Making Amazing Discoveries
Goldeneye Confluence Vineyard
Mendocino Wine Region
ENTURA COUNTY in California is fast
establishing an international reputation for its viticulture
offerings from wineries like Faye Hawes’ Rancho
Ventavo (newbies in the business who began bottling
in 2005), Herzog, the Old Creek
Ranch Winery and the Ojai Vineyard.
And you’re not far
from the attractive Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez wine trails.
Head further north to
San Luis Obispo County and enjoy the wines of any of the 200
excellent companies that call the Central Coast home.
And that’s before
even touching the big guys in Napa or Sonoma.
Now we’d like to tell
you about another great wine region—Mendocino.
It’s some 150 miles north of San Francisco, but well worth
We’ve always loved
this region where the grapes come from the verdant Anderson
Valley. Explore the wineries along highway 128 before you
spill out onto Highway 1, to be confronted by the primal
splendor of one of the world’s most dramatic and romantic
spectacularly rocky shores are reminiscent of the West Coast
of Ireland or the equally magnificent coast of Western
On visits to
Mendocino County we never fail to discover new wines and
winemakers showing their wares in relaxed and comfortable
tasting rooms. And if like us you’re sick of paying $20 to
sip a miniscule amount of five or six wines and finding
yourself standing six deep at the wine bar in Napa, this is
the place for you.
The wineries of the
Anderson Valley offer some of California’s softest and most
subtle pinots plus the two very best California sparkling
wines: the American Scharffenberger and the
It’s purely a
question of which style of bubbly you prefer—the more robust
German style or the delicate French cuvee.
Our favorite still
wineries included Handley, with two
wonderful lady winemakers, Milla Handley and Kristen
Barnhisel, which is spitting distance from Roederer. All the
Handley wines we tried were superlative.
We also stopped off
this time at Brutocao, owned by a family
half Portuguese and half Italian, which can’t be bad and
where not surprisingly they make a smashing Zinfandel Port.
one of the older wineries in the Anderson make spectacular
winery, once a wonderful Mom and Pop operation
owned by an adorable German couple and recently bought by
Ferrari-Carano, has a sterling reputation for Alsatian style
whites and soft Burgundies.
Wineries we discovered for the first time included
Goldeneye, Phillips Hill Estates,
Husch and Jim Ball wines
made by Chicago lawyer Jim Ball who escapes from the rigors
of the Windy City courts to make delightful light wines next
door to Phillips Hill estates. His Rose of Pinot is one of
the best roses we’ve tasted. He’s already winning double
golds in San Francisco competitions.
Room at Elk Cove Inn
Where to stay to
enjoy everything the wine country has to offer?
For our money you
can’t beat the coast. And particularly a wonderful little
village called Elk.
It’s a magnificent
getaway spot on highway 1, some 17 miles south of Mendocino.
There are great
hostelries in the area such as the Albion River Inn,
which has a superb chef, Stephen Smith, and a great view.
Closer to town, the
legendary Heritage House where the 1978 movie Same Time
Next Year was filmed, is now shuttered, a victim of the
economy. But others like the Little River Inn
and the Hill House Inn (made
famous on Murder She Wrote) fill the void.
Elk is a little less
discovered and it has one of the best ocean view Inns we’ve
We booked without
knowing a thing about it except for a line we recalled from
an old Sunset magazine that called it "one of the 20 best
seaside escapes in the West." The fact that the views in Elk
are among the most sensational in Mendocino County, with
jagged rocks drifting in and out of the fog, tall fragrant
pine trees and dramatic crashing surf, making it the most
romantic place—even for two old codgers like us.
For three nights we
nested—there’s really no other word for it—in an ocean front
cottage, facing a small rocky island. Sea otters frolicked
in the surf as we watched in two strategically placed deep
arm chairs with ottomans, fortified by a carafe of good
local port and some great local chocolate, with a log fire
crackling in the background and a deep duvet covered sleigh
The shower had a wall
of glass overlooking the surf and the robes and toiletries
were all my favorite brands. So why would we ever leave the
We have one word for
Elaine Bryant, who owns the inn and is to innkeepers what
Rafael Nadal is to tennis players, hails from Alabama via
Florida, and provides Southern hospitality the way it’s
supposed to be.
Dining at Elk Cove Inn
A partial list of her
breakfast goodies includes Champagne, kept on ice all day.
Also eggs done in a different style every day: Omelets one
day, souffléed scrambled eggs with cheese and chives
another, poached atop crunchy potatoes with shallots and
garlic on the third.
There was polenta
with a different sauce each day, a ricotta cheese and peach
flan—a daily staple. Pancakes, waffles and the best French
toast ever; lemon scones that floated, fabulous
quiche—grits—(well, we did say she was Southern), fruits of
every kind and function, cereals, oatmeal, bread pudding
with whiskey sauce. And great coffee and fresh juice.
We’ve had breakfast
with Bradley Ogden at Campton Place in San Francisco. This
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