Mendocino WineGrowers Inc. (MWI)
Mendocino County – It Doesn’t Get Any Greener
Mendocino County’s authentic “green” credentials are unsurpassed by any other wine region in the world. The majority of the region’s 570 vineyards remain in the hands of family farmers, many of whom have lived for two or more generations on their land—some tracing their roots to the first settlers in the 1850s. The entire farming community has a rare appreciation of the connection between man and earth. These farmers, grape growers and winemakers among them, were at the forefront of the sustainable, organic, Demeter certified Biodynamic®, and Fish Friendly farming movement long before it gained the attention of the general population. “America’s Greenest Wine Region” is not a marketing slogan: it is the true reflection of all that this vast and varied county offers those who seek healthy foods and beverages and accessible yet pristine travel destinations.
Mendocino County is home to 570 vineyards with a typical (median) size of just 14 acres.
Over 20% of Mendocino County’s winegrapes are certified organic, in fact, 1/3 of the total organic winegrape acreage in California is in Mendocino County. Demeter Certified Biodynamic® acreage in Mendocino County is 10 times higher than any other region in California.
An additional 9110 acres (across 135 vineyards) are certified through the Fish Friendly Program. Within the county, there is currently a higher enrollment in this program than any other green certification. It is interesting to note that many Mendocino winegrowers not only certify their vineyards but include the wilderness lands that they own. In this way the Fish Friendly program protects vast reaches of wilderness adjacent to the vineyards.
- 690 acres of vineyard are Demeter Certified Biodynamic®
- 3950 acres of vineyard are certified organic (20% of total wine grape acreage)
- 32,000 acres of land are certified Fish Friendly. Mendocino County is #1 in America in terms of wilderness acres FFF certified relative to vineyard land.
A Winemaking Tradition
Winemaking has a long history in Mendocino County since the first Italian immigrants settled the green hillsides. Today 108 local wineries continue the tradition. (Over one hundred additional wineries make Mendocino wine outside the County.)
Organic pioneers have found Mendocino to be a natural fit for their passion. The first organic winery in the U.S. — Frey Vineyards — was founded in 1980. Frey advanced another first in 1996 when they became the first producer of US biodynamic wine. Bonterra Vineyards is the larger producer of organic wine in the nation. And Parducci Wine Cellars was the first US winery to be certified carbon neutral.
Mendocino has also been a solar center for the winemaking world. The region includes the first solar-powered winery (McDowell Valley Vineyards), a 100% off-grid winery (Philo Ridge Vineyards), and the wine industry’s largest solar array, generating 1.1 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually and supplying 80% of the winery’s electricity needs (Fetzer Vineyards)
It’s All About The Land
Mendocino County encompasses a total area of 2.4 million acres, of which 18,800 acres have been planted to grapevines. Vineyards account for about 0.8% of the land use in the county. Mendocino is also home to orchards (pears and apples) and several hundred acres of organic vegetables and flowers. Sheep, cattle, buffalo, and lamas graze on 371,000 acres of pasture.
The diversity of the county leads to numerous winegrowing regions, each with a distinct personality. Eleven of these regions are approved American Viticultural Areas.
Hopland — 4950 acres/77 vineyards: With a focus on Chardonnay and Cabernet, Hopland is the powerhouse of Mendocino viticulture. While most of the vineyards can be found in the flatlands surrounding the Russian River, numerous bend and hillside vineyards add diversity to the region. The McDowell Valley, along highway 175 in the eastern side of the Hopland region, was recognized as an AVA in Feb of 1997.
Ukiah Valley and Calpella — 2750 acres / 105 vineyards: The battle between asphalt and agricultural land plays out every day in the Ukiah Valley and we are proud to report that ag is holding firm. Dotted with numerous small vineyards (30 of which are 5 acres or smaller), this region has perhaps the deepest grape-growing roots in the County. Remnants of wineries abandoned in the prohibition days are still evident and old-timers recount the days of packing the harvest on rail cars.
Redwood Valley — 2750 acres / 133 vineyards: By acreage Cabernet dominates but more than half of the vineyards still choose Zinfandel. The vibrant red soils that cut through the region are reputed to add distinctiveness of the “old vine” Zinfandels made from the region’s grapes. The Italian heritage of the region is still evident as families such as the Lucchesi’s, Testa’s, and Lolonis continue their grape growing tradition. Redwood Valley was declared an AVA in Dec 1997.
Talmage — 2650 acres / 59 vineyards: The Eastern edge of the Ukiah Valley has a long history of agriculture on its hillside benches and flatlands. Today vineyards share the region with pasture, pears orchards, and 1000s of acres of oak forest. Zinfandel and Cabernet are found at 2/3 of the vineyards (typically on the benches of the area) while Chardonnay is the king of the plains adjacent to the Russian River.
Anderson Valley — 2500 acres / 91 vineyards: Mendocino’s best-known appellation has a tight focus on a single varietal. Pinot Noir claims 70% of all planted acreage and a whopping 95% of all vineyards in the region grow Pinot. The typical vineyard size is small, just 11 acres. Though dominated by Pinot, Alsatian white varietals still retain a significant foothold in the valley with 32 vineyards growing Gewurztraminer, Riesling, or Pinot Gris. The region is a recognized AVA (September 1983).
Potter Valley — 1750 acres / 41 vineyards: Something special is happening in Potter Valley. Viticulture is somewhat new to the area and the trial-and-error process is starting to zero-in on a surprising result: cool-climate varietals. Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling now compliment the region’s most commonly planted grape, Chardonnay. Not surprisingly some delicious sparkling wines are now emerging from the region. The region is a recognized AVA (November 1983).
Yorkville Highland — 397 acres / 23 vineyards: In a region that is accurately described as rugged and untamed, red grapes have found a foothold. There is no valley in the Yorkville Highlands so most of the vineyards are smaller fields perched on hillsides. The climate is transitional – not as cool as Anderson Valley to the North but not as hot as Alexander Valley to the South. Based on site conditions, growers either choose Cabernet, Syrah, or Pinot. White grapes are hard to find, comprising just 5% of the total plantings. The region is a recognized AVA (June 1998).
Mendocino Ridge — 209 acres / 16 vineyards: The “Islands in the Sky” are a unique appellation because only the ridgetops above 1200 feet are legally included. While the result is a map-makers nightmare it has been a successful wine growing region from the days of prohibition. Legacy Zinfandel plantings are still common while newer plantings are exploring the potential of fog-free Pinot Noir. The region was recognized as an AVA (the first with elevation-based definition) in Dec 1997.
The Mendocino Frontiers — 624 acres / 22 vineyards: These farmers are sometimes quick to note that “this is about as far from Napa as you can get”. And while it is equally far to the nearest grocery store, vineyard outposts sprinkle the Mendocino County landscape and each has found something special about its location. The Cole Ranch AVA is a single vineyard at the bottom of a deep pool of cold air. Dos Rios AVA and Covelo AVA explore the Pinot potential in the Northernmost regions of Mendocino. The Comptche region, while dangerously close to the coast, is also building strong Pinot credentials. Mendocino’s newest AVAs, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, and Eagle Peak – Mendocino County are backed by industry veterans who recognize the potential of these untapped regions.
In all Mendocino County is home to 11 AVA regions and 2 recognized “super regions” than contain some or all of the AVA regions. More appellation info.
Adding It All Up
Red grapes represent a majority of the Mendocino grape acreage. Pinot Noir (2672 acres), Cabernet (2613), Zinfandel (1945), Merlot (1546) and Syrah (697) are the most commonly planted red varietals.
White grape plantings total 6348 acres. Chardonnay is the most common (4840 acres) followed by Sauvignon Blanc (722 acres).