first bond issued for an Anderson Valley winery with its first plantings in 1968 and Navarro has the second. Dr. Donald Edmeades planted his vineyard earlier and established a winery but it was never successful and an even earlier vineyard was planted by Italian Swiss Colony though its winery was not located in the valley. Ultimately, most of Edmeades fruit was sold to others, primarily Parducci, and in 1988 the winery and vineyards were sold to Kendall-Jackson. As of May 2012, a sign at the winery’s driveway states that it will reopen soon. Thus, no matter how you count, Handley is certainly the third oldest continually operated Anderson Valley winery and everything else is just history probably of interest to geeks.)