CORO Mendocino Wine Trail
Wine lovers rejoice! Here is one more reason to pack the boots and corkscrew and head to Mendocino – CORO Mendocino! This unique blend – created in 2000 by a team of third and fourth generation Mendocino County wine growers – is turning both heads and palates. The first appellation controlled Zinfandel blend patterned after the appellation d’origine contrôlée wines of France, is a celebration of Mendocino County’s unique terroir and crafting techniques of its vintners. From the mid-1800’s when settlers who first planted grapes in this Northern California region, Zinfandel has held a sacred spot as California’s top heritage varietal. Today, you can taste this premium zinfandel blend with a trek across the county. Map: www.coromendocino.com.
A TASTE OF PLACE
CORO, inspired by the Latin root “chorus” has strict blending and aging requirements to produce a structured but harmonious blend of varietals traditional to Mendocino County. Specifically, the signature blend must lead with 40 to 70 percent Zinfandel and can be blended with up to nine named varietals. All wine must be 100 percent Mendocino County grapes. The diverse microclimates that dominate Mendocino County’s 12 unique AVAs (American Viticultural Area) make for an interesting landscape for vintners to glean from. The majority of CORO wines hail from Mendocino, Redwood Valley and Eagle Peak AVAs. These small lot, handcrafted wines are released annually in limited supply.
CONNECT WITH CORO
Make your first stop in Hopland. This small hamlet (pop. 921) set at the gateway to Mendocino on Highway 101 is mounting an impressive renaissance with new inns, 13 wine tasting venues and rustic-chic vibe. Start at The Golden Pig wine shop which carries a full roundup of CORO producers as well as 100+ regional small-lot wines for the avid oenophile. This is the only outlet for finding CORO wines crafted by DNA Vineyards or Golden Vineyards so belly up.
Next, you can tag team over to Brutocao Cellars for a languid afternoon swirling CORO and sister Italian blends, backed with six Olympic-regulated bocce courts. Run by a fourth-generation Italian family who began farming the land in 1910, today, 400 acres of grapes and a strong CORO ethos make this a sure stop. If you’re looking to stock your home library, estate bottled vintages of CORO from 2014 to 2017 are available ($50, 750 ml). www.sipmendocino.com; www.brutocaocellars.com.
As the sun sets, your top bet is popping into the Golden Pig for a hyper-focused farm driven menu, teaming with local purveyors Magruder Farms, Yokayo Ranch and restauranteur Julie Golden’s Heart Arrow Ranch. Set in a classic 19th century saloon, the Pig is the stop for seasonal pumpkin ginger soup or a classic heritage pork chop plated with poblano sauté. Flavor, with a farm-conscious backdrop, takes center stage along with a strong salute to craft cocktails; there is even a whiskey club if you’re ready to move over to the dark side. www.thegoldenpig.com.
For lodging, check into the Thatcher Hotel, a classic restored Victorian (1890) sporting 18 sleek guestrooms set in a modern palette. Minimalistic with clean lines, this is the stop if you appreciate sophistication without the fluff. On site is a vibrant signature bar and alfresco dining around the pool in warm months. Another option is diving into a craft, wood-fired pizza and bedding down at the Stock Farm featuring seven sumptuous suites with decks and hot tubs. www.thatcherhotel.com; www.stockfarmhopland.com.
It all started in 1918 when Vincenzo Graziano planted vines in Mendocino. Today the fourth-generation vintners at Graziano Family of Wines specialize in classic Italian and Old World blends. Your first stop is the tiny Hopland tasting room, where you can pop into a solid CORO and 30+ premium wines including a crisp Monte Volpe Vermentino and Saint Gregory Pinotrois blend. Expect a true down-home experience: no lines, no attitude, no tasting fees.
If you are into an obscure side trek, reach out to Oscar’s Place, committed to the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of donkeys slated for slaughter. This loving facility run by an ex-New York media executive is the definition of giving back. Appointments mandatory, located just off River Road; www.oscarsplace.org. Also nearby is the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center which offers self-guided hikes and seasonal lambing tours including a guided “find the lost sheep” walk to the barn and a bottle feeding of the orphan lambs. https://hrec.ucanr.edu/
Next, your adventure heads north on Highway 101 to Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery for a mid-day swirl. Here, you can bank out on the shaded veranda with expansive vineyard views, a CORO connection and selection of estate Chardonnay, Viognier or Primitivo. If you’re looking to switch it up, you can power into a selection of rare brandies traditionally crafted in an alembic pot still built in Cognac, France in the early 1900s. Savor a slow flight including the best of show Jaxon Signature Reserve, gold medal Jaxon Old Stock and Jaxon Rare Brandy ($25). The expansive grounds make for a heavenly stroll through the vines as well. www.jaxonkeys.com.
