The Heart and Soul of Mendocino Wine Country

  • Melissa Vogt

  • 23 Mar 2017 | Travel

With all the political shenanigans in the news, it’s feeling ever more prescient to take breaks from reality and find respite for the soul, and Mendocino wine country provides the perfect opportunity to get away from it all. Although Mendocino County is a remote location that probably feels like it's a million miles away in the back-country of Northern California, it’s actually only about an hour’s drive north/northeast of Sonoma and Napa counties, and a couple hours from the Bay. It’s easy enough to get to for a weekend getaway and just remote enough to provide tranquility, while still offering much for wine lovers to taste and discover.

You’ll be impressed by the history of the families in the region, many of whom are multi-generational grape growers. It’s no secret that Mendocino grapes have been used for decades in some of your favorite bottles of Sonoma and Napa wines! But times are changing in Mendocino County and many winemakers have recently begun to keep their fruit and make their own wines. And there’s a sense of discovery one feels when unearthing the stories of the local winemakers and tasting the bounty of their labor.

Sound enticing? We’ve done the work for you in seeking out seven producers in Mendocino County that offer a range of price-points and styles, sure to please every wine lover’s tastes.

Seebass Vineyards and Family Wines | 14077 CA-128, Boonville

Talk about a Mendocino winery that makes incredible wines, Seebass is blessed with French winemaker Stéphane Vivier, who has been crafting their wines since 2011. His experience in renowned wine-growing regions around the world such as Burgundy, Switzerland, New Zealand and the Sonoma Coast (California), give him boundless expertise and a signature style. Making wines from various Mendocino County appellations, the Seebass portfolio is both diverse and full of quality. Current releases include a Provençal-style 2015 Rosé that boasts a dry and fresh palate with lively acidity, engaging complexity, strawberry, sea-brine and a rounded mouthfeel. There’s also the 2012 Merlot that packs a punch with its beautiful acidity, fresh red fruit, hints of cocoa and refined tannin structure. It’s unlike any Merlot you’ve ever tasted and we mean that as a compliment!

Brutocao Cellars | Brutocao School House Plaza, 13500 US-101, Hopland
This tasting room is quaint in that it is housed in the old Hopland High School, although the folks at Brutocao have done a good job of transforming the inside. Brutocao has a very extensive collection of wines that are all reasonably priced and offer good quality. If you bump into Winemaker Hoss Milone when tasting at Brutocao, consider yourself lucky, as this born and raised Hoplander has a story or two to tell about the locals and his family history. Don’t miss the 2012 Primitivo, which has enticing aromas of spiced black cherry and a bright, juicy palate full of raspberry, red cherry and spices. The 2013 Contento Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is also a nice offering, with fine tannins, plum, cassis and chocolate on the palate; the wine is well structured and balanced, offering up a nice showing for a young Mendocino Cabernet.

Campovida | 13601 Old River Road, Hopland
When it comes to families who are changing the game in Mendocino County, look no further than Campovida. Owners Gary and Anna Beuselinck uprooted from their home in the Oakland Hills to resettle in Hopland and reclaim the historic Valley Oaks Farm. Today, the Campovida estate boasts a luscious garden, beautiful spaces for corporate and private retreats, and an inviting tasting room in which to enjoy their excellent collection of wines. Their Rhône and Italian varietals are the standouts. The 2014 Viognier offers up gorgeous stone fruit, white flowers and a touch of honey on the nose; the palate is beautifully balanced with acidity and roundness, full of honeydew and floral characteristics. The 2013 Montepulciano Fox Hill Vineyard has great body, bracing acidity and a very rich but elegant palate, with layered flavors of spice-filled red fruit.

Barra of Mendocino | 7051 N State St, Redwood Valley
At Barra of Mendocino, you’re likely to meet Martha, the sweet wife of Charlie Barra. Together, this husband and wife duo run the show at Barra. Their tasting room in Redwood Valley offers a welcoming setting in which to taste the wines of their two brands: Girasole Vineyards and Barra of Mendocino. The former offers affordable price-points with good quality, while the latter adorns a slightly higher price tag as a result of more new barrels and longer barrel ageing. The Girasole lineup offers a fresh and energetic 2016 Chardonnay, good for those who enjoy fresh Chardonnays. It’s full of lemon, green apple and pear, with bright, fresh acidity. And from the Barra collection, the 2013 Sangiovese is a lovely expression of this varietal; it brings bright strawberry aromas and a light, fresh and easy-drinking style on the palate with a medium body, dried red fruit and pleasant spices.

Testa Wines | 6400 N State St, Ukiah
At Testa, the Italian heritage is evident right away from the wonderful din of boisterous, Italian women who are at the helm of this family estate. Maria Testa Martinson is in charge and her passion for the old vines on the family property is abundantly clear as she walks guests through the tasting room lineup. From the tasting room, picturesque views of the vineyards and lake offer up a scene of tranquility. The 2016 Petite Sirah made from the breathtaking old vines on the property shows lots of purple flowers and blueberry in its powerful and dense, but elegant palate. And the 2012 Grenache, which is a dedication to Maria’s father (an Italian immigrant and the man who first planted vines on the property), is nicely equipped with freshness, bright acidity, structure and flavors of ripe but subtle black cherry with eucalyptus.

Rivino | 4101 Cox Schrader Rd, Ukiah
Tasting through the Rivino lineup, one can tell they are fiercely dedicated to crafting some of Mendocino’s most balanced and high-quality wines. Run by Jason McConnel and Suzanne Jahnke-McConnell, the two have successfully been producing a diverse collection of small-case production wines since 2008. They are committed to terroir expression and follow a simple approach in the cellar, allowing the grapes to speak for themselves in the glass. No doubt that the 2015 Amber Eve Rosé is going to be flying off the shelves this spring and summer. Made in a very Provençal style and tasting like sunshine in a glass, this dry and delicate Rosé is full of juicy acidity and fresh fruit flavors of strawberry and melon. Calling upon the indigenous varietals of Italy, their 2015 Sangiovese is plump and juicy with dried strawberry and spices, and just a kiss of oak gracing the lively palate.

Nelson Family Vineyards | 550 Nelson Ranch Rd, Ukiah
At Nelson, father Greg and sons Tyler and Chris have been growing grapes since the 1970s. Tyler mans the vineyards while Chris does the winemaking, and father Greg oversees the whole operation, including the acres of agriculture and farm animals—making this a multi-generation, family-run estate. Their history in the region and expertise shows in their wines, which are well-crafted and pleasing on the palate. One of the standouts in their current tasting room lineup is the 2013 Viognier, which is a white flower and stone fruit-scented beauty, with a round texture and flavors of stone fruit, melon and flowers. For a more robust offering, the 2013 Zinfandel—certainly one of the tastiest Mendocino Zinfandels we've come across—is filled with enticing flavors of black raspberry and baking spices, wrapped up in a luscious body with excellent structure.

More articles from this author