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Beyond Napa and Sonoma: Mendocino County

There is a stretch of American coastline that has long inspired artists and writers with its dangerous beauty on one side and rippling meadows and soaring forests on the other. It is also home to some of California's best wines -- including a few surprises.

Scenic Winery Tour on Highway 128

Travelers familiar with the well-worn path and tourist caravan of Highway 29 between Napa and Calistoga will surely welcome the scenic, lazy winding of Highway 128 through Anderson Valley. You'll find that several of the area's best small-production wineries are along the way.

The octagonal tasting room at Greenwood Ridge was designed by winery owner Allan Green's father, who was an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright. A single redwood tree that fell on the winery property during a storm provided all of the wood used to build the tasting room, and recently added solar panels generate more than enough power to operate it. It's a great example of the fusing of artistic endeavors and reverence for natural beauty that is so prevalent in the area.

First Champagne, Now Cognac

If Mendocino's Anderson Valley is California's answer to Burgundy and Champagne, then a drive up the mountainous Low Gap Road to Germain-Robin is about as close as you'll get to a visit to Cognac on this side of the Atlantic. There, co-founder Ansley Coale makes brandies that are routinely named best in the world -- beating the best from Cognac, France -- by reviewers writing for such publications as Robb Report, Wine Spectator, The New York Times and many more.

Mendocino Area Eats

You'll need to “put down a layer” with a hearty breakfast if you plan on a day of wine tasting. Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe is a favorite with locals for its huge portions, laid-back prices and friendly service. Don't miss the omelets -- a recent special included fresh baby spinach, bacon and creamy herbed goat cheese.

Some wineries sell gourmet goodies to enjoy on their property for a midday snack or lunch, but you can also bring your own picnic spread. Mosswood Market Café & Bakery in Boonville offers an array of freshly made sandwiches, salads and desserts.

For dinner with a view, there's no better bet than the dining room at the Albion River Inn. Its hillside location off Highway 1 lends stunning coastline views to the flavorful dishes of chef Stephen Smith. The award-winning wine list stocked with local and worldwide favorites is equally impressive.

Lay Your Head

As you might expect, the entire area is replete with B&Bs, but we recommend the Harbor House Inn, which feels like a historic lodge with its grand scale. Built in 1916, the inn sits high on a cliff overlooking the famous rock formations of Greenwood Cove below. Room prices ($295-$470) include a full breakfast and four-course dinner.

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