Mendocino County: Something For Every Wine Lover

Sandy beaches cradle the vast Pacific Ocean on the Mendocino coastline; towering redwoods carpet the forests of Mendocino County’s state parks; in the winter, whales can be seen peeking up from the vast ocean waters, and everywhere you turn there’s a charming little town filled with cafés and curio shops. For visitors to Mendocino County, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had. With all of the activities Mendocino has to offer, it’s easy to forget that it’s also a thriving wine region. But if you skipped out on wine tasting while visiting the area, you’d be missing some of California’s finest and most diverse wines.

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Mendocino County doesn’t always get the recognition that it’s southern sisters, Napa and Sonoma do, and maybe that’s because the winemakers are less concerned with making over-the-top wines that wow the public with high point scores, and are more concerned with the subtle nuances of different grape varieties and the connection between the earth and the bottle. Mendocino County has more organic vineyards than any other county in California, and the many of the winemakers see themselves as humble farmers rather than flashy business execs. But just because Mendocino County lacks the showiness of some of the more well-known wine regions of California doesn’t mean that it is a novice in the wine industry. Wine grapes have been growing there since the California gold rush era. Though prohibition stifled wine production in Mendocino County, a rebirth erupted in the late 1960’s with pioneer wineries like Parducci and Fetzer paving the way of success for others to follow.

Mendocino County encompasses the wide stretch of land just north of Sonoma County all the way up the California coastline to the tiny beach town of Fort Bragg. Included within the region’s recognized AVAs are Mendocino, Anderson Valley, McDowell Valley, Potter Valley, Cole Ranch, Redwood Valley, and Mendocino Ridge. With such a vast expanse of land under vine, and with each region possessing its own unique climate, it’s no wonder that the wines from Mendocino County run the gamut of grape varieties and styles, from the lean racy Rieslings of Anderson Valley to the bold, spicy Zinfandels of Redwood Valley.

One of the highlights of wine touring in Mendocino County is by far the picturesque region of Anderson Valley. A relaxing drive along Highway 128 through the sleepy towns of Boonville and Philo will bring you to a smattering of quaint little tasting rooms, which are often filled with paintings by local artists and run by friendly staff who know the area inside and out. Anderson Valley could be said to be the Alsace of Northern California, as its cool climate has led many winemakers to produce fine wines made up of the traditional varieties of Alsace—grapes that find little success in other regions of California, such as Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling. But Chardonnay and Pinot Noir also thrive in Anderson Valley, and in addition to making delicious still wines, these grapes make up the core of some of the best sparkling wines from the area.

Anderson Valley may be producing some of the most exciting white wines in Mendocino County, but for those who crave bold red wines, Anderson Valley is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from some of the warmer districts where red wines take center stage. For lovers of Rhone-style wines, McDowell Valley Vineyards, the only winery within the McDowell Valley AVA, specializes in Grenache, Syrah, and other Rhone-inspired wines. Just north of McDowell Valley, the Redwood Valley AVA is known for it’s spicy, robust Zinfandels, which grow in the red soil of the Ricetti bench. Many wineries in this region are also making lip-smacking Cabernets, Petite Sirahs, and Cal-Ital varieties like Sangiovese and Barbera.

Also noteworthy for the red wine lover is the Coro Mendocino project. The Coro Mendocino wines are a made up of unique blends showcasing Mendocino’s “heritage grapes.” The crux of the wine is made up of Zinfandel, and no other grape can exceed the amount of Zinfandel in the wine, but the blend can include any of the following grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto, Charbono, and Primitivo. At present, eleven winemakers in Mendocino County are producing Coro wines, and each wine must pass a blind tasting to be given the Coro label.

Even for travelers who go to Mendocino County to hike through the forests or watch the whales, a trek out to the wineries is sure to please. With the vast diversity of Mendocino County’s wines, there’s bound to be something to satisfy every palate.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.