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Morning on a California Pinot Noir Vineyard, Mendocino County

Mendocino Wine Region

(Men · duh · see · now)

Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the 6,900-foot summits of the North Coast Range, Mendocino County is located 130 miles north of San Francisco. The county is home to over 100 wineries and 12 appellations. Winemakers and growers take pride in both their traditions and innovations, including some of the first organic vineyards in the United States. To its many fans, Mendocino is the real deal—what wine country used to be. Many small vineyards are familyowned and farmed, sometimes for generations.

History of Mendocino

Winemaking in Mendocino County dates to the mid 1800s, when Italian immigrants arrived, drawn by the similarity in climate and terroir to their homeland. The first grapes they planted were Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Carignan, Barbera, Alicante Bouschet and Charbono. Today, many of their descendants nurture what are now old-vine vineyards.


Geography and Climate of Mendocino

Mendocino County has 131 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline. Proximity to and distance from the chilly waters define the region’s 12 appellations, which range from foggy valleys to sunny ridges. Daily high and low temperatures can have a difference of 50 degrees, keeping acid levels vibrant as grapes ripen.

Anderson Valley, a region on the western side of Mendocino County, runs from east to west, funneling cool breezes that quell summertime heat. It has emerged as a stellar location for Pinot Noir and sparkling wine. In contrast, inland sites around Ukiah and Hopland are sunnier and warmer since the fog burns off faster there. Soils vary with the AVAs, but are mainly alluvial, with wide areas of loam, gravel and volcanic rock.


Grape Varieties in Mendocino

Cool climate or warm—take your pick in Mendocino. Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris thrive in ocean-influenced sites such as Anderson Valley. Inland to the east, AVAs like Yorkville Highlands and Redwood Valley favor varietals that prefer warm weather, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Carignan and Petite Sirah.


Wine Production in Mendocino

Mendocino County has 17,000 acres of vineyards. Red grapes account for most of the plantings. Most common varietals are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most popular whites. About 25% of the grapes are certified as organic; moreover, one-third of the total organic wine-grape acreage in California is in Mendocino County.


Classification of Wine in Mendocino

The region encompasses a series of interlocking AVAs. Starting off with the biggest, Mendocino County is part of the North Coast AVA, which spreads northward from San Francisco Bay. The separate Mendocino appellation contains the Anderson Valley AVA and five smaller subregions. The only non-contiguous AVA in America, Mendocino Ridge includes vineyards with elevations of 1,200 feet or higher.


Famous Wines of Mendocino

For Pinot Noir, Foursight Wines, Drew Family Wines and Goldeneye offer single-vineyard and appellation bottlings. Brutocao, a fourth-generation family winery, produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cal-Ital blends and the Zinfandel-based Coro. Bottlings from Handley, Navarro and Pennyroyal Farm showcase Mendocino’s myriad grape varieties. Top sparkling wine producers include Scharffenberger Cellars and Roederer Estate, which is the California outpost of Louis Roederer, a producer based in Champagne, France.

Fun Facts About Mendocino

  • Mendocino is more than just wine. Ancient redwoods stand tall at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve and Noyo River Canyon. The latter is best viewed from aboard the Skunk Train, a late 19th-century open-air train that snakes through old-growth forests and across wood trestle bridges. Cliffs and pristine beaches line the rugged coast at Mendocino Headlands and Russian Gulch state parks.
  • Don’t skip the festivals. The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival in May is a highlight of the year. Old-time charm abounds at the Mendocino County Fair in September, which includes a rodeo, sheep dog trials and wine for tasting.
  • Mendocino’s agricultural bounty also includes heirloom apples, sheep, goats, cheese and cannabis. Mendocino is, after all, part of the Emerald Triangle.
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