Handley has long been one of my go-to values in Mendo Pinot. After far too long, I finally got a chance to visit them at their unassuming winery North of Philo in the Anderson Valley. Entering into the tasting room you're greeted with a cozy space packed with a haphazard array of folk art treasures gathered by its owner, Milla Handley, from around the world, including a 15 foot long wooden alligator mounted above the front entrance. Her affection for other cultures and their arts found its way into their pleasing African art inspired label design as well.
Almost heading in the direction of artist herself, Milla Handley's path took a turn towards wine during her time at UC Davis where she graduated with a degree in fermentation science. Years at Chateau St Jean and Edmeades, where she was able to work with famed winemaker Jed Steele, Handley simultaneously practiced her winemaking skills in the basement of her home. She and her husband purchased the 59 acres that is now Handley Cellars in 1985. She is notably the first female owner/winemaker in California. Handley has also set a high benchmark of uncompromising quality in their vineyards since its inception. Certified organic in 2005, the winery has been producing their fruit in harmony with nature since the beginning utilizing methods such as wider planting and implementing wildlife paths through the vineyards.
The wines themselves are restrained while still being very approachable for those that prefer a bit more opulence. Working with an array of varieties including Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Pinot Gris, one can easily be overwhelmed with choices. Despite the array of wines, there remains a vein of consistent interpretation across the wineries products. Quintessentially Anderson Valley, the reds have a deeper and darker fruit profile while retaining their acid structure due to the cooler air. Only on the finish does the more modern higher alcohol sometimes rear its head. I find the whites, especially the Alsatian varieties, to be more restrained. They not only offer a new world ripeness to the old world styles, but remain structured and very versatile for pairing.
The most attractive part of the wines from Handley is their price point. Due to the lower expense of Mendocino fruit and smaller market shares of grapes like Gewurztraminer, they represent a consistently quality product that can be found on wine lists for a steal. Of their 17 wines, only the single vineyard RSM Pinot Noir rises above $32 retail. I recommend the Riesling, Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and the ever quaffable Rose.