Monday, May 9, 2011

Hopland/Mendocino County: America's Greenest Wine Region and Best Deals!

Part of the fun of wine country road trips is discovering new territory and terroir. I had a chance to visit Hopland a few weeks ago during its annual spring Passport event and was amazed to find out that the region's slogan, "America's Greenest Wine Region" wasn't just greenwashing; it was true. The region has more than a dozen wineries making organically grown wine. The percentage of organic vineyards here is 25% (compared to total wine grape acreage in the county). By comparison, the statewide average is estimated by both the Wine Institute and CCOF to be 2-3%. And vineyard giant Andy Beckstoffer, who the Wall Street Journal calls The Most Powerful Grower in Napa (he owns 1,000 acres in Napa and 2,000 acres of vineyard in Napa, Sonoma and Mendo, recently bought up 300 acres of pear orchards near Ukiah and is planting in organic chardonnay vines.

(Quick geography review: Hopland and Ukiah are located two hours north of San Francisco on Route 101, about 30 minutes north of Healdsburg, in the Upper Russian River Valley. That's the right half of the map below.)

I don't know how I managed to miss it in the past. Oh, er, actually I do know - it's a little further to drive (but not much) and it's not as famous (or crowded or expensive). For those of us who remember bucolic days visiting Napa (20+ years ago when picnicking was legal and tasting free), a trip to Hopland is a step in the right direction, a place where you feel like you've been someplace rural, not like you've been to the Hamptons.

For decades, Hopland has been a hotbed of organic grape growing; many of the region's grapes wind up in Napa's finest, some in single vineyard designated wines. The Fetzer family brought nationwide attention to organic wines with their forward-thinking Bonterra Vineyards, the largest organic brand in the country with annual case production of more than 300,000. Yet, for years, Hopland/Ukiah's growers' corridor has played second fiddle to Anderson Valley to the west, where cool region grapes have succeeded and where out of town hotshots and corporations own most of the (non-organic) wineries.

But that may be changing. Over the past decade, several of the most prominent growers along the Hopland/Ukiah corridor as well as the revived Fetzer clan (which had to stop making wines for 8 years after selling Fetzer to Brown-Forman in 1992), have started to make their own wines over the past decade. More than a few are making notably fine wines. (I"ll be writing about them in more detail soon).

In contrast to Napa, Sonoma, Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso, and Santa Barbara County, Mendo's Hopland area winemakers offer value pricing and, if you taste your way through their offerings, you'll discover some incredible deals. Terra Savia's Blanc de Blanc [Whole Foods, $23], comes to mind, as well as award winners like Paul Dolan's Sauvignon Blanc, $18, winner of a gold medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition or Patianna's Sauvignon Blanc, another gold medal winner, $16.

All of the vintners featured make organically grown wines (and mostly only organically grown wines). Here's an impressionistic slideshow of my Passport adventures.


Hopland Inn (the one and only place there is to stay in Hopland, run by the Pomo tribe, $139 to $179/room)
McFadden Wines, organic for 40 years; tasting room in Hopland; vineyards in Potter Valley
Graziano, maker of many Italian varietals, and one organic (practicing) old vine Zin
SIP Mendocino, this wine bar and wine shop, offers only Mendo wines, and includes a large selection of organically grown Mendo wines, the best selection you'll find anywhere; it is also the tasting room for Patianna
Terra Savia, makers of fine wines, including two Chardonnays, one Meritage, a reserve Cab and the aforementioned, affordable Blanc de Blanc
Jeriko Estate, with a wide lineup of varietals
Saracina, run by John Fetzer, former CEO of Fetzer, where David Ramey (formerly of Dominus) is the winemaker
McFadden Vineyard, a real working farm and vineyard, with grass fed cattle, organic herbs, and more than 100 acres of organic vineyard

Not pictured here but worthy of mention (more on them soon) are Paul Dolan Wines (organic and biodynamic), Barra of Mendocino, Girasole Vineyards, Parducci, Campovida/Magnanimus Wine, Trinafour, Testa, Philo Ridge (practicing), Lolonia, Frey (USDA organic and biodynamic) and Chance Creek.

Click on the arrow and then click on the lower right of the Flickr screen to see the photos full screen (recommended).

For more on Mendo wine, visit the Mendocino Wine Country web site.

I'll be listing my best deal wines from Mendo stay tuned. (Signing up for the email list will keep you up to date). I'll also be covering more about Anderson Valley separately.

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