The Mendocino County wine is an appellation within the larger North Coast AVA region and one of California’s largest and most climatically diverse wine growing regions.[Mendocino is one of the leading wine growing regions for organically produced wine grapes. Nearly 25% of the acreage in Mendocino County is grown organically. In 2004, the residents of the county voted to become the first GMO-free county in the United States in an initiative that was supported by many of the county’s largest wineries. The county’s widespread focus on organic viticulture has inspired journalists to describe it as “California’s organic wine Mecca”.
As of 2017, twelve American Viticultural Areas (AVA) have been designated within Mendocino County: Anderson Valley AVA, Cole Ranch AVA, Covelo AVA, Dos Rios AVA, Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA, McDowell Valley AVA, Mendocino AVA, Mendocino Ridge AVA, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak AVA, Potter Valley AVA, Redwood Valley AVA and Yorkville Highlands AVA. The majority of Mendocino County plantings are in the eastern side of the county, clustered around the cities of Ukiah, Hopland, and Redwood Valley. While Redwood Valley has its own AVA, most of these other plantings produce wine under the larger blanket of the Mendocino AVA. The most prominently featured AVAs to appear on wine labels are the Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands, and the broader Mendocino AVA.
Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge
The Anderson Valley is one of California’s coolest wine growing regions in the state being deeply influenced by the cool Pacific fog coming in off the coast. Early plantings of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Noir in the 1960s and 1970s led to the formation of a handful of wineries by 1980. The potential for sparkling wine production became apparent in the 1980s when Champagne house Louis Roederer selected Anderson Valley for its California operation Roederer Estate. The Champagne firm scouted California extensively for years trying to find a region with the most climatic similarities to the Champagne region of France. Pinot Noir – grown for both sparkling and still wine production – is the dominant varietal for the region. A 2015 vineyard census determined that 87 of 91 vineyard properties in the region grow Pinot Noir.
The Anderson Valley extends about 10 miles (16 km) from end to end and contains over 20 different types of alluvial soils. The area around the cities of Philo and Navarro, California in the center and north end of the valley receive considerably more cooling fog influence than the plantings closer to Boonville in the south. Despite being called a “valley”, very few vineyards are planted on flat land. Much of the Anderson Valley is planted on a series of steep hills that range in elevation from 800–1300 feet (244–396 m). On the mountain ridges above the valley, the cooling influence of the fog can not quite reach the vineyards planted at these elevations. The direct exposure to the sun gives these isolated patches of vineyards more warmth which contributes to the spicy, berry notes of the Zinfandels produced in this part of the Anderson Valley. While some of these vineyards are still part of the Anderson Valley, many were siphoned off into the boundaries of the Mendocino Ridge AVA when it was established in 1997. As a series of disparate mountain ridges, the Mendocino Ridge was the first non-contiguous AVA established in California.
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Redwood and Potter Valley
The Redwood and Potter Valleys face each other on the west and east, respectively, just north of Lake Mendocino in the far eastern reaches of Mendocino County. The areas include heavily wooden terrain with the name Redwood Valley coming from the legends of redwood trees growing so densely packed that they blotted out the sky. In the southern reaches of Redwood Valley is the Ricetti bench, a fluvial terrace the features crimson red soil, where Mendocino County’s first vineyards were planted in the 1850s. Today the Redwood Valley is known for its peppery, spicy Zinfandels. The Redwood Valley is slightly cooler than the vineyard plantings to the south towards Ukiah, allowing the area to produce wines with more acidity and deeper color. Many of the grapes grown in the Potter Valley AVA are blended and sold under the more widely recognizable Mendocino AVA. In the 21st century, Potter Valley has developed a reputation for white grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc as well as Pinot noir from its pockets of cooler microclimates. In 2014, the area west of the Redwood and Potter Valley AVAs was designated the Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA.