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Marvelous Mendocino


Though it's much less famous than its Napa and Sonoma neighbors, Mendocino County offers plenty of charms to make it worth a side trip.

To start, there are quiet country towns, verdant farmlands specked with wildflowers, majestic redwoods and the spectacular Mendocino coast. And if the county's natural beauty isn't enough to lure you, consider the area's status as an up-and-coming player in the wine world: Mendocino is famous for its organic and biodynamic wines, as well as its head-turning Pinot Noirs from the Anderson Valley.

When you visit, allow yourself at least two days in the region, giving you time to visit several wineries, savor a walk in the redwoods and visit the region's ruggedly beautiful coast. You'll also want to stop for picnics along the way, as well as enjoy a meal in a local restaurant -- the area is known for its organic products, which often star on menus.

Thanks to the area's beautiful, rustic scenery, there might not be a more picturesque spot for an outdoor meal; fortunately, many of the Mendocino wineries offer picnic areas. For non-picnickers, locals recommend a meal at the Boonville Hotel's restaurant, which uses some of the fresh produce the area is known for -- exotic mushrooms, berries (especially huckleberries), apples and much more.

Start with the Pinot

Of the 30-some wineries in Mendocino, the more established houses are located in the eastern half of the county, with newer and smaller operations found in Mendocino's Anderson Valley. Here, the cool ocean breezes and warm valley days provide ideal conditions for producing the area's world-class Pinots and Pinot-based sparkling wines. Meander the wineries on your own or call on a tour company to guide you -- on foot or via bicycle, van or limo. Some wineries charge a tasting fee, often refundable with a purchase of wine. (Experienced travelers suggest calling ahead to the wineries you want to visit to inquire about hours of operation.)

Move on to the organic

With more than 18% of its wine-grape acreage designated as certified organic (as opposed to just 1% and 5% in Sonoma and Napa counties, respectively), Mendocino County leads the nation in organic wine production. In fact, a total of 16 wineries produce their wines from certified organic grapes.

Visit Graziano in downtown Hopland to sample unusual Italian varietals; about a mile north of Hopland, stop at the Jeriko Estate Tasting Room for a picnic on the fountain patio, a tour of the organic vineyards or simply to take in the sumptuous mountain valley surroundings and have a taste of the handcrafted estate wines. Other spots to sample organic or biodynamic wines include the Parducci Winery and Tasting Room in Ukiah and the Ceago Vinegarden in Lake County.

Detours

Located just north of Boonville, The Apple Farm entices patrons with fresh apples, cider, applesauce and cheese. With its artfully unarranged flowers and statues, the farm's garden is a trip back in time. Visitors also can stay in one of the farm's cozy cottages and take classes on preserving, making cider and making cheese. (Note that cottages and classes are booked far in advance, so make your reservations early.) Another not-to-be-missed activity is a visit to one of the area's beautiful state parks for a hike in the redwoods. Do it on your own or hire one of the many established tour companies to guide you on your adventure.

Where to stay

Charming B&Bs, quaint hotels, luxurious spas and cozy cottages are plentiful and span all price ranges. Stay in one of Mendocino's lovely towns or find a place to rest right on the coast.


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