Pick Your Pinot in Mendocino County

1. Where to Stay

Watch the fog roll into the Mendocino Headlands from your own balcony at JD House.Photo: courtesy of JD House

Find postcard-worthy ocean views at the Glendeven Inn and Wine Bar (from $116), the nineteenth-century inn perched atop a bluff in rustic Little River. Sleep facing the ocean in the Garret Room, then have your three-course breakfast delivered to your bed.

Check in to the clapboarded J.D. House (from $130), a former captain’s quarters in the heart of Mendocino village where a fireplace and the in-room Jacuzzi tub counter the chilly Pacific air. Upgrade to the Romantic package; it includes dinner for two at nearby Moose Café and a bottle of Anderson Valley crush.

Sit before your gas-burning fireplace at the Brewery Gulch Inn (from $210), a former homestead rebuilt with salvaged virgin redwood. Look out over Smuggler’s Cove while enjoying the complimentary happy-hour spread’s pepper-seared scallops and Dungeness crab cakes between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

2. Where to Eat

Sit near the fireplace at Macallum House.Photo: Courtesy of Macallum House

Start with homemade mushroom dumplings at the Boonville Hotel Restaurant, a rustic joint located just off Highway 128 deep in Anderson Valley. The produce comes from either the vegetable garden out back or farms within a 100-mile radius. Local wines have low markups.

Book well in advance for one of the two nightly seatings at La Petite Rive, the seven-table bistro off Highway 1 that draws foodies all the way from San Francisco. The five-course dinner starts at $28.95, and local wines are poured charitably.

Though MacCallum House Inn & Restaurant’s fine-dining restaurant is a popular romantic splurge, meals at the property’s fireplace-warmed Gray Whale Bar & Café are half the cost, just as tasty, and don’t require reservations. Craft pints are $3 during happy hour.

3. What to Do

Try one of the mushroom-themed events like a feast aboard the Skunk Train (left) or sample Pinots, Cabernets, and Rosés at Tolouse Vineyards, (right). Photo: Courtesy of Skunk Train; Courtesy of Toulouse Vineyards

Anderson Valley is Pinot Noir country, and you’ll find intimate mom-and-pop wineries along Highway 128. Print out a wine map, then drive from the coast through a forest of giant Redwoods and corkscrew turns as you make your way to the arid valley. Stop in at Boonville’s Foursight Wines’ new tasting room, which opened last March, to sample the wines of the fourth generation of the Charles family, known for their limited productions of Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs. (The 2007 Clone 05 garnered high praise from Wine Enthusiast.) Down the road, find another new tasting room opened in August at Londer Vineyards along the Navarro River. Try esteemed French Oak-aged Chardonnay as well as Pinots and Gewurztraminer. Yorkville Cellars has organic Petits Verdos and Malbecs; Sharffenberger Cellars produces a sparkling Brut that rates high in both taste and affordability; and the rosé at Toulouse Vineyards’ tasting room, which doubles as a working barn, is known to sell out.

When Sally and Don Schmitt sold the French Laundry to Thomas Keller in 1994, they moved up to their sunny and free-spirited Apple Farm in Philo, where they grow about 80 varieties of apples and rent out tin-roofed cottages to urban farmers. With the “Relaxed Farm Weekend” package, take a morning tour and then prepare your dinner during an afternoon cooking class (from $625 per person).

Several festivals in Mendocino allow tourists and residents alike to sample the region’s food and wine in bulk. November plays host to the Mendocino County Wine and Mushroom Festival (November 6–16), where you can learn to I.D. a variety of fungi or indulge in a lavish mushroom-themed feast aboard the local Skunk Train, a former gold-miners’ railroad that snakes along the Coastal Redwood route. In February, the Anderson Valley Wine Association sponsors the International Alsace Varietals Fest (February 20–21), hosting wineries from around the world who pour, exchange, and compare their crisp Rieslings and Gewürztraminers. In March, twin Whale Fests in Mendocino and Fort Bragg (March 6–7; March 20–21) herald the return of 20,000 gray whales from their birthing grounds in Mexico. Spot the spouts from shore or take a sea excursion, then return to town to vote for your favorite clam chowder.

4. Insider’s Tip

Boonville and the Anderson Valley have their own language, Boontling, a mix of Scottish, Gaelic, English, Spanish, and some Pomoan Indian, that’s been around since the eighteenth century. Heavily popularized during Prohibition, when bootleggers used it to disguise taboo words that might reveal the illegality of their work, today it’s used both by old-timers and by many of the medicinal-marijuana growers who harvest another one of Mendo’s quasi-legalized cash crops. Pick up one of the Boontling dictionaries sold in all the local delis and gas stations in town so you’ll know what to say if someone offers to buy you a horn.

5. Oddball Day

Find magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean along the trails of the Mendocino Headlands State Park.Photo: Courtesy of earthman

Head 45 minutes east into Redwood Country, where Shambala Ranch, the off-the-grid yoga sanctuary run by New York expats, offers retreats in a stunning natural setting. Try one of the six types of chakra-balancing massages or take a hike through the giant virgin groves of nearby Montgomery Woods, once home to the world’s tallest tree, and still one of the North Coast’s most beautiful and underrated state parks. In the afternoon, follow the Comptche-Ukiah Road back toward Mendocino Village, where you can take a foggy walk over the cliffside trails that snake through Mendocino Headlands State Park. Marked trailheads can be found at various points just across from Main Street. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the area’s two ubiquitous inhabitants: California quail and abalone poachers picking up wares to sell in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Afterward, grab a Fulton Valley Angus cheeseburger at Patterson’s Pub, the live-music joint on Lansing Street that boasts $5 local-brewed pints of Blue Star and Poleeko Gold. Cap off the evening with a private soak in the outdoor hot tubs at Sweetwater Spa ($20/hour).

6. Links

Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits, proprietors of Waits-Mast Winery, write Valley Fog, their blog about Pinot Noir–making that’s full of area vineyard lore.

Go Mendo has both vineyard and redwood maps of the area, plus a regularly updated events calendar.

Mendocino Wine and Winegrape Commission maintains this no-nonsense website if you want to find background information on the region’s twelve appellations and sub-appellations.

Pick Your Pinot in Mendocino County