A weekend getaway to Mendocino

When my girlfriends and I decided to plan a weekend getaway, we wanted to go to a wine region we had not been to. As wine writers, we thought that might be difficult but it turned out none of us had been to Mendocino County, located north of Sonoma on the coast of California. This hidden gem was the perfect place for a fun weekend and I wrote about it in the Napa Valley Register which I share here.

It’s Mendocino, not Montecito. It’s Anderson Valley, not Alexander Valley. Located just over an hour north of Healdsburg, on the coast of California, Mendocino is the out-of-the-way wine country. It is not near any urban areas. It is remote. It is not carpeted with vines but rather interspersed with other agriculture. It is a secret corner of California and one that I went to explore with some girlfriends and fellow wine writers for a weekend.

Mendocino County is a hidden gem filled with rolling hills along the coast. In addition to wineries, breweries and delightful New England-esque towns to explore, there are charming inns to stay in.

For our getaway, we stayed at Brewery Gulch Inn, a warm and inviting bed-and-breakfast that conveys the feeling of home. Built in 2001 with 150-year-old wood from The Big River, just north of the inn, the property was purchased by Guy Pacurar in 2007. In addition to updating the 10 rooms and one suite, he created a living room and built a wine bar. Guests are served a filling home-cooked breakfast and a light twilight dinner.

The wine bar at Brewery Gulch Inn is useful for early-evening tastings of Fathers & Daughters Cellars, the label created by Guy and his wife Sarah. While Guy moved to Mendocino with the sole intent of buying an inn, it was meeting his wife Sarah that led to making wine. Sarah’s father, Kurt Shoeneman, a developer, purchased the Ferrington Vineyard in the Anderson Valley in 1996 and sold grapes to wineries including William Selyem, MacPhail, Arista, Saxon Brown and others.

In 2012, Guy and Sarah started Fathers & Daughters Cellars, the same year their daughter Ella was born. The winery was named to honor the relationships between Sarah and her father Kurt, as well as Guy and his two daughters Taylor (from a previous relationship) and Ella. Sourcing grapes to produce Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, from the Ferrington Vineyard — where Ella was a newborn in a backpack for the first harvest — solidified the connection between fathers and daughters.

Today, with Phil Baxter as the winemaker, Fathers & Daughters makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Rosé and a Pet-Nat (petillant-natural) sparkling wine from Chardonnay from the Roederer Estate.

The Louis Roederer family in Champagne, France, first planted vines in the Anderson Valley in 1981 and started Roederer Estate. They saw the area as an ideal spot to produce sparkling wines. Today, the 15-mile-long Anderson Valley is home to sparkling wine production as well as still wines made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Alsatian varieties.

Once we could tear ourselves away from the comfort of the Brewery Gulch Inn, we ventured to explore two other wineries.

Domaine Anderson, part of the Roederer and Scharffenberger family, was established in 2011. A small amount of still wine had always been made at Roederer but there was little room with all of the sparkling wine production. Down the road was an apple and sheep ranch that had been purchased in 2007 by Jim Ball, who planted vines. Sadly, he overextended himself and was financially under water by 2011. Fortunately, Jean-Claude Rouzaud of Louis Roederer saw the property as the ideal place to make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Domaine Anderson was born.

The winery is located on an organically and biodynamically farmed 20-acre property, which is home to 17 planted acres, 15 of which are Pinot Noir, and the winery. The farm is what winemaker Darrin Low calls a “harmonious ecosystem” as the ground water is repurposed for irrigation in the reservoir, waste is composted, cover crops are used to attract animals and insects to keep pests away. An organic vegetable garden and a honeybee colony are also on the property.

Additionally, Domaine Anderson has vineyards both to the north and south of the valley for a total of 50 acres. This offers Darrin diversity of climate and terroir when making his wines. All in all, Darrin uses all of this to his advantage to make Grand Cru quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And after tasting the new bottlings of the 2018 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, I would say he is on the right path. Even in their youth, the wines show their elegance and balance.

Across the road from Domaine Anderson is Smith Story Wines, and we stopped in their tasting room to taste with Alison Smith Story and Lord Sandwich, their Instagram famous Goldendoodle dog. Smith Story Wines was founded by Eric Story and Alison Smith who first met while working at K&L Wine Merchants. Friendship led to romance and a shared passion led to making wines from places throughout California and Europe that are special to Eric and Ali. Each vineyard they work with, from the Anderson Valley to the Sonoma Valley to the Reinghau in Germany, is family-owned.

A standout of the tasting was the 2017 Smith Story Cabernet Franc with notes of bramble, coffee, cinnamon, mint and winter spices.

Our girls’ weekend was a great first introduction to the Anderson Valley and Mendocino County. But there is so much more to see and do. This hidden region had not been on my radar but now I anticipate future weekend escapes to explore all that Mendocino County has to offer.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.