After visiting wineries in California’s Lodi, Amador County and Sierra Foothills appellations (see Wine On The Road in Lodi, Amador County and the Sierra Foothills), I continued on my north-of-Napa journey all the way to Mendocino County. Mendo is full of laid-back farmers, an impressive green movement, and a whole lot of wine grapes. This time I was the guest of the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, and after we toured a bunch of wineries I ended up at the Alsace Festival in Boonville (more on that later).
Just as with my prior visits in Lodi, et al, many of the local wineries in Mendo make less than 2,500 cases of wine across all of their varietals, and not all or even most are nationally distributed. But these regions have been treated with such meticulous care that it’s hard not to appreciate what many of these pioneers are doing. If your local wine store doesn’t carry a particular bottle, rest assured that all should be available on each winery’s individual website.
Upon reaching Mendocino I headed to our press tour’s home base for the next several nights, the Campovida resort in Hopland. Here owners Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck have reclaimed the old Fetzer place from an encroachment of vegetation that was allowed to run rampant for many years. There’s an organic farm and working vineyard, a professional demonstration kitchen, and a 10-room retreat center that hosts everything from corporate teambuilding to luxurious weddings under the vines.
Gary and Anna are also working to improve the quality of Campovida’s wines, and my favorite was the dark purple 2006 Charbono Talmage Collection, sustainably farmed and redolent of mushrooms, candied figs, black pepper and blackberries. Pithy and bright, with a smooth finish and a ton of grandeur.
That night’s winemaker dinner was at Branches Wood Fired Chop House and featured the wines of Philo Ridge and Testa. The spicy Philo Ridge Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, made by Frank Buonanno, was tinged a pale shade of garnet, with strawberries on the nose and red raspberries and pink peppercorns on the well-honed palate. From Testa I preferred the “Black,” a blended ruby-red concoction that smelled like blueberry liqueur and tasted like cran-raspberry preserves.
The next morning we headed off to the Anderson Valley, which a lot of people think is in Sonoma but Mendo is the true address. Some of my favorite California Pinot Noirs have come from Londer Vineyards, and it was great to finally meet Larry and Shirlee Londer.
Their Chardonnay Corby Vineyard was my favorite white of the entire trip, just a spice rack of a wine, loaded with cinnamon, baked red apple, ripe Bosch pear, apricot and cinnamon. I also much enjoyed the Estate Grown Pinot Noir, a dark-cherry and cola surprise that was laced with allspice, cedar and just a hint of red plum.
After Londer we headed to Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, where owner Allan Green took us up to see his vineyards and dine al fresco. There his golden-yellow Riesling really hit the spot. Tart lime, pineapple and dried apricot led to yellow apple and pear on the moderately acidic finish.
Our last tasting room visit of the day (at least for wine) was at Navarro Vineyards, like Londer an iconic Mendocino winery. I dug their Riesling Cluster Select Late Harvest, as good a dessert wine as I tasted all week. So honeyed, so full of golden raisins, ripe pineapple and Indian spices.
Our last stop before dinner was at Germain-Robin Distillery, which had actually been on my “bucket list” for some time. Germain-Robin specializes in artisanal spirits, including whole-fruit, single-varietal grappas (technically eau de vie) and aged brandies. If you like brandy, make sure to grab a bottle of their Coast Road Reserve, aged 8 to 22 years in oak barrels. I found this spirit to be lush and round, with maple sugar, yellow pear and red cherry all making an appearance on the palate.
Dinner that night was at Patrona, a fabulous locally-focused eatery in Ukiah. There we supped on halibut and rib eye steaks and accompanied them with organic wines from Parducci Wine Cellars and McFadden Vineyard.
Parducci’s Cabernet Sauvignon (produced under the Paul Dolan label) was earthy and full of dark minerals and red fruit. A hint of char at the end rounded out the package. McFadden’s Zinfandel exuded aromas of dark berries and chocolate, with kirsch liqueur highlighting all that came before it.
Friday dawned bright and clear as we made our way to Chiarito Vineyards in Ukiah, part of an entire day touring the wineries near that town. Chiarito turned out to be the brightest spot on the entire Mendo journey, at least for me. John Chiarito, whose family hails from the south of Italy, took a look at his piece of Mendocino’s terroir and decided that it was similar enough to his ancestors’ homeland for him to plant the same grapes.
John’s purple-red Nero d’Avola swirled with candied cherry, basil and sage aromas. Dark chocolate, coffee and black cherry dominated the long, clean finish. His Negro Amaro was also a revelation, ruby-colored, oozing red flowers and blueberries on the nose and black cherry and mint on the graphite-laced palate.
Up next was Bonterra, organic in nature and, along with Parducci, one of the largest wine producers in the county. Over another lovely picnic lunch I sampled their latest Chardonnay, full of green melon, papaya, almond and chicory, moderately acidic and a great foil for food.
From Bonterra it’s literally a two-minute drive to McNab Ridge Winery, where winemaker Rich Parducci put us through the paces of a blending exercise in which I rated my own effort last. Our final winery of the day was Rivino, where Jason and Jahnke McConnell produce boutique bottles. I was particularly taken with their brown raisin and milk chocolate-laced Sangiovese, also exuding a cloud of fruit punch, red cherry and raspberry.
