This week we’ll take a look at another of my favorite California wine regions, a little less known and less commercial than its neighbors. Somehow it seems both remote and accessible at the same time, and its climate has allowed many of the grape growers there to farm organically.
Mark your calendars for Oct.1 for the annual Arkansas Heart Association Festival of Wines, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. More than 600 wines. Tickets are $60 in advance by calling 501-379-1198.
Try a new wine this week!
Each year, thousands of wine fans make the short drive north from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge toward Sonoma and Napa Counties. And for good reason — they’re great places to visit, full of wonderful wines, fine foods and great scenery.
If you’ve done that before and are looking for something different to do, just keep driving. Mendocino County, on the north border of Sonoma County, is a ruggedly beautiful, diverse land that also has great wine, food and scenery. And far fewer tourists. You can just stay on Highway 101 through Sonoma County, or take the even more beautiful coastal Highway 1.
One of the first Mendocino wine regions you’ll see is also one of the best. Anderson Valley is famous for pinot noir. Like many Mendocino wines it’s made mostly by small, independent wine growers who tend to be on site taking a personal hand in crafting their wines. Not much commercialism here, just dedication to great wine, and to the organic movement.
Yes, Mendocino County is a very green place. The dry climate and relatively high elevations help make this possible, but it’s the attitude of the people that really drives it.
East of Anderson Valley is another fine, small region called McDowell Valley. Farther from the cool Pacific Ocean, it specializes in grapes that prefer a somewhat warmer climate, like zinfandel and syrah.
And to the north, vineyards were planted among giant redwoods in Redwood Valley a century ago by Italian immigrants. An overall warm climate, it’s cooled by Pacific breezes flowing through a gap in the mountain range, allowing a slower, and therefore more complete, ripening of grapes than areas around it. Cabernet sauvignon does well here, as do, of course, the giant redwoods.
I’ve long been a fan of Bonterra Vineyards, just off Highway 101. Organic farming isn’t easy, and they’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. They believe that it contributes to a purity of flavor. Birdhouses welcome insect eating bluebirds and swallows, while free-roaming chickens scratch for ground-dwelling bugs. Cover crops are planted between the rows of vines to attract beneficial insects and are plowed into the ground to improve the soil.
But it’s all for nothing unless the wine tastes good, and I’ve found that Bonterra’s wines are more consistent than many other wines that are both organically farmed and available in the marketplace. Bonterra chardonnay, tasted at this month’s eWine Sampling, showed very well, medium-bodied, with fresh fruit flavors, crisp acidity and a light touch of oak. I think Bonterra is a fine representative of Mendocino County. About $15, maybe a little less.