………..It all started in 1918 when Vincenzo Graziano planted vines in Mendocino. Today the fourth-generation vintners at Graziano Family of Wines specialize in classic Italian and Old World blends. First stop is the tiny Hopland tasting room, where visitors can pop into a solid CORO and 30+ premium wines including a crisp Monte Volpe Vermentino and Saint Gregory Pinotrois blend. Expect a true down-home experience: no lines, no attitude, no tasting fees.
………..An obscure side trek from here is Oscar’s Place, committed to the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of donkeys slated for slaughter. This loving facility run by an ex-New York media executive is the definition of giving back. Appointments mandatory, located just off River Road; www.oscarsplace.org. Also nearby is the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center offering self-guided hikes and seasonal lambing tours including a guided “find the lost sheep” walk to the barn and a bottle feeding of the orphan lambs. Self-guided hikes follow a circular route through madrone woodland and oak savannah reaching the 1,260 ft. Duncan’s Peak. https://hrec.ucanr.edu/
………..Head north on Highway 101 to Jaxson Keys Winery & Distillery for a mid-day swirl. Bank out on the shaded veranda with expansive vineyard views, a CORO connection and selection of estate Chardonnay, Viognier or Primitivo. Those looking to switch it up can power into a selection of rare brandies traditionally crafted in an alembic pot still built in Cognac, France in the early 1900s. Savor a slow flight including the best of show Jaxon Signature Reserve, gold medal Jaxon Old Stock and Jax on Rare Brandy ($25). The expansive grounds make for a heavenly stroll through the vines. www.jaxonkeys.com.
………..Nirvana hits a high note at Mendocino mile marker 27.16 when the valley cuts loose along the Russian River. It’s picnic time at Parducci Wine Cellars (1932) -– the world’s first carbon-neutral winery — for legendary wines backed with a full roster of seasonal concerts. It all started with a 16-year-old Italian stowaway who hit Mendocino County running and hand-built a winery with his four sons. Today, visitors can tap into CORO and a selection of powerful, hand-crafted wines in a film-worthy setting. Old World Zinfandels under the label Zin-Phomaniac, beef-ready Slices wines (crafted by an unapologetic meat lover) and rich Moniker single vineyard Chardonnay from the Russian River headlands round out the experience. www.parducci.com.
………..Wind down the day in Ukiah at the new Left Coast Seafood Restaurant. Think locally caught sustainable and wild seafood paired with a fervent Mendocino Mule or popular El Jefe – a house-infused poblano chile tequila with fresh hibiscus syrup. Entrees include a seasonal Cracked Garlic Crab, hearty fishermen’s Cioppino or signature Seafood Bake with all the usual suspects. Mendocino’s regional sparkling, Roederer Estate, is also on tap. www.leftcoastseafoodca.com.
………..A few miles inland, bubbles of another kind await. Bed down at California Landmark No. 980 – better known as the champagne mineral baths. A favorite haunt of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Jack London, Vichy Springs Resort and Spa is a 700-acre retreat boasting America’s only warm and naturally carbonated Vichy mineral baths (and Olympic-size pool). Bed down in the historic Blue Cottage (1852) or take a break in the creek side baths like a lime in Perrier. www.vichysprings.com.
………..Day three on the CORO trek stars at Testa Vineyards, set in the small township of Calpella. Here the sixth generation Italian family began farming the land in 1912 and today offers visitors an insider peek into winemaking from the ground up. Surrounded by ripe vines and a deep pocket lake, Testa is an outback experience with well-worn tables rooted around a classic barn. Kick off with a classically-crafted CORO or biodynamically-grown, naturally-crafted Simply White & Black Wines, award-winning Old Vine Zinfandel or a hearty Barbera. There is also a three-bedroom guesthouse for larger groups who relish a real farm experience. www.testaranch.com.
