Saturday, December 11, 2010

“Smoother Sailing” – Mendocino, part 2

(Click here for Part 1.)

On the second day of our little jaunt through Mendocino County wine country, we were accompanied by Sid, a friend of mine from back in the Usenet days of basketball discussion boards. An Oregonian living in San Francisco, he’d never been through Mendocino wine country and wanted to see what was about. We were more than happy to have him tot us around in a Prius.

The “other fork” of the road from Cloverdale is a much smoother ride up Highway 101. The viticultural areas along that stretch tend to be warmer as they’re farther inland, away from the cooling influences of the ocean breezes. The climate is better suited for growing heartier grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay rather than the more delicate pinot noir and gewürztraminer in Anderson Valley. The wines in these regions tend to be less expensive and a little more readily available than their Anderson counterparts.

After a couple of false starts, we found ourselves at Lolonis Winery. Lucky us! Lolonis is an organic producer with an understated warehouse of a tasting room that happened to have a fabulous spread of cheeses for our snacking pleasure. We were their first visitors of the day this Sunday. “We figured everyone would be in church!” they said. Lolonis’ trademark is the ladybug, since they use these cute little critters as pest control. We had long talks with Lori the winemaker and with Petros Lolonis, the owner, who is one of the most charming gentlemen to whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking. He’s quiet & thoughtful – the same adjectives I’d apply to his Redwood Valley Merlot, which at $18 a bottle is a steal. Their petit sirah and late harvest zinfandel (the latter is Cuvee Lorrane, named after the winemaker) are also excellent.
(During our visit to Lolonis, we discovered that we were smack dab in the middle of the Taste of Redwood Valley Holiday Wine Open House and Sale. Oh, darn…)

From there, we made our way to Oster Vineyards, tucked away down a back road. The tasting room is a low, wooden barn where Teresa & Ken Oster make exactly one wine, cabernet sauvignon. When they’re not picking grapes, they’re picking bluegrass tunes – and the wine and music certainly complement each other. Their cab is a balanced, approachable cab with a little bit of a rustic bite at the end that will mellow with a little time lying down. Lots of good berry and tannin even now.

The other winery highlight of our trip was McNab Ridge, where Joseph Parducci does some varietals that don’t show up very often. They make a carignane that smells like a chocolate truffle and a pinotage that’s pretty rugged around the edges but has a really nice heart of blueberries. Their 2006 Reserve Cabernet was just a luscious wine – their first ever reserve offering. There’s “Zinzilla!” – a biga zinfandel that they make year after year. An asskicker. They also had a barrel tasting available of their 2008 cabernet. As I mentioned in the last entry, 2008 was an interesting vintage in Mendocino because of the wildfires. Everyone calls it a “rough vintage,” but is that barrel was any indication, I’m personally going to be seeking out wines from that year. I think that they’ll be unique wines.

A few of the other places we hit on the second day:

Cole Bailey At the top of a hill at the end of a twisty, muddy driveway sat a somewhat ramshackle tasting room where Bob Anderson held court, pouring his “Sesquipedalian” cabernet and sauvignon blanc. His name may not ring a bell, but he’s better known by his fraternity nickname – “Otter.” Bob was in Alpha Delta at Dartmouth – the inspiration for the Deltas. No, he didn’t say, “Bob Anderson, winemaker – damned glad to meet you,” but he was a very nice guy. His sauvignon blanc was very pleasant, as well. In case you’re wondering, a “Sesquipedalian” is “a sophistical rhetorician inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity. In other words, a poser who uses fancy-pants words when simple ones would do.” Alternatively, a wine writer.

Frey VineyardsFrey claims to be “America’s first organic vineyard” and the winery and tasting room have the exterior look of a commune. While they may be the first, they’re certainly not the best. They’ve become a destination winery for hippies and hipsters. They’ve spent more time culturing their “organic” image than on the quality of their wine.

Giuseppe Wines – a fourth generation winery in Mendocino, Giuseppe was certainly the most lively place that we stopped. They’re focused on making good table wine for Italian cuisine with American grapes. Their Zinfandel isn’t subtle. It’s around 15% alcohol and is crafted to mirror big Barbera, from what I can tell. On the day of the open house, they had a big spread of food out, and this is apparently nothing new. Spaghetti dinners are regular occurrences.

McFadden Vineyard – We didn’t make it to the vineyard itself, but we enjoyed their tasting room. Stick to their sparkling wines and their smooth, subtle whites like their 2006 Riesling. Very tasty.
The three of us also had a very good late lunch at the Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant. All the homemade beer and delicious vegetarian pub grub (no…seriously…it’s really fricking good) that you would ever want.

Sid ran us back to Cloverdale for our last evening at Vintage Towers. We relaxed a bit, then headed to La Hacienda, a locally owned Mexican restaurant in Cloverdale. Basic Tex-Mex. Mexican food and beer were a nice change after snorking wine for two days, although the SPinC didn’t much care for her quesadilla.

Alas, our little wine weekend had to come to an end. We were up early the next morning on our way to SFO to head home. Mendocino certainly made its mark on us, though. I used to think that heading back to Sonoma would be my wine destination of choice, but Mendocino certainly has its appeal. I’d head back there in a heartbeat. And if you’re looking for something new, I’d highly recommend this jaunt.
And with that, the Vine is going to take a bit of a sabbatical. Time to recharge the batteries.

See y’all in the new year. Cheers!

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