The Heart of Mendocino
Mendocino is the rugged cousin to Napa and Sonoma, known more for dramatic coastal cliffs than famous vineyards. Though it's less developed, everything from Barbera to Viognier to Pinot Noir can thrive in its cool-climate growing areas. Now, Mendocino, home to eight AVAs (with more pending), is also blazing California's trail of sustainable and biodynamic winemaking. And one of the best places to explore this region's green side is at its heart, in Hopland, a small town about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, with big sights on biodynamic winemaking.
What exactly does biodynamic mean? Many winemakers like to say it's a system that goes beyond organic. The vineyard is considered part of a larger ecosystem that includes surrounding mountains, hills and fields, bodies of water and the all the animal life around it. The philosophy was developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century and practices include planting by lunar cycles and using animals like goats as fire control (they're prolific eaters of dry grass). Hopland has a concentration of small, locally operated wineries operating by the biodynamic philosophy. Don't be surprised to hear the bleating of goats or the clucking of chickens as you stroll the gorgeous scenery.
The town of Hopland is tiny, charming and full of enophiles like Bernadette Byrne, owner of Sip, Hopland's only wine boutique. Visitors can sample the entire Mendocino AVA's best or partake in Thirsty Thursdays—a tasting of one specific varietal from the best producers in the county. Close by, the Bluebird Café (13340 S. Highway 101; 707.744.1633) serves up comfort food like burgers (from grass-fed cows), homemade pies and some of the best pancakes in the area. A good homebase is the Hopland Inn ,which was built in 1890. The main floor features a dark wood library and bar/parlor area where guests enjoy a continental breakfast.
The official wine tour starts just down the highway at Jeriko Estate where Danny Fetzer and George Vierra's Sangioveses, roses and Bruts wow visitors as much as the stunning views from the expansive tasting room.
Farther down the highway, winemaker Alex MacGregor's 600-acre Saracina includes an on-site organic farm, estate animals, 300 acres of hand-tended vines and a state-of-the-art wine cave system. Make an appointment to sample the winery's two labels —both the eponymous one and Atrea, known for its white blend, "The Choir." Pattianna, a smaller winery, requires appointments, but is worth the effort—especially to try the popular Sauvignon Blanc and the Single Vineyard Syrah.
With gorgeous scenery, talented, experimental winemakers and rustic country charm, Hopland is a must for anyone visiting Mendocino wine country.
For more information on sustainable, organic and biodynamic wine, as well as tips and suggestions for throwing an all-organic tasting event, read The Green Party.