There is a scene at the end of the movie “A Walk in the Clouds” when a horrific fire destroys a family’s vineyards. All is not lost with the discovery of an old root which the family will use to reestablish the vineyards. For this wine tour of Mendocino County, the focus is on some of the original families, the roots of the wine industry in the area. These are the fourth and fifth generations of Italian immigrants, many growing grapes for more than 100 years. With names like Brutocao, Graziano, Parducci, Barra and Testa, their wines reflect this heritage.
Mendocino County is a climatically diverse region bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west, redwood forests to the north and split by the Coastal Mountain Range. Within these extremes are warm valleys with lots of sun perfect for growing grapes.
If you are a red wine lover, one of the best ways to experience Mendocino wine is with Coro Mendocino. This is the first wine in the United States to brand itself similar to a European appellation with their strict rules. Each wine passes through four blind tastings before it is declared worthy of the Coro Mendocino label.
“Coro was established to show off our world-class grapes and the innovative people associated with them; generations of family farming that has since brought new farmers and ranchers to this great agricultural community we call Mendocino County,” says Hoss Milone, winemaker for Brutocao Cellars. “Zinfandel makes Coro unique. Cabernet is grown all over the world, but only California has Zin and only Mendocino County has a Zin blend that is Coro. Currently our 2015 vintage is for sale. Every summer is when we release. Our next release event for the 2016 Coro is on July 16, 2019, with 11 wineries offering tastings of their own individual Coros at the Mendocino Music Festival in the iconic Village of Mendocino on the coast.
“The establishment of Coro started over 15 years ago when a group of Mendocino county winemakers got together to discuss a project that could define what Mendocino winemaking was all about. We started with Zinfandel, but the beauty of the project has been the Old-World varietals that are such an important part of each unique blend, and it showcases the diversity of the grapes grown in this county,” says Steve Brutocao, president and CEO of Brutocao Family Vineyards.
For a very authentic stay, choose the Testa House as your home during your visit. This lovely craftsmen-style three-bedroom farmhouse was built in 1927 by the original Italian immigrants who farmed the land. This vintage home is filled with original features and old Testa family photos yet has all the modern conveniences for a comfortable stay.
“Staying at our Testa House is truly something special. It is a place to get away and relax but still feel right at home. You wake up and have your coffee to the waterfront view and end the day with a glass of wine on the back porch overlooking the vineyard. At Testa you are surrounded by 106 years of history, beautiful vineyards, a working winery, old rustic barns and our Tasting Room, which is just steps from the house. There is truly nothing else like it," says Maria Martinson, a fourth-generation winemaker and owner of the Testa Ranch.
Begin or end your wine tasting day at the Testa Tasting Room. At each stop of your tasting journey, be sure and try the Coro Mendocino; these red blends are a work of art with each winemaker showcasing their skills. It is interesting to taste each winemaker’s Coro Mendocino and to compare the differences. Not far from Testa are Barra of Mendocino and Parducci tasting rooms. If you prefer to picnic at the wineries, plan to swing by the Redwood Valley Market, a cute little local store with a deli.
After your first round of tastings head into Ukiah to School Street, which has local boutiques and a bookstore. For lunch visit Schat's Bakery for fresh soups, sandwiches and salads or to pick up some treats for breakfast at the Testa House. The Bottle Shop is very popular with locals. This deli makes great sandwiches, and don’t forget to add the Mendo mustard. They have a variety of pasta salads and other grab-and-go items to pack a picnic.
In the afternoon head to Hopland for some more wine tasting. Another fourth-generation run vineyard and winery is Brutocao Cellars. “Our long history of grape growing and winemaking goes back 75 years when my grandfather, Irv Bliss, first bought the property that is now fondly called the Bliss Ranch. Every bottle has family involvement, from my brother Len growing the grapes, to my brother David helping to make the wine, to myself and my nephews Ryan and Kevin marketing and selling the finished product. It all starts in the vineyard, and the ground is sacred to us. This is the same land that our grandpa fell in love with; that our mom helped pick grapes on; that our dad saw the vision and potential of and expanded our business; that my brothers and I have continued that passion and that our children will after us,” says Steve.
Also in Hopland is the Graziano family of wines. This is another old Italian family with the fourth generation working in the company. Graziano has a very good Coro Mendocino and four separate labels for their wines.
For dinner a must is The Broiler Steak House in Redwood Valley. It has been around since 1966 serving juicy steaks, seafood and other yummy dishes. This is where the locals go for a nice meal or family celebration. It’s just unpretentious and good. Another restaurant getting a lot of buzz is Patrona Restaurant and Lounge. Owned by wine chefs Bridget and Craig, the two are passionate about their community, and the menus are based on what is available from local purveyors. Their award-winning wine list is heavy on Mendocino County wines, which are all kept in a temperature-controlled wine room.
There are so many unique activities available to see and do while in the area. Head up to Willits and catch The Skunk Train. The two-hour Wolf Train Turn will take you into the Redwood-rich Noyo River Canyon where you will see the giants Redwoods from the comfort of a train. Montgomery Woods State Park is another location to see the Redwoods while enjoying a nice hike.
For a more relaxing experience visit the Vichy Hot Springs and buy a day use pass which includes the use of the famous "champagne" Vichy Mineral Baths, Olympic-size swimming pool (in season), Hot Pool and private 700 acres of walking and hiking trails. Picnic tables are available throughout the grounds for guests' enjoyment. There is a waterfall on-site, and it is spectacular this year due to all the recent rain. The Testa House is pretty centrally located. If you wish to go further afield, Willits is an interesting town to visit. From there you can head west to Fort Bragg for a nice day trip to the coast.
To get to Mendocino County, fly into the San Francisco International Airport. It is a two-and-a-half hour scenic drive that takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge. It is about an hour further than Napa or Sonoma but well worth the drive.
Where to Stay
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Things to Do