Destination Mendocino County: Wine, Food, and Surf

Blending Wine, Nature, Refined Lodging, and Gourmet Cuisine

About two hours north of San Francisco is an unspoiled area beckoning to be explored and discovered. Decompress, and enjoy nature’s beauty all the while experiencing world-class wines, lodging, and cuisine, plus the incomparable beauty of nature. Be lulled to sleep by the tranquil silence in a vineyard, or by the sound of the surf below your room. Mendocino County beckons you to regenerate your soul and spirit. 

Photo Credit: Courtney DeGraff

The long and winding road that is California 128 will take you from the Bay Area to Anderson Valley. Narrow and curvy as you enter the Valley, you may find yourself behind a logging truck or an RV escaping to the country. That’s ok, just slow down, digest the beauty, and look forward to relaxing among trees, hills, vineyards, forests, or the coast. For those of you willing to take this journey you will be well rewarded.

Mendocino County is a cornucopia of pleasures, starting with wine country.

Anderson Valley

Photo Credit: Courtney DeGraff

It’s not Burgundy, but the wines are mostly Burgundian, and you will discover amazing wines and wineries. Meandering along picturesque Highway 128, arriving in Anderson Valley, you will come to towns with names like Boonville, Philo, and Navarro. Most of the wineries are small and family-owned, all of them will tease your palate with their wines, please your senses and be a special experience. With over 30 tasting rooms to choose from, you can’t make a poor choice. While we look at a few, one that absolutely must be on your sip list, for wine and history lovers, is Husch Vineyards

Picturesque, rural and rustic, Husch embodies the history of the Anderson Valley AVA. It is the first bonded winery in the area, dating back to 1971. In the 100-year-old Husch guest house, there is a special table in the kitchen. Here a group of winemakers and vineyard owners gathered to form the Anderson Valley AVA. and signed the final documents. Talk about history! This is ‘the room where it happened.’

Husch 100-year-old Tasting Room

The property itself was an agricultural property over a hundred years ago, and the guesthouse, outbuildings, and tasting room are the original structures.

Under third-generation ownership of the Oswald family (since 1979), this sustainably farmed property produces several wines. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the mainstays, in addition to several other varietals. However, when you visit, you must try (and go home with) their award-winning dry Gewurztraminer. What a treat to visit this historical property.

Photo Credit: Courtney DeGraff

Goldeneye Winery is another gem. Sitting on the outdoor patio, listening to live soft jazz, the beautiful garden in front of you, in full bloom, is framed by the Confluence Vineyard and with a background of hills and redwoods; it’s simply magical. Goldeneye was founded in 1996, with the inaugural release of the 1997 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir in 2000. Winemaker Kristen McMahan describes Goldeneye’s (and the valley’s) Pinots saying: “This is one of the world’s most remarkable regions for Pinot Noir.” 

When a winemaker states that their wines express “a sense of place,” this is especially true of Goldeneye’s world-class Pinots. Crafting wines from several different estate vineyards, each with differing micro-climates and terroirs makes for a selection of wines that truly are expressive of their specific place. Visit this unique, beautiful property to experience another example of Anderson Valley’s uniqueness.

Ali from Bee Hunter Wines will grab your attention with her effusive personality the moment you enter the tasting room. Bee Hunter Wines (and Ali) are virtual newbies to Anderson Valley, producing elegant, highly sought-after, small-production, boutique wines. Ali arrived in the valley nine years ago, (from Florida) describing herself as “a California gal now joining you in the land of fruits & nuts. I came from Florida before this and grew up on the East Coast after being born in Illinois and conceived in Russia, or so the story goes!” Ali, with winemaker husband Andy DuVigneaud, in a relatively short time, has built a cult following. Producing up to 1500 cases a year, they source from elite vineyards that practice organic, biodynamic, sustainable farming. Ali is “a party in a bottle,” which you will experience when you meet her in Bee Hunter’s tasting room.

Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

As much as you want to immerse yourself in exquisite Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other delicious varietals of the region, don’t overlook trying some world-class bubbles.

Photo Credit: Courtney DeGraff

Roederer Estate is the California footprint of France’s esteemed house: Champagne Louis Roederer. For 35 years Roederer has been producing highly acclaimed sparkling wine, “remaining true to the excellence and style of its French heritage.” 

Scharffenberger Cellars has been producing the finest sparkling wine since 1981. Following méthode traditionnelle production, each bottle of Schraffenberger sparkling wine reflects the individuality of the highest quality. The entire estate is sustainably farmed and fish friendly certified.

A MUST for Pinot Horners: PINOT FEST!

Photo Credit: Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association
In the 1880’s the residents of Boonville spoke a secret language called Boontling. Some words still survive today, such as ‘horner,’ which means lover!

Anderson Valley’s Pinot Fest will hold its 25th extravaganza in 2024. If you truly LOVE Pinot-THIS is the event you must attend! Three days of Pinot Noir, food, fun, and people which can’t be beat.

The night before the official start, enjoy A WELCOME RECEPTION with lots of wine, people, gourmet appetizers, and live music.

Photo Credit: Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association

Day 1: Technical conference during the day, covering various interesting topics. Learn while you sip. That evening, attend a “Sunset in the Vineyard BBQ.” Enjoy live music, lots of wine and food, and fun people.

Day 2:  Enjoy the elegant Bubbles and Caviar tasting (limited attendance, so get tickets early) followed by the Grand Tasting with live music, food, and over three dozen pouring wineries. 

