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Welcome to Mendocino Wine Country

Detours: The Apple Farm

“Can I help you?” asks the lady stirring a pot of sliced apples and cinnamon on the stove. She’s wearing an apron and holding a spoon, walking toward me as I jolt out of my trance and realize I’ve just walked into someone’s kitchen. Two other visitors are standing next to me, having made the same mistake. We’re all just sort of standing there dumbly as the smell of cooked apples, butter and spices waft into our noses.

You get the sense this happens a lot, though. The woman isn’t particularly surprised to see us, and gently redirects us outside to the bins of apples and jars of home-canned chutney and applesauce sitting unattended in the barn. The whole scene is so tooth-achingly charming; rustic in a sort of cleaned-up, polished way. Piles of apples are neatly stacked, ordered by variety and hand-labeled. Bunches of twigs are tied and stacked so expertly that even Martha Stewart would approve. And, most charming of all is an honor box where visitors pay for their purchases of jams, preserves and apples—leaving to old fashioned honesty how much one pays and takes from the change box.

Out back is The Apple Farm’s garden, a neat little stroll through artfully unarranged flowers and artsy statues. And further beyond, several homey little shacks where visitors can snuggle up under what I imagine to be cozy quilts and fluffy pillows. The whole experience is like walking into your grandparent’s farm, if your grandparents had a farm…and really charming taste.

Run by the Schmitt family—Don, Sally, their adult daughter and her husband—it’s not shocking to find out that these are the original owners of the French Laundry in Yountville (pre Thomas Keller) and are related to the chef and owner of the funky chic Boonville Hotel (their son, Johnny). Hardly recent citified arrivals, however, the Schmitt family has made their home in the Boonville area (actually Philo, population 475) for more than 20 years.

It’s not hard to see why. As Yountville morphed from charming rural hamlet to a bustling, weekender’s retreat, they were ready to move on. The Anderson Valley, with its remote location just inland from the North Coast was just the spot—with a mixture of quirky local families left from the gold rush days, aging hippies and wine-growers. Today, the area is just starting to attract larger pools of visitors, with most visitors heading up for a weekend in the slow lane. But even as more folks are discovering the area around Booneville, its still small enough that if you lean out the window and breath deeply—just about the time leaves are beginning to pile up at the side of the two-lane road—you might smell a pot of applesauce simmer gently at The Apple Farm.

If you go:

The Apple Farm is located just north of the town of Boonville at 18501 Greenwood Road, Philo, California, 707.895.2461.

You can stay in one of several tiny cabins at The Apple Farm, though they’re often booked far in advance by class participants. Classes occur April through October, and include preserving, making apples and cider, and cheese making. Call for prices and class dates.

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