Travel Tips

Wine Tasting & Shopping in Mendocino, California – Postcard from Suzy Gershman

Locations in this article:  Santa Barbara, CA

Grapes - Wine Tasting & Shopping in Mendocino County, CADear Peter,
I have visited many hotspots of California over the years, but had never been to Mendocino before—neither the county nor the town.

I had long been been confused between Mendocino and Montecito (suburb of Santa Barbara) and I had longed to visit the Anderson Valley wineries famous for their Pinot Noir. The part that turned out to be accurate was the Pinot Noir.


Much of the rest was shocking—as in just how small the valley is and how tiny these famous towns can be. I am from South Texas and we in Texas know that a “town” consists of two blocks of commerce, unless you are in Luckenbach, which is just a post office/ general store/dance hall. North of the Russian River in California, a town is hardly ever a block long—that would be way too huge.

Pinot Noir Vines / Sonoma County - photo by Andy KatzMany of these small towns are amazing in what they do and don’t have. Downtown may be two or three buildings; there often isn’t a grocery store (there are no supermarkets except in Ukiah) …and yet there are dotted around the county a smattering of very, very sophisticated stores and retail operations.

Towns such as Boonville, Albion, Elk, and Hopland were merely a sneeze on the road of life; with or without their own post offices. Yet Boonville Mercantile is almost as chic as Barney’s. The best store in town was also the general store, Harvest Market .

Mendocino, the county seat of the county of the same name, is the big time, a north coastal town a bit like Nantucket, a teeny bit like Carmel, and much more like a whaling town than I would have expected. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see signs that advertise Wine & Whales.

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MacCallum House (photo from website)Most of the buildings are Victorian wooden structures; Mendocino itself is a mass of cutie-pie cottages and stores, many with white picket fences and all with incredible vegetation flowering in the ocean mist.

The famous MacCallum House is fitted out with more gingerbread than Hansel or Gretel and built around gardens, a barn and a few cottages. There are six rooms in the main house; six in the barn and then spread among the cottages.

The hotel—it is more formal than a B&B (but not much)—is located right in the heart of town and has charm galore plus Alan Kantor, one of the best chefs in the county.

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Locals and tourists fill the restaurant for the seasonal fare. The fare is Coastal Northern and depends on freshly made goods, produce from nearby farms and a lot of seafood. I had the most amazing clam chowder of my life in a light sherry sauce with clams still in the shell and heaps of diced new potatoes. Rates vary with the season but best of all is the promotion for repeat guests who can get up to 30 percent off on their next visit.

Goldeneye Winery - Mendocino County, CAWINES & VINES

It’s hard to say which was more glorious, the wines I tasted or the sight-lines to vines in mist and fog. The largest and most elegant of the area vineyards is Goldeneye, which has a variety of pinots on offer and a $5 tasting fee. (Tastings in this area are a small fraction of the cost in Napa/ Sonoma.) There is also a $10 tasting, depending on what you want to taste. The tasting fee is applied to the price of a bottle of wine—this is a practice that is going out of style in Napa.

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Goldeneye has five estate wines grown within 10 miles of the tasting room. While the tasting room is warm and welcoming, it’s the picnic area and grounds that are among the most impressive in the area. If you go in winter, you might even catch the morning mist clinging to the vines.

Navarro Vineyards - Mendocino County, CAIf you don’t want alcoholic content in your grapes, you can do a juice tasting at Navarro Vineyard—not far from Goldeneye, where they too have Pinot Noir but it comes in wine … or juice. This family winery makes juice in assorted varietals, in fact. The tasting here is free(!) and juice costs $11 per bottle.


This is prime American farm land and there are numerous orchards. Among them The Apple Farm past the town of Philo (town?) and Gowan’s, which has a large fruit stand selling everything from bushels of apples to home-made apple pie ($14). It was the best apple pie I have ever eaten.

Note that prices for apples at the Apple Farm were 50 cents more than at stores in downtown Mendocino. Oh well.

Kisses to the Apple of my Eye,

By Suzy Gershman for Visit Suzy on the Web at, and

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