Day 3:  Winery Open Houses: Many wineries have special events, food, and entertainment, on this day, be certain to check their websites and make your reservation for on-site tastings.

Photo Credit: Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association

Be sure to check the schedule for 2024. Be a part of the Anderson Valley AVA 25th Anniversary Pinot Fest party!

The Mendocino Coast and the Drive that Amazes

Once Pinot Fest is a wrap, head to the wild, untamed Mendocino Coast, for unparalleled vistas, elegant Inns, gourmet food, and total relaxation.

Continuing on the 128, past Navarro to the coast, travel through California’s famous and impressive Redwood Forrest. Take it slow and easy and pull off the road now and then. Walk about 10 feet into the surrounding woods. Look up and listen to nature. Redwood Giants, hundreds of years old surround you. Close your eyes, listen, and breathe in the aromas of the forest, trees, and leaves, this is as close to nature as you may ever feel.

Continuing to the Mendocino Coast, your first vision will take your breath away.

No big cities dot the Mendocino coastline, just quaint small communities like Fort Bragg, Elk, Point Arena, Gualala, and of course, Mendocino which is the only coastal town in California designated as a historical landmark. Despite the windy road to the coast, you will be happy you made the drive.

Dotted along the coast you will find an assortment of elegant, stylish, and historic Inns and lodges to stay at. There is also a variety of restaurants to choose from, offering world-class cuisine focusing on locally sourced ingredients presented with panache and creativity. Here are a few to consider among the many choices.

The Inn at Newport Ranch

The Inn at Newport Ranch is an elegant and stylish boutique inn, repurposed from a 100-year-old farmhouse. Modern and “woodsy” the Inn retains its historical character and yesteryear charm. Surrounded by fields, hills, and the Redwoods, with the wild Mendocino Coastline just feet away, you will be swept away by the comfort, views, hospitality, and feeling of having arrived at just the perfect place to renew and regenerate yourself. 

And, of course, there is dining on-site, described as “elevated ranch cuisine.” All ingredients, fruit, vegetables, and proteins are ranch or locally sourced, guaranteeing freshness and enticing flavor profiles. There is a choice of two prix fixe dinner options that are sure to please the most discerning palate. 

For a truly uplifting experience, plan a stay at this chic lodging on the Mendocino Coast.

Sacred Rock Inn

Sacred Rock Inn, in the ‘town’ of Elk, perches on the bluffs overlooking the majestic coastline. With an eclectic assortment of restored and modernized buildings, offering every convenience, you will feel as if you are in your private seaside village. When it comes to food, you will want to satisfy your gastronomic cravings at Greenwood Restaurant. Recently opened, Executive Chef Ryan Seal will head the restaurant team. Seal has been a chef at many esteemed California restaurants, including Solage, Morimoto, and SPQR in San Francisco. Focusing on fresh and local ingredients, Greenwood is another Mendocino Coast destination restaurant.

Elk Cove Inn & Spa

Elk Cove Inn & Spa can only be described as WOW! Location, elegance, privacy, comfort, romance, food, service. Melissa and Victor embody the definition of personal hospitality, making guests feel totally at home. Go ahead, indulge your inner hedonistic self. (My wife and I had the pleasure of staying at this hidden gem and loved every moment).

Perched above what is virtually their own private beach, you can sit back, exhale, and be hypnotized simply watching the waves, surf, and sunset in front of you. Staying in our ocean-front room, the Wave Watcher, was a slice of paradise.

No detail is left unthought of, from a welcome basket (with wine) to port and chocolates in the room. Then, of course, a fireplace, fluffy pillows, and a mattress that lulls you to sleep. From 4:30-5:30, mingle with other guests while savoring the view along with wine and cheese, then get ready for dinner.

Everything Chef Victor prepares is fresh and made daily. Wherever possible, ingredients are from the Inn’s Garden, the surrounding forest (freshly foraged wild mushrooms), or the sea. One of the dishes we had during our stay was a Uni souffle. That morning, at low tide, Chef went down to the rocks to harvest sea urchins for our dinner that evening. Don’t be surprised if Chef changes the menu slightly or adds spur-of-the-moment delicacies. Chef is creative using fresh bounty as is available. The food is enticingly flavorful and artfully presented. Add to that incomparable personal service and the view in front of you for an enthralling dining experience.

To complete the meal’s perfections, Melissa will recommend perfect wine pairings for your meal. A certified sommelier and wine educator, Melissa will guide you and suggest wines from their selective (mostly locally produced) and most reasonably priced wine list. 

The coup de grace is dessert! Maybe you will be fortunate to have melt in your mouth Crepes Suzette as we did on our visit but have dessert!

Elk Cove Inn Sunset

During your stay, wander down the path and walk the beach-see what treasures you find in the surf or on the sand. Take a hike, rent a kayak. Explore nearby burgs. You may also relax with a massage and avail yourself of a sauna in Elk Cove’s Spa. Explore the grounds.

Elk Cove Inn practices sustainability. The fresh eggs you are served for breakfast come from the on-site chickens. Yogurt is made from goat’s milk. Fresh honey is harvested from their beehives. And take a walk through the amazing greenhouse-freshness is everywhere.

Skycrest Mendocino, Photo Credit: Courtney DeGraff

Put Mendocino County on your must-do bucket list. Beginning in Anderson Valley, then proceeding through the Giant Redwoods to the Mendocino Coast is a lifestyle adventure of good wine, creative gourmet food, elegant lodging, and nature that will simply rejuvenate you.