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Discovering Mendocino

I’ve just spent three excellent days in Mendocino County with a small group of wine professionals. The “Discover Mendocino 2013” program combined extensive tastings with vineyard and farm visits. It also included substantial time with winemakers, growers and proprietors.

I’ll be making more trips up there in the coming months to follow up on the most interesting stories, gather more info, shoot more photos and do some one-on-one videos. In the meantime, here are quick takes on some of the things that I found most exciting:

The Wines
balo-tastingAnderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge continue to offer Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of excellent quality. That’s particularly true for those wines that embrace cool climate and high altitude vineyards rather than striving for power. The best of these wines are utterly unique, energetic and delicious.

Those regions can also be quite good for Syrah. I found a few that were stunning. One of them in particular made me want to strap the glass to my face so I could bask in its aromas while I went about my day. Seriously.

You also know Anderson Valley is a really good source for sparkling wine. Roederer Estate makes some of this country’s best and most sophisticated bubbly while Scharffenberger offers effervescent values. Napa Valley’s Schramsberg uses some Anderson Valley fruit. Handley, just north of Philo, started as a sparkling wine producer and still offers delicious examples. But there’s a new kid on the block with delicious fizz at a great price. Stay tuned for that.

On the other side of the hills, in Redwood Valley and the greater Mendocino AVA, the Coro program is making progress, generating tasty mixed black blends. It’s the only program of it’s kind in the United States. Coro Mendocino wines must include 40-70% Zinfandel with the balance coming from varieties such as Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese, Barbera, etc. Each year’s wines are tasted blind by all the producers together several times during vinification in order to help raise overall quality. Only wines that pass a final, group taste test are allowed to be released with Coro labeling.

The proposed Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA championed by Masut Winery is in the comment phase. Speaking of Masut, I’ve never seen a magnum of Pinot Noir disappear as quickly as the one Ben Fetzer uncorked Tuesday night.

The People
van-with-barrelsI’ve met nice, hard-working and talented people throughout the wine industry. There’s no shortage of them in Mendocino County either. What’s unusual about the wine community there though is the extent to which it really is a community. The amount of mutual respect, friendship, collaboration and generosity between various wineries is heart-warming. [Pictured at right is Van Williamson, winemaker for Witching Stick wines.]

Part of this is driven by the fact that simply living in the somewhat remote Mendocino is a project. The absence of major stores—outside of Ukiah—fosters an old-style economy of bartering goods and services, borrowing cups of sugar and chainsaws. The county’s underdog status with respect to wine brings its proponents together too. Then there’s the fact that many people move to Mendocino not just to get back to the land but to live someplace where people work together for everyone’s benefit rather than living in what feels like a metropolis of strangers all trying to avoid eye contact.

The Greenest County in America
There are probably few people more frustrated in this country than the Monsanto salesman responsible for Mendocino County. Organic farming is the norm, not the exception. Manufactured pesticides, fertilizers and GMO seeds are not welcome. The first organic winery in the country was in Mendocino County and there are more organically farmed vineyard acres there than in any other. Biodynamic growing is big too, as are keen attention to responsible water usage, carbon-neutral power generation, etc.

Getting Better and Better for Visitors
Reaching Mendocino wine country takes a little time. Hopland is about 30 minutes from Healdsburg which is quite a hike from San Francisco itself. Anderson Valley is an even longer drive via a winding road. When you visit, and you should, you’ll want to stay overnight. That’s a much more attractive proposition than it used to be. Hamlets like Boonville and Hopland aren’t even close to losing their small—okay, tiny—town charm. But there’s a better selection of quality restaurants and places to stay than you’d have found just a year or two ago. More are on the way.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.