First, Some Background on Mendocino County – Don’t Panic! It’s Organic.
Northern California’s Mendocino County has historically attracted famous and influential Iconoclasts. Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London are a few of the free-thinkers of the late 19th Century who made regular visits to Mendocino. What did they all have in common? Well, an interest in the Naturalist Moment. At that time, it was considered radical and to many, immoral. The reason being that the Naturalist Movement was informed by the evolution theory of Charles Darwin. The same evolutionary theory that society is still conflicted by to this very day.
Believe it or not, this centuries-long debate of nature versus nurture has a significant impact on what’s in your glass or on your plate given today’s agricultural and winemaking practices. And like Theodore Roosevelt, who made The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 a law, Mendocino County farmers and winemakers are on the forefront of this discussion in the 21st Century.
In 2004 Mendocino County was the first jurisdiction in the United States to ban the cultivation, production, and distribution of genetically modified organisms. GMO-Free Mendocino was a grassroots effort by local farmers and environmental groups, who contended that the potential risks of GMOs to human health and the eco-system had yet to be fully understood. In addition to this commitment, it can be said that the Mendocino County AVA has more organically grown grapevines than any other single wine region in the world.
Now that you have some background let’s hit the trails and see how this region has evolved from Naturalist Retreat to Hippie Commune, to the cutting-edge center of the Post-Modern “Back to the Land” movement for California wine, beer and spirits.
Itinerary For Visiting Mendocino County California
Mendocino county has a lot to offer the Winetraveler, especially unhurried and genuine hospitality. Just a 2-hour drive north of San Francisco, the Mendocino AVA is comprised of 10 Sub-AVAs: Anderson Valley, Cole Ranch, Dos Rios, McDowell Valley, Mendocino Ridge, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Yorkville Highlands, Pine Mountain and Eagle Peak.
First Stop – Hopland
You’ll immediately determine that Hopland offers way more than a pit-stop and gas refill. This 3-block stretch of Highway 101 (between Cloverdale and Ukiah) has been a wine destination for off the grid necessities since the early 1990s.
Stationed with 15 tasting rooms and SIP, an excellent wine shop that features some of the best of Mendocino, Hopland also invites appetites to enjoy Farm-to-Table dining at its best while the warm growing season cultivates Italian, Rhône and Bordeaux varieties. Although Zinfandel, the state of California’s official grape rules here with old vines that date back to the 1800s.
Tastings Rooms to Visit in Hopland
- Blue Quail – Delicious Dry Riesling, Pinot Gris, Organic wines
- Milano Winery – Oldest Hopland winery
- Graziano Family Wines – Great selection of well-made wines
- Brutocao Cellars Tasting Room – Bocce Ball courts
- Jeriko Estate Winery – Most spectacular tasting room
- Saracina – Certified organic, dog-friendly, caves
- Terra Savia – Best local olive oil and excellent Chardonnay
- Campovida – Spacious grounds, oak trees, Rhone wines
Restaurants to Try in Hopland
- Piazza de Campovida – Wood-fired pizza accompanied by a local seasonal menu
- Golden Pig – Authentic small-town, local dining experience with recipes to SIP and SAVOR
- Rock Seas – Chef-driven farm to table restaurant serving healthy and delicious cuisine
- Bluebird Café – BURGERS! Elk Burger, Buffalo Burgers, Turkey Burgers, Salmon Burgers, Ahi Burgers, and Garden Burgers.
Second Stop – Ukiah
Ukiah is the largest city in Mendocino County and an excellent place to make your home base while exploring Mendocino Wine Country. Rather than staying in the usual road-side motel accommodation. I recommend perusing Airbnb, or even better, staying at Vichy Springs Country Inn and Hot Springs Resort. It offers the only naturally warm and carbonated mineral baths in North America.
Or, if you want to explore Mendocino’s Hippie side and get back to nature, consider Orr Hot Springs. This a small, tranquil, clothing-optional resort with natural hot sulfur baths is not for the meek.
Another “alternative” point of interest in Ukiah is the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas with its exotic and spiritual grounds. This Dharma Realm Buddhist University has a vegetarian restaurant, Jyun Kang, that sources its produce from the temple’s gardens and is open to the public six days a week.
Ukiah is also home to Germain-Robin Brandy America’s most prestigious brandy producer. Unlike brandies from the Cognac region in France that are made mostly of the Ugni Blanc grape, Germain-Robin uses high-quality wine grapes. These include Pinot Noir, Colombard, Semillon, Zinfandel and Viognier which have all been sourced exclusively from Mendocino County. These spirits are considered by aficionados to be some of the top brandies made anywhere. You can check out their tasting room and sample these world-famous cordials where the tasting flight includes either the XO or the Old Havana and a taste of their $500 per bottle 30-year-old GR-30. After tasting at Germin-Robin, I always have that warm feeling that only exquisite inebriates can conjure. So, I like to peek in next door at the Museum of Encountered Objects, and the Caddel and Williams Store for spirits inspired contemplations and purchases.
Last Stop – Potter Valley
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention nearby Potter Valley, just north of Ukiah. Here the hills rise and cradle Lake Mendocino and feed the gentle flow of the Russian River. The Potter Valley has over 1000 acres of vineyards but no resident wineries. However, if you decide to visit the Potter Valley’s vineyards and rural beauty, you must stop at McFadden Farm. Here Guinness McFadden showcases the full potential of organic and sustainable farming and has been doing so since 1970.
To be continued…Next stop the Anderson Valley!