STEPPING OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Mendocino wines are finally getting some respect...
After years in the role of understudy, California's Mendocino County is finally demanding its share of the spotlight.
Van Williamson, the winemaker at Edmeades, grins and says, "Mendocino is the Rodney Dangerfield of wine counties. We don't get any respect."
It's a common complaint in this rambling coastal county. "When we first wanted to call our winery 'Mendocino Hills,' " recalls Dick Sherwin, "our distributor begged us not to. He said, 'Please don't use the word "Mendocino" on the label.' "
Sherwin pointedly ignored the advice.
Adds Sherwin's wife, Dorinda, "I may be partial, but we feel we haven't been treated fairly."
Certainly, Mendocino gets the bronze medal among the North Coast wine counties, behind Napa's gold and Sonoma's silver. And for good reason: The county has come out with too many ordinary wines, and exported too many of its best grapes southward. Not exactly the way to convince the public that "Mendocino" stands for quality.
But that is changing. The folks here know that they have great grapes. They know that they're making some good wines. Now, they're putting it all together.
Mendocino is a huge county, the largest of the important coastal winegrowing districts and more than four times the size of Napa. But part of the perception problem is that Mendocino is really two counties—a study in contrasts. Both regions contain vineyards and produce wines as distinctive as the places from which they come.
One Mendocino starts at the rocky coast, cold and windswept for much of the year, and reaches about 20 miles inland before coming to a halt where the first coast range stops the maritime fog in its tracks. This is Anderson Valley, cool-climate Mendocino, where early-ripening varieties, like Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Riesling thrive.
The other Mendocino is the sheltered inland. Here, broad, rolling valleys and benchlands flank the Russian River. Under steady summer sunshine, thick-skinned red grapes easily ripen fully. This is warm-climate Mendocino.
It's no mystery what made Anderson Valley famous: Navarro Vineyards & Winery, which was founded in 1974 and quickly established a reputation for the region, later confirmed by such cult faves as Claudia Springs and Lazy Creek.
It was cold air that attracted Navarro and lured the French Champagne house of Louis Roederer, which began planting vineyards for its Roederer Estate sparkling wine brand in 1981 and produced its first bottles in 1988.
Navarro and Roederer made the valley's reputation, but they were not the first arrivals of this generation. That distinction goes to the late Donald Edmeades, who planted grapes in the 1960s and whose eponymous winery, now owned by Kendall-Jackson, has been a nursery for a generation of winemakers. Closely followed by another seminal Anderson Valley winery, Husch, Edmeades established a tradition, later followed by Navarro, Handley and others, of turning to red grapes from outside Anderson Valley. With 2,000 acres of old vines in Mendocino—more than any other California county, according to longtime winemaker and vineyard guru Dennis Patton—they had plenty from which to choose.
My own experience of Anderson Valley wines suggests that they are works in progress. Chardonnays can charitably be described as Chablis-like—high-acid, flinty wines whose flavors veer toward tart green apples. Williamson, whose own Edmeades Chardonnay is prototypical, finds in them "minerality" and "hints of sea salt" that make them utterly different from the fat, blowsy style found in more southerly districts.
Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs can be similarly lean and angular. The winemaker at Duckhorn-owned Goldeneye, Bruce Regalia, who produces what is among the valley's most expensive ($45) Pinot Noir, believes "there's been something missing [from Anderson Pinots]. They were underripe and weren't living up to their potential." Some of the problems, he believes, are that the wrong clones were planted, and there were trellising and other vineyard management issues.
These days, Anderson Valley vintners are trying relentlessly to make fleshier Pinot Noirs. A rare 1999 from Roederer, sold only at the winery, was as sappy as any California Pinot Noir I have ever tasted. But there's no argument when it comes to the quality of the valley's Gewürztraminers, Rieslings and the occasional Pinot Gris, which are among the state's best, despite being currently out of favor among consumers.
There's also no debate about Anderson Valley's reputation as "Champagne" country. Roederer's bubblies, particularly the rich, satisfying L'Ermitage, are among the state's best. Handley's versions, especially the rosé, are consistently good.
Inland's Big Reds
The scenic, twisting drive from Booneville, eastward up and over the coastal hills, brings you into the warm heart of the county's growing region, a 30-mile stretch that extends from below Hopland to above Ukiah. Although a circle of American Viticultural Areas encompasses this area (Patton calls it "the bathtub ring"), including Redwood Valley, McDowell Valley, Potter Valley and Cole Ranch, you can think of them as constituent parts of a single, unofficial Ukiah-Hopland district. Locals can endlessly detail the finer points of their microclimates and miniterroirs, and certainly Redwood Valley (and its two historic wineries, Parducci and Fetzer) deserves more attention than this article can accommodate. But it's a safe generalization that inland has very hot, dry summer days, little or no fog, and chilly nights. The 24-hour temperature swing during harvest can be 60 degrees. The theory is that grapes not only get extremely ripe under such circumstances, but that the cold nighttime temperatures preserve acid levels.
Inland, red grapes rule. "Mediterranean wine: Rhônes, Cal-Itals, Zinfandel and Syrah," says Fife's winemaker, John Buechsenstein. Lolonis's owner, Petros Lolonis, adds Merlot to the mix, while Greg Graziano, proprietor of Enotria and Monte Volpe wineries, makes the case for unblended Italian varietals. Still others, like Pacific Star's Sally Ottoson, make odd lots of whatever they can find, no matter how obscure the variety. But "you want to grow red wine on this ground," advises Tom Johnson, the winemaker at Silversmith Vineyards.
Almost every year, such reds are ripe, full and often extremely high in alcohol, which can lead to residual sugar and other problems with balance. But when well made, as they increasingly are, these robust wines are memorable. Pinot Noir is also widely planted, especially in the Redwood and Potter Valleys, but sometimes seems heavy. (In lighter vintages, inland Pinots are sometimes added to Anderson Valley wines to strengthen them and deepen their color.) Inland Chardonnay is an afterthought, geared almost entirely toward market realities. Viognier presents a riddle, as it does everywhere in California, but Sauvignon Blanc, particularly from Jepson, can be very good.
Anderson Valley vintners have a sense of themselves and what their region is about. But inland winemakers struggle to find and express an identity in a marketplace where things are becoming more, not less, complicated. They know the public has a need to associate regions with particular varieties, but they're frustrated by how misunderstood they feel Mendocino is.
Where waves meet wine: the stunning view from Pacific Star Winery,
the western-most winery in the continental U.S.
The main problem, locals say, is that there have been no big wineries other than Fetzer to help promote the inland. "Because the region is not well recognized, we can't sell it as easily, or get as much money for our product," says Bill Crawford, owner of McDowell Valley Vineyards.
Patton identifies another aspect to the problem of being a little-known AVA: "People up here just don't care that much about fame, and unfortunately, that hurts us." Mendocino's image as a hippie haven of unshaven, truck-driving iconoclasts who moved to the country to get away from big-city ways is largely true; the last thing most of them want is to have to market their wine.
Williamson, who used to work at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley before moving to the boondocks, understands the dilemma. "I have mixed feelings. Tourism and wine are the only two viable industries left in our county, now that timber and fishing are gone. So we need to do something I don't like to do."
However, outside money is moving in that could boost the region's reputation. Dunnewood Vineyards, the 180,000-case winery that has been owned since 1992 by New York giant Constellation Brands, switched over to a Mendocino appellation in 1999 and plans to promote the county heavily in advertisements, says winemaker Scott Loopstra. Stimson Lane, the Washington State company whose properties include Chateau Ste. Michelle and Villa Mt. Eden, bought a large crush facility near Hopland two years ago, and this year produced small quantities of Syrah, Petite Sirah and Sangiovese. "Eventually, we'll make larger quantities to sell more widely," explains winemaker Sandy Waldheim. The new brand will be called "Elara" and will carry specific Mendocino appellations.
And on the valley's western side, Robert Mondavi Winery owns and farms 422 acres. So far, the grapes are going into existing Mondavi lines. Winery spokesperson Regina Lutz says Mondavi has no plans to create a Mendocino label. But that could change.
Perhaps the most exciting development inland—certainly one that could land this area on the map—is a plan to create a Châteauneuf-style red blend that includes, explains Fetzer president Paul Dolan, "a number of varieties that grow well in the area." Heavy hitters such as winemaker Bob Swain of Parducci, McDowell Valley's Crawford, Fife's Buechsenstein and the ubiquitous Patton are already on board.
A MIXED CASE OF MENDOCINO'S FINEST
95 Fife 1999 Old Yokayo Ranch Vineyard Syrah (Mendocino); $35. From warm western slopes over Ukiah Valley, this powerhouse combines audacious fruit with impeccable balance. Concentrated flavors of mixed berries, chocolate, white pepper, bacon, tobacco and coffee are rich—yet with only 13.5 percent alcohol, the wine is balanced and gentle. The mouthfeel is stunning. Great wine. Editors' Choice.
95 Navarro 2000 Vineyard Select Late Harvest Gewürztraminer (Anderson Valley); $25. It's hard to believe, but Navarro used to throw away grapes when botrytis infected them. This wine has only 11.4 percent alcohol and residual sugar of 12.6 percent. The acidity is as high as you'll find in California, a stunning 9.0 grams per liter. If numbers don't do it for you, consider that this wine is dense, sweet, apricot-y, oily-thick, and utterly, lip-smackingly delicious.
94 Lazy Creek 1999 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $26. Less is more; you get the feeling the wine was made by a hands-off winemaker. It's understandable why he would want the grapes to speak for themselves. They're amazing, offering up the most generous, sappy flavors imaginable. You wish it had more of the artist's touch, even more oaky framing, something to organize this raw talent. But there's no doubting its pedigree—an Anderson Valley grand cru. Editors' Choice.
93 Roederer Estate 1996 L'Ermitage (Anderson Valley); $42. The only problem with this wine is its youth. It has the rough edges of baby Champagne: A scour of acid, an angularity to the texture and finish. Time should take care of both. The aroma is all toast, yeast, limes and strawberries. The breed is evident. Put it away in a cool place for however long you like.
93 Hidden Cellars 1998 Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah (Mendocino); $25. Looks so dark, you could fill a fountain pen with it. They take "Pet" seriously in these parts and vinify it the way the red soil grows it: fiercely strong and pushy. This is an enormous wine, massive in berry flavor, bone dry, sappy and juicy. It will probably age forever. The most amazing thing is the alcohol, a modest 13.5 percent, which keeps it balanced.
93 Goldeneye 1999 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $45. The wine is amazingly vibrant—it begins with oak, smoke, char and vanilla from barrels, and then the aromas blast into coconut cream pie, black cherry, licorice and rich spices. It's in the mouth that the wine stuns with spicy intensity. Dry and stylish, this dry, precociously beautiful wine will improve with short-term aging.
92 Greenwood Ridge 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mendocino Ridge); $30. Reminiscent of the old Martini Cabs from Napa Valley. Just oozes the juiciest, sweetest cassis, and tastes velvety soft even in its youth, with beautifully dry, dusty tannins. Not quite up to par with Napa's best in terms of depth and complexity, but getting close.
91 Greenwood Ridge 2000 White Riesling (Mendocino Ridge); $12. The argument—for whoever's listening—over where in California Riesling grows best may be unending, but this wine easily makes these fog-free ridge tops a candidate. Racy and sleek, with well-defined floral, apple and slate flavors and stunning acidity. This bright, pure wine dances on the palate. Best Buy.
90 Brutocao 1998 Riserva d'Argento Merlot (Mendocino); $32. A very nice, very dry wine, and one that shows Mendocino's promise with this grape. Pronounced aromas of new French oak are sweet and smoky and full of char and vanilla, complementing rich earthy flavors. Although not too fruity, the flavors suggest blackberries, while the tannins are dry and dusty and provide a chewy mouthfeel.
90 Fetzer 1998 Barrel Select Zinfandel (Mendocino County); $14. If Springsteen sang about American Zinfandel, this is the wine he'd be drinking. It has the brawny wild-berry flavors with hints of pepper and herbs that define this variety. Acidity kicks, tannins are loud but manageable. This is rock and roll in the mouth, and downright fun. Best Buy.
89 Parducci 1999 Merlot (Mendocino); $10. Simply delicious, in that fleshy, supple way Merlot was meant to be—ripe, mellow and soft. A delightful aroma of berries and smoke leads to mingled flavors of blackberries, chocolate and clove. There's a delicacy of body that complements the up-front flavors of this value wine. Best Buy.
87 Jepson 2000 Sauvignon Blanc (Mendocino County); $11. Jepson's Sauvignon Blancs have long been lauded as among Mendocino's best. Grown along the Russian River, on the flatlands, it's typically racy and crisp. This version is richer and perhaps oakier than in the past, and emphasizes melon flavors over raw citrus. It has the weight of a Chardonnay, and is clearly designed to go with food.
The Mendocino County Wine Alliance's director, John Enquist, maps out the details: "Our concept is to set parameters for a blend that must carry these varietals, although the percentages are up to the individual wineries. We'll have a federally trademarked name for the blend, and a standard bottle shape and necker. And we will have a panel to judge quality." Patton is hoping this "Mendo-Blendo" will become inland's first "statement wine."
Up on the Ridge
The county's largest AVA in square miles, but one of the smallest in vineyard acreage, Mendocino Ridge was the first appellation in the nation to be based on elevation. Its framers, Mariah (the brand is owned by Brown-Forman) founder Dan Dooling and grower Steve Alden, envisioned a region that combined the best of coast and inland: Above the fog line, and hence warmer and sunnier than down in Anderson Valley, but cooler than inland, with mountain growing conditions. They identified a series of ridges southwest of Anderson Valley above 1,200 feet that fit the bill.
There were already a few old-vine Zinfandel vineyards in the area. More extensive plantings were later put in by Dooling, Alden and Allan Green, the ex-graphic designer who moved up to the Ridge in the mid-1970s, planted vines and sold his grapes to Jed Steele, then Edmeades' winemaker. Later, Green founded Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. Today, the number of acres of vineyards in the 87,000-acre AVA is less than 90, according to Dooling, and that number is not likely to rise significantly because of ordinances that limit development. But the wines are extraordinary.
The most impressive varieties, based on the available evidence, are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and, especially, Zinfandel. Old-vine Zinfandel grapes from centenarian ranches like Zeni, DuPratt and Ciapusci have been gobbled up by wineries lucky enough to buy them. The alcohol in these Zins can be extraordinarily high, but when well made, they are amazing, and among the great red wines of the world. The Edmeades 1999 Zeni Vineyard Zinfandel, which comes from vines just under 100 years old, epitomizes everything that is best about Mendocino Ridge Zin.
The organic gardens at Fetzer provide daily inspiration for culinary director John Ash.
Other than the old-vine Zins, there have been so few wines off Mendocino Ridge that it's hard to make summary judgments. Greenwood Ridge is, in fact, the appellation's only complete winery—Mariah's wines are made inland at Fetzer. Dooling, Green and Alden believe that Pinot Noir can perform well, which seems counterintuitive, given the claim that the hilltops have the warmth needed to ripen full-bodied reds.
Mendocino Ridge will likely remain a source of "small-lot, high-end, hands-on wines," as Dooling puts it. They will be mainly red and they will be expensive.
Wrapping it up
Two final areas need mention. The large Yorkville Highlands AVA sits above Anderson Valley to the east. Only a handful of wineries call it home, the most notable of which is Yorkville Cellars, whose proprietors, Edward and Debbie Wallo, believe the area is suitable for Bordeaux varieties, both red and white. They have yet to make a convincing argument.
Then there are the western slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, which provide the eastern boundary of the Ukiah-Hopland valley. These hills don't qualify for the Mendocino Ridge AVA, and for now have to be content with the Mendocino appellation. But so distinct is this very hot, high growing region that it will likely one day have its own status.
The chief winegrape grower in this region is Eaglepoint Ranch, owned by the John Scharffenberger family, whose former Anderson Valley sparkling wine company is now Pacific Echo. They have lately formed an Eaglepoint Ranch brand co-owned by winemaker Casey Hartlip, who says these 1,800-foot hills are ideal for red Rhône varieties. Others seem to agree: Prices for Eaglepoint Ranch's grapes are among the highest in the county.
One of the complaints you hear from Mendocino winemakers is that the media has been stingy in awarding Mendocino wines scores above 90. That may once have been true, but no more. The county is producing excellent wines in almost every category, and classic wines in several. Sure, challenges remain: There are still too many poorly made, even flawed, wines from producers who should know better. And there is the ongoing challenge of making the high-alcohol reds balanced.
But things are sorting themselves out, and the savviest winemakers know what they have to do to gain the upper hand. It will take time, but it's a near certainty that Mendocino, whose wine industry began at about the same time as Napa's and Sonoma's, will eventually play in their league.
Unspoiled and uncrowded, yet brimming with riches from the land and sea, Mendocino County is a wine country getaway reminiscent of an earlier era. The region is ruggedly beautiful—a mix of sylvan valleys, lush vineyards, old-growth forest and spectacular seashore. Lodging, wining and dining opportunities abound, capable of satisfying the most discriminating visitors.
Likely the most organically conscious area in the entire United States, 25 percent of Mendocino's vineyards are farmed organically. Crab connoisseurs think the sweetest Dungeness crabs in the world are those taken off the coast near Fort Bragg. Many of the current vineyards are planted where hops, plums, apples and pears once grew. Those crops still flourish today on tiny family farms, and much of the fruit, available at small roadside stands, is organic.
There is much to see and do in Mendocino County, and the following four-day, three-night jaunt is designed as a loop that covers the major features of the bountiful region. So fill up the gas tank of your wine country cruiser and join us for a meander around magnificent Mendo.
From San Francisco drive north on Highway 101 to Hopland, about 100 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. Hopland is centered in the serene Sanel Valley, dominated by the Mayacamas Mountains. On the west side of Main Street (Highway 101) you'll see Brutocao's Schoolhouse Plaza, where the former Hopland High School is sandwiched between the Brutocao Cellars tasting room and the Crushed Grape restaurant. Here you can enjoy the lavender gardens and learn the game of bocce. Just north of the plaza, in what is now Zemolini's Cafe, Barney Fetzer began letting travelers taste his wine in the early 1970s. Thus began the recognition of Hopland as a wine-country destination.
The McDowell Valley Vineyards tasting room, which is decorated with carved masks by Inuit artists from Alaska and Canada, is a block north. The Hopland Brew Pub, said to be California's first brewpub since Prohibition, is across the street. For a wine alternative, try the delicious Red Tail Ale. Just up the street, follow your nose into the Phoenix Bread Company, where rustic three-pound loaves are baked in a wood-fired stone oven. The specialty is Fougasse, available with vegetable, smoked salmon or prosciutto—a meal in itself. A block north you'll find the tasting rooms of Mendocino Hill Estate and the Graziano family of wines—Domaine Saint Gregory, Monte Volpe and Enotria.
Back in the car, turn onto Highway 175. One mile east of Hopland, a tree-lined drive leads to the Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks Ranch, which includes a tasting room, extensive organic gardens, a deli and the cozy bed-and-breakfast located in the former carriage house that is our recommended lodging for the night. Each of the six guestrooms has a view of the vineyard. A cottage and the Haas House offer even larger accommodations.
Visit Fetzer's Reserve Room for tastings of the Estate and Select wines and their line of Bonterra organically grown wines. You can also take a tour of the five-acre, 100 percent organic Bonterra Garden. Cooking classes by John Ash, Fetzer's Culinary Director, are held in the Pavilion next to Lake Chardonnay.
Leaving Fetzer, take a right turn onto Highway 175, but just past Sanel Valley Market, bear left onto East Side Road. This pretty drive continues up the valley on a winding country road with vineyards and orchards dotting either side, as the Russian River snakes along on your left.
About 14 miles from Hopland, you'll reach Talmage. At the stop sign, a right turn takes you through the gates of a Buddhist monastery, The City of 10,000 Buddhas. A left turn (west) takes you to Highway 101 and into Ukiah.
The two best reasons to visit Ukiah are the Grace Carpenter Hudson Museum and the Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant. The museum is an art, history and anthropology repository featuring the life works of Grace and Dr. John Hudson. Grace was born in nearby Potter Valley and painted more than 600 oils, nearly all of which depict the region's Pomo Indians. In 1911, the Hudsons built the Sun House, a Craftsman bungalow where they entertained the likes of Luther Burbank and Jack London, who favored the healing waters of nearby Vichy Springs. The house, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is open for guided tours Wednesday through Sunday.
The Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant, owned and operated by the Cooperrider family, was the first certified-organic brewpub in the U.S. The dozen ales and lagers are all organic, as are the beef, chicken, pork and fish served in the spacious brick and oak pub at 102 South State Street, across from the courthouse. If you must have wine, a small selection of county vintages is available.
The Ukiah/Redwood Valley region is where the first Mendocino wineries were established. Here you'll find Parducci, Dunnewood, Frey, Lolonis, Gabrielli and more. At some small wineries, you'll need to call for an appointment before driving up.
One of the most scenic venues in all of wine country must be from the shady area behind the small tasting room at Fife Vineyards, just off Highway 20, north of Ukiah. (Take Road A, then Road B, and look for a small red sign for Fife Vineyards). Wide vistas of Lake Mendocino sprawl out below and provide a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic and a glass of Fife wine.
After lunch, head back south on Highway 101 and turn west on Highway 253 for a leisurely 40-minute drive to Boonville, near the southern end of the Anderson Valley.
The coziest place to stay in Anderson Valley is in Philo, at The Apple Farm, a 30-acre spread along the Navarro River that boasts a guestroom in the main house and three charming cottages in the apple orchard. Owners Don and Sally Schmitt sold the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville back in 1994, and moved to the orchard. Sally's popular weekend cooking classes sell out fast, but other special events like winemaker dinners and Thursday demonstration classes are often available.
