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Mendocino Scores With Hot Plants and Tasty Pours

Marlborough Man of Salt, Bob La Mar
Marlborough Man of Salt, Bob La Mar

Just back from this week's Taste of Mendocino at Fort Mason, The Swill’s Courtney Cochran – author of the Hip Tastes book and blog – dishes on the latest pours, personalities and other interesting tidbits coming from points north.

[Photo: Courtney Cochran. Full Flickr gallery here. ]

Mendo likes to hang its hat on being green—as in, the "greenest wine region in America." The area boasts the greatest percentage of certified organic vineyards of any wine region in the US, so there's some truth to the claim. But let’s talk about what else is hot about Mendo: pot and people.

Mendo is known for its prolific marijuana crop, with way more cash harvested from weed than from wine on any given year. I even hear rumors of pot tourism growing quietly up there, gaining momentum with the development of specialized pot appellations. Monday’s tasting, alas, didn’t feature any of those purveyors, but there was plenty of other good stuff for the sampling...and fantastically friendly people, at that.

1) My favorite part of the event was easily the collected Mendo personalities in attendance. From sweetly curmudgeonly cheese purveyors to canning goddess bloggers to acrobats, a slew of talented vintners and a wily sheriff. It was a hodge-podge of hilarity, warmth and promise of still more good things to come from this wonderfully "green" region.

2) Personal highlight: One Thomas D. Allman, Sheriff-Coroner of the County of Mendocino's 87K residents, anointed me honorary sheriff of the tasting. He gave me the mini Sheriff’s badge off of his lapel and everything. The newfound power went straight to my head as I threatened to “arrest” a vintner if he didn’t pour quickly enough in my glass. I blame the wine.

3) The marketplace format of the event nicely juxtaposed vintners with artisan goods and foodstuffs. Standouts on the food front included Gilbert Cox’s garlic-spiked Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese, a magnificently savory “Sea Smoke” salt from Mendocino Sea Salt and Seasoning Co., Caroline Radice’s funky-fabulous “Liquid Fire” preserves, and Shelley Fields’ enchanting Wicked Bon-Bon Chocolatier creations with art nouveau adornments. Eye popping produce and plants rounded out the fabulosity of the marketplace.

4) Last but not least, the pour roundup. I was pleased to taste old favorites from Navarro and Phillips Hill, and thrilled to discover new ones. Little-known Trinafour Cellars from Ukiah stole the show with a classy, soulful Carignan made from old dry-farmed vines in the Redwood Valley. At $23, the subtly smoky red was plush with notes of raspberry, cola, cherry, and toast, but medium-bodied and ready for food. Philo Ridge’s Klindt Vineyard Pinot Gris from the Anderson Valley ($19) was off-dry and channeled a wonderful peach, pear, exotic flower and mineral-laden Alsatian pour I loved years ago. A perennial fave I revisited, Navarro Vineyards’ Anderson Valley Gewürztraminer ($19)—full of beguiling rose water, apricot skin, honeydew melon and soap notes—was even better than I remembered. Finally, Phillips Hill scored with a smart unoaked Chardonnay ($30) made lush with lots of lees stirring, and Elizabeth Spencer’s 2007 certified organic and biodynamic Mendocino Cab ($55) was, well, sublime.

Conclusion #1: Mendo has much more to offer than just Anderson Valley Pinot Noir (which I ?, especially from Goldeneye and Toulouse) and Champagne method bubbles (ditto, Roederer Estate has my ? here).

Conclusion #2: Compared to jaded Napa-Sonoma vintners, who sometimes seem exhausted at the very thought of pouring wine at yet another event, every last purveyor, food included, had smiles to spare at the tasting. Pair Mendo's charmingly microscopic tourist infrastructure and warm and enthusiastic artisans and the region strikes me as really, really worth a visit.

- Courtney Cochran

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