Majestic Redwoods and Pinot Magic

The map tells us that the journey to Mendocino village is 128 miles from downtown Napa on California Route 128. However, GPS cannot describe the experience that feels like a journey back in time. Founded at the start of the Gold Rush, historic Mendocino is all about a slower pace, not a higher speed internet. So, bring hiking shoes, binoculars, and even paintbrushes, but leave the laptop at home, perhaps.

As it turns out, majestic redwoods and craggy Pacific coastlines go great with fresh air and Northern California wine tasting, including sparkling wine.

Explore wineries en route to town. Boonville (pop: 1,035) and Philo (pop: 349) are 35 to 40 miles south of Main Street in Mendocino. A magnet for pinot lovers, Anderson Valley AVA is one of the nation’s best for this cool climate varietal. What could be better for elegant fruit than foggy, breezy ocean-tempered nights and heat-laden, sugar-forming afternoons when daytime temperatures rise by 45 to 55 degrees?

Anderson Valley Wineries

There are over 550 vineyards and 50 wineries in the ten smaller, diverse AVAs within the larger Mendocino County AVA, one of California’s northernmost and coldest wine-growing regions. For many of them, it’s not a question of “will there be frost?” Rather, it’s “how many frosts will there be?”

In 1982, Jean-Claude Rouzaud, former president of the seventh-generation brand Champagne Louis Roederer—the venerable house of Cristal—came to “the middle of nowhere” and purchased a 580-acre vineyard and winery site in Mendocino County. Since its production début in 1988, Roederer Estates is one of California’s premier sparkling wine producers and is heavily invested in biodynamic farming. //

Stop in at a sister winery to Roederer; it’s just five minutes down the road. In addition to notable méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines, The Tasting Room at Scharffenberger Cellars is a destination for its changing displays of local artists’ works. Enjoy a picnic in the garden or on the porch, check out the 900-year-old redwood tree. //

Foursight Wines, named as a tribute to four generations, dates their family farming to 1942. Known for Pinot Noir and cool climate, lower alcohol Alsatian-style Chardonnay, the vines enjoy 55-degree diurnal swings, making the pinot grapes happy. Speaking about his unfiltered philosophy, owner/winemaker Joe Webb said, “We decided to be the first winery in the country to put ‘Suitable for vegans and vegetarians’ on the wine label to begin a conversation with people about what is going into the wine.” //

At Long Meadow Ranch in Philo, proximity to the cool coastline means that Pinot Noir is the primary red wine, grown organically on 50 acres near the Navarro River. A natural marine layer blankets the vineyards and creates a terroir that’s ideal for the Burgundian style. An additional 15 acres are planted to Chardonnay and just over two acres of Pinot Gris closest to the river. Long Meadow Ranch also has a restaurant and a dozen cottages. //

Things to Do

Mendocino is famous for festivals; something is going on outdoors every month of the year: Pinot Noir, music, film, whales, beer, rhododendrons, arts and craft, wine, and mushrooms.

Between festivals, the DNA of the place is all about beautiful bluffs and beaches, lighthouses and spectacular vistas, kayaks, botanical gardens, and state parks. Those looking for standouts that cannot be found anywhere else should explore Glass Beach, where the pounding surf and rolling waves have turned rocks to glass. Hike along Pygmy Forest Discovery Trail to see mature knee-high trees in Van Damme State Park. Find the 36-foot waterfall in Russian Gulch State Park and the spot where waves crash into a collapsed sea cave called Devil’s Punchbowl.

South of town is a place to rent a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or a canoe from Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too at The Stanford Inn. Push off into Big River Estuary, where the currents are gentle and the wildlife is plentiful. Watch for harbor seals, river otters, and shorebirds. //

North of town, Fort Bragg is a favorite for family fun, chiefly the Skunk Train. It’s a magical ride on a historic railway through the old-growth redwood groves, over trestle bridges, into tunnels, and out again into the lush canyon. Catch it in Fort Bragg or Willitts. Alternatively, try the custom-built electric-powered two-person railbikes on the Redwood Route. //

As an alternative to driving, take a day trip from Napa for wine tasting in Anderson Valley. Cultured Vine can provide a helicopter to Philo for a paired lunch under the giant oak tree at Goldeneye Winery, “the pearly gates of Pinot Noir.” For a special occasion, celebrate with Goldeneye Brut Rosé made from select blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, capturing layers of blood orange, honeydew, and hazelnut flavors in the bubbles. // //

Eat & Drink

GoodLife Café & Bakery in tiny Mendocino village is one way to start a good day. Everything is homemade on the premises, placed on display to tempt. Gluten-free options are plentiful; try the blueberry streusel or a breakfast burrito and veggie cake to accompany a cup of organic, fair-trade, locally roasted coffee. Grab a seat at the window to observe the local scene and check the corkboard notices to find out what’s going on in town. //

A culinary destination restaurant since 1968, Chef Julian is at the helm of family-owned Café Beaujolais. Dine in the beautiful rose garden where wood-fired pizza is prepared; everything is made with organically grown produce. The Waiting Room is open for coffee and pastries at the Last Door on Ukiah Street, and The Nicholson House makes Café Beaujolais an all-in-one destination with their luxury accommodation at the House Next Door. //

Terrific ocean views compete with well-crafted cocktails at Ole’s Whale Watch Bar adjacent to Little River Inn’s dining room. Dungeness Crab Croque Madame is a unique seasonal creation from Chef de Cuisine Jason Azevedo. (Ask about the story of how James Dean once got kicked out.) Guests at the inn’s 65 pet-friendly rooms—some with wood-burning or gas fireplaces—can enjoy golf and tennis, too. //

Where Else to Stay

MacCallum House is top-rated, a charming Victorian with 19 rooms in the center of town. In the hotel’s restaurant, Chef Alan Kantor ensures that this is one of Northern California’s special places to dine and stay. //

Dine and stay in secluded luxury on a 1.5-mile site with 20 miles of trails. The Inn at Newport Ranch is where Executive Chef Adam Stacy plucks freshness from a bounteous garden for his California ranch-inspired cuisine that comes with a Michelin-starred pedigree. //

Perched high on a bluff top overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Brewery Gulch Inn reigns cathedral-like over the dramatic coast. Built from 150-year-old redwood reclaimed from nearby Big River, the ten romantic rooms—many with deep, two-person tubs and private decks—all look out over picture-perfect views of Smuggler’s Cove. //


Story By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr // Photos By: Brendan McGuigan, Michael Ryan, & Visit Mendocino County