Magical Mendocino: Why go? (Part 1 of 3 posts)
If I had guts, I would move to Mendocino County, California. People believe it takes a lot of nerve to live in New York City, but it is in fact easy for those of us used to urban life. Building superintendents handle household repairs; the city takes out our trash; maids clean the apartments; and bars, restaurants and bodegas are open when you need them (and when you don’t). Someone is always there to manage the details of our lives while we work hard to pay for it all.
To live in Mendocino, one needs to be a self-starter to succeed. Jobs at banks, ad agencies and PR firms don’t exist, and money ebbs and flows into the region with the seasons. During the summer, tourists flock to the wineries of the Anderson Valley and the town serves as a popular seaside retreat. When winter arrives, it feels as empty as an abandoned fishing village off the coast of Newfoundland. It takes guts to survive, but the lifestyle payoff is enormous.
Mendocino is the antithesis of the more populated, cultivated counties found further South (Sonoma, San Fran, L.A.). The scenery is moody and romantic, wild and at times empty; and the landscape is split between coast and country. The setting changes so dramatically during the ten-mile stretch from ocean to valley, that in the late 19th century the ranchers and farmers of Boonville, feeling a sense of (if not real) isolation, devised their own dialect called Boontling. Meant to discourage outsiders with their secret lingo, they took to calling those from the coast Fog Eaters. And fog they eat.
Along the shore each morning, vaporous plumes roll off the pounding surf of the Pacific, and over the rocky beaches to swallow the streets of Mendocino like a scene from Stephen King’s The Mist. In contrast, the valley is filled with dense forests of towering, ancient redwoods; misty mountain peaks; and sunlit valleys filled with farms and vineyards.
But what do people do here? I posed that question to the owner of the Glendeven Inn where we were staying (see post #3). His reply: “they do what we do, they own a B&B or an Inn.” Of course, someone must also own the seasonal restaurants in town or the nearby grocery. I also discovered another local career path involves foraging mushrooms, specifically Candy-Caps, which taste like maple syrup and are used in cookies and ice cream! For me, however, the most intriguing work is done by those making the wine.
Having spent many years drinking Pinot Noir from all over California, I was growing tired of the wines trending towards an over-ripe and heavily oak-influenced profile. I wanted to taste purity of fruit, but also the dirt. The wines of Mendocino County capture the qualities that originally drew me to Pinot. Many of them offer balance and grace, berries and soil, and a sense of place in this remote region. I had found my fairy-tale in this enchanted land of maple candy fungi and wines offering a drink of the forest floor.
Getting to this beguiling place is easier than it sounds. As undeveloped (for California) as it feels, Mendocino is a surprisingly easy 3-hour drive from San Fran, considering New Yorkers travel 3+ hours to the Hamptons every summer weekend. Maybe Mendocino County receives far less traffic, and therefore development, because the road North along 101 is dense with distractions. From a tourist perspective, that is a very good thing.
Coming soon, Part 2: How to get there and Wineries to Visit