Nirvana hits a high note at Mendocino mile marker 27.16 when the valley cuts loose along the Russian River. It’s picnic time at Parducci Wine Cellars (1932) – the world’s first carbon-neutral winery – for legendary wines backed with a full roster of seasonal concerts. It all started with a 16-year-old Italian stowaway who hit Mendocino County running and hand-built a winery with his four sons. Today, you can tap into CORO and a selection of powerful, hand-crafted wines in a film-worthy setting. Old World Zinfandels under the label Zin-Phomaniac, beef-ready Slices wines (crafted by an unapologetic meat lover) and rich Moniker single vineyard Chardonnay from the Russian River headlands round out the experience. www.parducci.com.
Wind down the day in Ukiah at the new Left Coast Seafood Restaurant. Think locally caught sustainable and wild seafood paired with a fervent Mendocino Mule or popular El Jefe – a house-infused poblano chile tequila with fresh hibiscus syrup. Entrees include a seasonal Cracked Garlic Crab, hearty fishermen’s Cioppino or signature Seafood Bake with all the usual suspects. www.leftcoastseafoodca.com.
A few miles inland, bubbles of another kind await. Bed down at California Landmark No. 980 – better known as the champagne mineral baths. A favorite haunt of Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Jack London, Vichy Springs Resort and Spa is a 700-acre retreat boasting America’s only warm and naturally carbonated Vichy mineral baths (and Olympic-size pool). You can book the historic Blue Cottage (1852) or take a break in the creek side baths like a lime in Perrier. www.vichysprings.com.
Day three on the CORO trek stars at Testa Vineyards, set in the small township of Calpella. Here the sixth generation Italian family began farming the land in 1912 and today offers you an insider peek into winemaking from the ground up. Surrounded by ripe vines and a deep pocket lake, Testa is an outback experience with well-worn tables rooted around a classic barn. You can kick of the visit with a classically-crafted CORO or biodynamically-grown, naturally-crafted Simply White & Black Wines, award-winning Old Vine Zinfandel or a hearty Barbera. There is also a three-bedroom guesthouse if you have a larger group who relish a real farm experience. www.testaranch.com.
Before you head to the coast, cap the inland adventure with a visit to BARRA of Mendocino with its stunning 5,000 sq. ft. tasting facility that resembles an inverted champagne glass. It all started in 1945 when Charlie Barra, then a high school junior, leased a neighbor’s ranch to grow grapes followed by the 1955 purchase of a 175-acre vineyard in Redwood Valley situated at the headwaters of the Russian River. As one of the first growers to plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon on the North Coast, his focus shifted to crafting single-vineyard designate wines and in 1977 BARRA of Mendocino was born. Today BARRA and second label Girasole Vineyards are made of 100 percent estate grapes from organic-certified vineyards. This is your stop for a well-rounded line-up of wines from the signature Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese to the 2017 CORO, crafted with 60 percent Zinfandel and a blend of Petit Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Pack a picnic and let the day drift away. www.barraofmendocino.com.
ANCIENT REDWOODS & SECLUDED SOAKS
Now it’s time for you to tap out and rave with the ancient redwoods. The last CORO producer is located in wine-centric Anderson Valley, a 15-mile tapestry of vineyards leading to the Pacific. Head south for 14 miles and due west on Orr Springs Road for an outback escape. At first it seems Jurassic, these towering icons and floppy fern groves the size of cars. Welcome to Montgomery Woods State Reserve. A quick romp delivers you to one of the state’s most magnificent groves of virgin redwoods. To stand among the redwood spires deep in the forest is to stand in the nave of one of nature’s cathedrals. High up in the canopy, past flying buttresses of enormous branches, the green treetops soar 300 or more feet above. A network of easy trails links the Reserve and adjoining fern groves. Free; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=434.
Nearby is another wonder of the world, Orr Hot Springs. Originally on the stagecoach route in the late 1800s, the 27-acre resort began building cabins in the 1930s and today has a mix of lodgings near the meandering fresh mountain spring. Delve into a secluded mineral bath, opt for two communal tubs set between 104–107 degrees or snag one of two stargazing tubs located atop of the bathhouse building. The enormous cold pool, a 15 by 60 ft., spring-fed plunge built into a rock sidewall set at a delightful 65–75 degrees, offers the ultimate chill down. If you’re seeking a detox duo, the dry sauna and constant-flow steam room, from the same water source, do the trick; massage is also available. Day use available; reservations required. www.orrhotsprings.org.
Continue to the Pacific along Orr Springs Road and south on Flynn Creek Road to Navarro. This is Pinot country, with a splash of sparkling. Your last stop is Greenwood Ridge Vineyards for connecting to CORO. Laid back hits a high note here, with a unique octagonal tasting room designed by Aaron G. Green, longtime associate and architect of Frank Lloyd Wright (crafted from a single 400-year old redwood). Here, your leisure pursuits include tasting on the wrap-around deck overlooking the pond or garden patio by the fire pit. Small-lot, award-winning wines take center stage including CORO, a sought-after Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and double-gold winning Pinot Noirs. Spend the afternoon, charge the Tesla and ponder the distinctive wines that make Mendocino County the perfect muse. www.greenwoodridge.com.
Travel Alert: Please check directly with wineries regarding tours and timeframes given the current COVID-19 conditions.