Note: Due to Covid-19 restrictions, please check individual websites for schedules and reservations.
Just over the Sonoma County line, mere footsteps into Mendocino County, a road sign on northbound Highway 101 perfectly sums up the appeal of this great expanse: “Welcome to Mendocino County,” it reads. “Wilderness, Waves, and Wine.”
More than 100 wineries dot the landscape of this expansive part California, and a handful of them are making great Zins. Six of those sit within the Mendocino appellation, which comprises the Anderson Valley AVA, as well as a group of smaller AVAs including Cole Ranch, McDowell Valley, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley and Yorkville Highlands.
The region is a perfect spot for a weekend getaway on the Zinfandel Trail. Here, then, in no particular order, are eight stops we recommend.
Brutocao Family Vineyards
13500 S. Highway 101, Hopland
Bocce (on Olympic-sized courts!) and picnics pair well with wine at this tasting room and garden in downtown Hopland. Owner Leonard Brutocao put in the grassy area in 1998 and over the years it has become a relaxing spot to unwind while tasting local wines (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic). During a recent visit there were several Zinfandels on the menu here, including a light-but-jammy 2014, a fruit-forward 2015, and a crisp 2016 Bliss Family Zin aged in stainless. The 2017 Coro Zin blend comprises other varieties such as Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Barbera, and shows off the diversity of flavors from around the region. Of course the sweet and refreshing Zinfandel port is a great way to end the day.
McNab Ridge Winery
13450 S. Highway 101, Hopland
The tasting experience at McNab Ridge, just north of Brutocao on Highway 101, is quiet and understated; guests are seated in a secluded back patio removed from the hubbub of the busy road. Don’t be fooled by the quietude; the wines here—made by Rich Parducci—are bursting with flavor. Take the appropriately named 2017 ZinZilla—much like the giant lizard after which it was named, this wine is big, bold, and full of personality. The 2018 Cononiah Zinfandel is more reserved but still packs a punch with bold fruit flavors and rich tannins. Perhaps the tamest of the bunch is the 2018 Mendocino County Zin, which, though balanced, will still hold up to your favorite BBQ ribs.
Graziano Family Vineyards
13275 S. Highway 101, Hopland
Red-dirt slopes of the Redwood Valley produce most of the Zinfandels from Graziano, which pours wines in a tiny tasting room at the northern end of downtown Hopland. The 2016 Mendocino County Zin is rich on tannins and long on finish, with flavors of plum and spice. The 2017 Mendocino County Zinfandel Reserve—a new release as of this writing—is well-structured with both tannins and acidity. The real star of the show here is tasting room guru John Reagh, whose dry wit and sharp tongue may threaten to send wine out some noses. One caveat: The tasting room is tiny and not exactly COVID-friendly. If possible, grab a bistro table on the small patio outside.
10400 S. Highway 101, Hopland
An 1880s farmhouse with an expansive patio and wraparound porch is the backdrop for tastings at this Hopland winery, known as much for its wines as it is for its alembic brandy. Zinfandel lovers will appreciate the flagship 2018 Mae’s Block, a jammy and fruit-forward wine made from estate grapes, fermented in stainless steel, and aged 15 months in oak. Another 2018 Zinfandel—from Chemise Vineyard in Sonoma County—offers a totally different Zin experience, with burnt caramel and black pepper on the palate. A third wine, dubbed Jaxzin, is a non-vintage blend of estate Zinfandel grapes. Last year’s iteration spanned the four vintages between 2014-2017; this year will span the two between 2019-2020.
11684 S. Highway 101, Hopland
Views are breathtaking at this 250-acre estate north of downtown Hopland. Visitors to the ultra-modern tasting room can choose between sitting in Adirondack chairs in the shadow of heritage olive trees or reclining at a more traditional tabletop setting on an open-air patio overlooking the willows. Tastings can comprise a variety of wines, but often hosts will pour a vertical tasting of the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Pick & Shovel Zin, which is grown on a steep hillside just west of the tasting room. Another winner: the Old Soul, a field blend (they call it the “Mendo Blendo”) that is mostly Zin. Following the tasting, be sure to ask for a cave tour and a 4×4 jaunt around the property. The former pokes around the only wine cave in Mendocino County, while the latter climbs to the tallest point on the property for an epic panorama.
Testa Family Vineyard
6400 N. State St., Calpella
There aren’t many female winemakers in Mendocino County. There especially aren’t a lot of fourth-generation female winemakers. Maria Testa Martinson, co-owner of Testa Family Vineyard, checks both of these boxes and a whole lot more. Martinson greets visitors at a tiny tasting shed that overlooks the vineyard irrigation pond; during COVID, the tastings happen outside with two-ounce pours of five wines. Zinfandel is particularly important to her family, as her grandparents planted it back in the 1940s. Some of those vines still produce fruit today—grapes that went into the 2016 Old Vine Zin and the lighter-style 2015 Coro Mendocino blend. The best-seller: the 2017 Testa Black, a field blend with what Martinson calls a secret recipe.
Grace Hudson Museum
431 S. Main St., Ukiah
Artist Grace Hudson spent most of her life painting, collecting, and interacting with the natural world. She did much of it from a bungalow-style home in her native Ukiah. Today, the home (it’s called the Sun House), a separate gallery and the surrounding land comprise the Grace Hudson Museum, an inspiring and creative spot in a park at the center of town. The home itself is a work of art, landing a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the gallery, exhibits vary but most spotlight the beauty of life; one may emphasize oil paintings of nature, while another features photographs or Native American crafts. All of the material on display will leave you inspired.
City of 10,000 Buddhas
2001 Talmage Rd., Ukiah
You don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate Ukiah’s City of 10,000 Buddhas. The destination is an international Buddhist monastery founded by Hsuan Hua, an important figure in Western Buddhism. It was one of the first Chan Buddhist temples in the United States, and today is one of the largest Buddhist communities in the Western Hemisphere. The grounds are dotted with peacocks, sculptures, flowering trees, and more. While parts of the “city” are not accessible to laypeople, the bookstore and vegetarian restaurant, Jyun Kang, are open to the public and are well worth the trip. Visitors who register in advance also are welcome to attend Dharma sessions.
Matt Villano is a writer and editor based in Healdsburg. In more than 25 years as a journalist he has written articles for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, TIME, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, AFAR, San Francisco, and more.Learn more about him at whalehead.com.