………..Before heading to the coast, cap the inland adventure with a visit to BARRA of Mendocino with its stunning 5,000 sq. ft. tasting facility that resembles an inverted champagne glass. It all started in 1945 when Charlie Barra, then a high school junior, leased a neighbor’s ranch to grow grapes followed by the 1955 purchase of a 175-acre vineyard in Redwood Valley situated at the headwaters of the Russian River. As one of the first growers to plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon on the North Coast, his focus shifted to crafting single-vineyard designate wines and in 1977 BARRA of Mendocino was born. Today BARRA and second label Girasole Vineyards are made of 100 percent estate grapes from organic-certified vineyards. This is the stop for a well-rounded line-up of wines from the signature Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese to the 2017 CORO, crafted with 60 percent Zinfandel and a blend of Petit Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Pack a picnic and let the day drift away. www.barraofmendocino.com.
ANCIENT REDWOODS & SECLUDED SOAKS
………..It’s time to tap out and rave with the ancient redwoods. The last CORO producer is inland in wine-centric Anderson Valley, a 15-mile tapestry of vineyards leading to the Pacific. Head south for 14 miles and due west on Orr Springs Road for an outback escape. At first it seems Jurassic, these towering icons and floppy fern groves the size of cars. Welcome to Montgomery Woods State Reserve. A quick romp delivers one of the state’s most magnificent groves of virgin redwoods. To stand among the redwood spires deep in the forest is to stand in the nave of one of nature’s cathedrals. High up in the canopy, past flying buttresses of enormous branches, the green treetops soar 300 or more feet above. A network of easy trails links the Reserve and adjoining fern groves. Free; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=434.
………..Nearby is another wonder of the world, Orr Hot Springs. Originally on the stagecoach route in the late 1800s, the 27-acre resort began building cabins in the 1930s and today has a mix of lodgings near the meandering fresh mountain spring. Guests can delve into a secluded mineral bath, opt for two communal tubs set between 104–107 degrees or snag one of two stargazing tubs located atop of the bathhouse building. The enormous cold pool, a 15 by 60 ft., spring-fed plunge built into a rock sidewall set at a delightful 65–75 degrees, offers the ultimate chill down. For those seeking a detox duo, the dry sauna and constant-flow steam room, from the same water source, do the trick; massage is also available. Day use available; reservations required. www.orrhotsprings.org.
………..Continue to the Pacific along Orr Springs Road and south on Flynn Creek Road to Navarro. This is Pinot country, with a splash of sparkling. Pull into Greenwood Ridge Vineyards for the last stop connecting to CORO. Laid back hits a high note here, with a unique octagonal tasting room designed by Aaron G. Green, longtime associate and architect of Frank Lloyd Wright (crafted from a single 400-year old redwood). Here, leisure pursuits include tasting on the wrap-around deck overlooking the pond or garden patio by the fire pit. Small-lot, award-winning wines take center stage including CORO, a sought-after Sauvignon Blanc, Rosés and double-gold winning Pinot Noirs. Spend the afternoon, charge the Tesla and ponder the distinctive wines that make Mendocino County the perfect muse. www.greenwoodridge.com.
Travel Alert: Please check directly with wineries regarding tours and timeframes given the current COVID-19 conditions.
………..Mendocino County welcomes nearly 1.8 million visitors annually who explore its 90 miles of prime Pacific coastline, 90+ wineries and 12 diverse AVAs (earning the highest percentage of organic and biodynamic vineyards in the United States), 24 state/national parklands and 450+ unique accommodations. Straddling scenic Highways 1 and 101, “The Redwood Corridor,” the County delivers an ideal vortex of waves, wines and redwoods laced with historic villages and outback adventures. Located 114 mi./184 km. north of San Francisco, the region’s gateway airports are San Francisco International (SFO), Oakland International (OAK), Sacramento International Airport (SMF), and Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS). Visit Mendocino County is a non-profit destination marketing organization designed to enhance the economic vitality of the community by increasing tourism revenue. For more information, go to www.visitmendocino.com.