That evening’s dinner was at the Broiler Steak House in Redwood Valley and featured the Coro wines. Coro is a Mendocino project in which any of the county’s 84 wineries can vie to make a red that is composed of 40-70 percent Zinfandel, 100 percent Mendocino fruit, and aged for three years. After being judged worthy by a panel of local winemakers, the top 11 are bottled with similar labels that differ only in the winery’s name and logo.
My favorite of all the Coro wines that night was that made by Graziano. Ruby and violet hues set off aromas of blackberry, blueberry and cassis. The palate was all mulberry and black grapes and of high intensity and great grip.
The next morning, Saturday, we all gathered at the Alsace Festival, headquartered at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds. Don’t ever call these wines Alsatian, which technically refers to a type of dog! Speakers included wine writer Dan Berger, who predicted big things for wines made from Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and the like, and sommelier Chris Sawyer, who lauded Alsace’s predilection for pairing wine with spicy foods. Wines were sampled from all over the world, the only qualification being they had to be made with grapes native to that part of France.
My favorites included a trio of Rieslings: Sheldrake’s lime, cantaloupe and diesel-driven Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York, Brooks Wines cinnamon, apple and green herb-laced Riesling Ara out of the Willamette Valley of Oregon, and Dr. Thanisch’s Riesling Kabinett Bernkasteler-Badstube, slatey, redolent of Mandarin orange and hailing from the Mosel in Germany.
I also enjoyed Baur’s apricot-tinged, white flower and yellow pear-laced Gewurztraminer from Alsace, Weinbach’s lemon-lime and kiwi-focused Pinot Gris St. Catherine, also from Alsace, and Husch Vineyards Gewurztraminer Late Harvest, brimming with yellow squash, apricot and mushroom on a medium-weight finish.
After the Alsace Festival we stopped off at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company (be sure to try their wine barrel-aged ales) and finally ended up at Terra Savia, another of Mendocino’s organic wineries (they also make olive oil). There I got to try the best sparkling wine of the tour, a Blanc de Blancs that was all about yellow apples, passion fruit and white peach, with a fine bead and a long finish.
Dinner that night was at the home of Charlie and Martha Barra of Barra of Mendocino, along with Deanna and Ted Starr from Milano Family Winery. The evening was too relaxed for me to take any formal notes, with old-timer Charlie regaling us with tales of when Robert Mondavi helped him plant his first varietal vineyards.
It was a great pleasure to spend four days in Mendocino County, caught betwixt the mountains and the deep, blue sea. I’m sure a lot of these wines aren’t as familiar as bottles from Napa and Sonoma, which is a good reason to try them. The fact that they’re also quite delicious should seal the deal.
WINE ON THE ROAD’S TOURS OF WINE COUNTRY – PIEDMONT AND BURGUNDY IN THE FALL OF 2011
I’ve always wanted to personally share the wines, places and personalities that I talk about in this column. Wine On The Road (
www.wineontheroad.com ), my wine-focused, luxury touring company, now allows you to join me for the ultimate in wine country experiences with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine on the Road offers intimate, behind-the-scenes wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor.
I’m initially planning several tours in 2011 to the very places I talk about in this column. The first set will explore Piedmont and Burgundy at the end of October and early November. Trip details as well as pricing are currently being determined, but planned stops include Gaja and Sottimano in Barbaresco, Domenico Clerico and Fratelli Revello in Barolo, M. Abbona and Pecchenino in Dogliani, J. M. Brocard and Christian Moreau Pere et Fils in Chablis, and Olivier Leflaive, Camille Giroud, Joseph Drouhin and Bonneau du Martray in the Cote d’Or. Take a look at www.wineontheroad.com/tour_piedmont.php for more details.
Another tour being planned for Tuscany in the spring of 2012 will focus on the wines of Chianti Classico and Bolgheri (home of the Super Tuscans). We’ll also spend time in Lucca, a historic walled city west of Florence. Please go to www.wineontheroad.com/tour_tuscany.php for more information. You can also check into booking private groups in wine country world-wide by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To secure your place with me on any of these tours or if you would like more information please email me at email@example.com.
Terra Savia Blanc de Blancs NV (Mendocino County, California) $23
Londer Chardonnay Anderson Valley Corby Vineyard 2008 (Mendocino County, California) $35
Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Riesling 2008 (Mendocino County, California) $18
Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay 2009 (Mendocino County, California) $12
Sheldrake Dry Riesling 2009 (Finger Lakes, New York) $15
Brooks Wines Riesling Ara 2008 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) $24
Dr. Thanisch Riesling Kabinett Bernkasteler-Badstube 2004 (Mosel, Germany) $26
Baur Gewurztraminer Grand Cru 2007 (Alsace, France) $22
Weinbach Pinot Gris St. Catherine 2008 (Alsace, France) $48
Campovida Charbono Talmage Collection 2006 (Mendocino County, California) $35
Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $28
Testa Vineyards Black NV (Mendocino County, California) $20
Londer Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Estate Grown 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $45
Paul Dolan Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $25
McFadden Vineyards Zinfandel 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $25
Chiarito Vineyards Nero d’Avola 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $36
Chiarito Vineyards Negro Amaro 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $30
Rivino Sangiovese 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $25
Graziano Coro Red Wine 2007 (Mendocino County, California) $37
Navarro Vineyards Riesling Late Harvest Cluster Select 2006 (Mendocino County, California) $29/375ml
Husch Vineyards Gewurztraminer Late Harvest 2009 (Mendocino County, California) $20
Germain-Robin Brandy Coast Road Reserve NV (Mendocino County, California) $72