Visiting Anderson Valley - a unique language; a special place

One of the more unique spots in Northern California is Anderson Valley. The small wine growing region in Mendocino County is home to some of the finest sparkling wines but is also known for something else - it actually has its own language. Boontling. We recently visited to taste wine, watch a goat festival and see if we could catch a bit of the unique tongue and found a goat parade, flower show and some incredible food. Oh, and how could we forget a favorite rock star brewery as well. 

Our campsite next to Pennyroyal Farm in the Mendocino County Fairgrounds

Our campsite next to Pennyroyal Farm in the Mendocino County Fairgrounds

Anderson Valley’s quaint town of Philo was actually our honeymoon destination after a friend who organized wine tours directed us there from our previous home base of El Segundo. Sure enough we did some wine tasting at that time at Husch Vineyards & Winery and also Navarro Vineyards & Winery. In fact, we even signed-up for the Navarro wine club. That friend sent us up there specifically because of the friendly and quaint feel of the area and the fact that Scharffenberger Cellars makes some of the best sparkling wines in California, period. 

We never made it to taste their sparkling wonders because, while at Husch, we heard that there was a brewery in town and all bets were off. That brewery, Anderson Valley Brewing Company, is still a favorite and you can bet we filled a number of growlers on this trip and bought a lot of beer those twelve years ago. 

In fact, on that honeymoon trip GM loaned us an SSR Corvette-powered pickup and we bought so much beer that we literally filled the bed of the truck. Yes, we forgot about important things. Like luggage. 

Anderson Valley Brewing also is one of the companies that celebrates the Boontling language and you can find a bit of this local tongue under the bottle caps of some of their beers. The solar-powered brewery makes quite a selection of beers but their signature brew is Boont Amber Ale, a delightful brown beer. Their Bourbon Barrel Stout is in my top five beers and is a wonderful mixture of a rich stout and the hint of bourbon. 

In addition to celebrating the anniversary of our anniversary, we were also in Anderson Valley for the goat festival. This was a fun bit of local culture at the fairgrounds and featured a goat parade and plenty of the goats in pens with their youthful caretakers who were all too excited to talk about their animals. That parade featured a percussion section headed by members of the Joe Blow band and I joined in with my washboard and bottle cap gloves. 

We also found that neighboring Pennyroyal Farm & Winery is another place to find goats along with some very nice wines so that was the next destination and it didn’t disappoint. The new, solar-powered venue uses the goats, chickens, sheep and even a llama as part of an ecosystem to help grow the wine grapes in a sustainable fashion. We enjoyed a really nice rosé along with a plate of their wonderful goat cheese as well as an incredible dish that featured polenta and bacon, asparagus, and wild greens which was topped with a farm-fresh fried egg. 

That dish alone is worth the trip to Anderson Valley. The bacon is incredible as is the creamy polenta and perfectly cooked asparagus and that egg on top is just the Coupe d’Ville of the whole thing.

While on the subject of eats, we also visited the Bewildered Pig on our trip there. This is one of those restaurants that features the best of what is available fresh that day and is a bit on the fancy side, but not too fancy. We happened to be there on Earth Day and the natural slant to this restaurant was in full force but they also had two perfumers there who created a special scent for the day. 

Of course the food was good but I also liked the outdoor patio and fire pit and Peggy loved the gigantic wind chimes so it’s not just a place to eat and run - it’s definitely a destination and it’s clear that a lot of the people there were regular patrons. I’d be a regular if I lived closer. 

The Bewildered Pig is one of the signs that Anderson Valley is starting to attract attention from the outside but isn’t losing its rural, funky and unique feel. Together with Pennyroyal Farms and Mosswood Market and Cafe you can definitely have a very nice meal in the town but never feel bad wearing shorts and that shirt that is clinging to life from the concert you enjoyed years ago. Bonus if you’ve got sandals. Super bonus if they’re Birkenstocks. 

There are other choices for nicer food as well but we just didn’t have the time to visit them all. However a common thread is that there are zero chain stores and the valley is clearly a fiercely independent but very friendly slice of Americana. This is how travel should be - you’re not going to see how this Denny’s paintings are different from the one in your home town because, thankfully, there is no Denny’s. Or Starbucks. That’s why you can actually get good blended coffee here from nice people. 

And there’s Boontling - a language spoken by only a dozen of the town’s residents. As mentioned, it’s celebrated in some of the bottle caps of the brewery and you’ll see Bahl mentioned in a few places which simply means “good.” 

in the 1980s Charles Kurault made a visit to the area to give Boontling a listen and there are other videos where you can catch the tongue. Essentially it’s a combination and bastardization of Scottish Gaelic, Irish, some of the native Pomo language and some other adaptations. There are several reports on its origin but it’s definitely a language with few speakers. 

While at Pennyroyal, for example, they kept referring to their “lay-chee” and I assumed that nobody in the place could speak Spanish well enough to pronounce leche. Nope, that’s another word for cheese in Boontling and that one is a soft chévre-like cheese from goat milk. At the brewery you’ll see “bahl hornin” mentioned a lot which means good drink. Talk about an accurate statement. In fact there are a lot of places to get your “pack-em-out-billies” (socks) knocked off and it’s nice that you don’t have to get “nettied” (all dressed up) anywhere in the town. 

While the town is mostly quiet and relaxing there are a few annual festivals that fill it to overflowing including the Anderson Valley Beer Festival. You’ll find us there in 2018. We stayed at the fairgrounds campground which is a fairgrounds campground and is well maintained by Dotty who’s been there since 2008 this time. Oh, don’t try to make reservations on any fancy computer, you have to catch her on the “blower” (phone). 

We’re good with that - there’s more exploring that we left unexplored and we “Brightlighters" are definitely welcome.

Written by Anthony B. Barthel