The Schmitt's son, John, has recently refurbished The Boonville Hotel, a laid-back roadhouse originally built in 1862. The 10-room hotel offers simple comfort and good value. John, also the chef, uses a wood-burning grill to turn out seared Ahi tuna and lamb chops. For other eats, locals recommend Lauren's Cafe in Boonville and Libby's in Philo. Or you can buy your picnic goodies at the all-organic Boonville General Store, but note that it's closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Once best known for its apple orchards and sheep grazing, the bucolic valley is now famous for its excellent wineries, including Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, Handley, Husch, Roederer, and Edmeades. Up the road toward Navarro, the tiny Lazy Creek Vineyards is worth a visit just to become acquainted with the lovely Pinot Noir turned out by winemaker Josh Chandler. Small groups can arrange a hike along one of the sheep trails of the ranch and lunch with wine in the vineyards.
For a spectacular view of the entire Anderson Valley, take Holmes Ranch Road, a winding dirt road just east of Handley, up to Esterlina Vineyards (call first). Then it's on to Highway 1 and the coast.
The quaint village of Mendocino is a romantic retreat famous for its spectacular coastline and its eccentric inhabitants. Aging hippies, young artists, welcoming shopkeepers and eager tourists mix and mingle in harmony. Mendocino is savvy, but slowed down. Dozens of shops offer treats and trinkets. The William Zimmer Gallery has a fine collection of contemporary art. The Fetzer tasting room is on Main Street, near Dick's, a local bar with a great view of Mendocino Headlands State Park. Nearby activities include whale watching, beach combing, hiking at Van Damme State Park, bicycling, kayaking and canoeing, golf, diving, fishing and horseback riding. Mendocino Botanical Gardens is 47 acres of canyons, wetlands, bluffs and pine forest, plus rhododendrons, camellias, roses and more. From Fort Bragg, train buffs can ride the old Skunk Train along the 100-year-old "Redwood Route."
In the rustic seaside village of Mendocino, a wooden walkway leads to the Zimmer Gallery, whose rough-hewn exterior belies the collection of contempory works of art for sale within.
|The newest and easily one of the best lodging choices is the Brewery Gulch Inn, a stunningly stylish Arts and Crafts creation of Dr. Arky Ciancutti, an admitted "wood freak" whose 20-year dream came true with the completion of the lodge in March 2001. With commanding views from the wide deck and most of the ten guestrooms, Smuggler's Cove seems a stone's throw away. Dr. Ciancutti, a former emergency room physician, salvaged 150-year-old virgin redwood from nearby Big River and created a masterpiece of style and taste. General Manager Glenn Lutge and his friendly staff keep wineglasses full during complimentary evening tastings around the soaring steel and glass fireplace of the great room. At breakfast, the huckleberry coffeecake is so fresh out of the oven you'll need to eat it carefully, lest a hot berry scorch your mouth.||
The newly completed Brewery Gulch Inn, guests share a fireside buffet.
At Stevenswood Lodge, another top choice, chef Marc Dym earns raves for his "lacquered" Alaskan halibut. Lodge owner Robert Zimmer is married to Sally Ottoson, owner of Pacific Star Winery, located on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean 12 miles north of Fort Bragg.
In an area famous for culinary excellence (MacCallum House and Albion River Inn get high marks), a couple of lesser-known restaurants on the coast deserve your attention. At the Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg, innovative chef/owner Nicholas Petti makes fresh pasta, bread and desserts daily. He features a small wine list with regional choices like Jepson's 2000 Viognier ($25) and Claudia Springs' 1999 Zinfandel ($36). At The Moosse Café, located in the Blue Heron Inn in Mendocino, Linda Friedman serves up outstanding fresh seafood with ocean views for lunch or dinner.
To return to San Francisco, backtrack on Highway 128, where you'll find a few wineries around Yorkville, south of Highway 254. Or, take the longer but more scenic journey south on Highway 1, along the Pacific Ocean to Elk, Point Arena and Gualala. Allow four hours to San Francisco if you choose this route.
|GOING, EATING, STAYING, TASTING AND DOING|
Mendocino County Alliance:
|Fife Vineyards: Redwood Valley,|
Graziano Family Wines:
Hopland, 707/744-8470; www.domainesaintgregory.com
Mendocino Hill Estate Winery: Hopland,
Parducci: Ukiah, 888/362-9464;
Jan. 24-Feb. 2, 2003