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Sensi Magazine

Stay Cool in "Hot-Kiah"

Jul 09, 2019 01:41AM ● By Marketing SENSI MAG
Mendocino’s Ukiah Valley is home to a storied and thriving wine industry. The scene here is markedly different than the bustling Disneyland-like atmosphere of the Napa/Sonoma empire to the south. Unlike the endless slew of vineyards and lines of cars and buses clogging the highways, Ukiah’s wineries are dotted across a vast region of geological wonder. Over centuries, the Eel and Russian Rivers carved the surrounding mountains into green valleys and rich alluvial plains.

In this climate, pinot gris, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and cabernet grow alongside Mediterranean varietals like syrah, grenache, petite sirah, and zinfandel. Pinot noir is in higher elevations, and the lesser-known carignane produces some of the region’s most interesting wines. Italian varietals have made a home here, too, from red grapes to white-skinned varietals like the elusive cortese.

After traveling a few hours south from the Emerald Triangle, the Ukiah Valley is a welcome retreat from the urban bustle and coastal fog. Locals affectionately refer to Ukiah as “Hot-kiah,” and it’s not unusual for daytime temps to hover around 100º F for most of the summer. For any excursion into Mendocino wine country, be sure to bring your hat, sunglasses, and an ice-cold cooler for refreshments and snacks.

You’ll also need that cooler to safeguard the bottles you purchase along the way just like for dogs and pints of Ben & Jerry’s, a hot car can be fatal for a nice bottle of syrah.

Over a hundred years ago, Greek immigrants Tryfon Lolonis, his wife Eugenia, and his brother William came upon Ukiah and noted the similarities between the valley and their Mediterranean homeland. They planted vineyards and sold grapes to other wineries, including the founder of Bonterra, one of California’s first biodynamic wineries. Lolonis was also credited for discovering the beneficial use of ladybugs, which he used to keep harmful pests in check without using chemical pesticides. In 1982, Tryfon and Eugenia’s three sons, Petros, Ulysses, and Nick, founded their family’s namesake winery in the Redwood Valley. In the process, they became the first certified organic winery in California, years ahead of their time. The winery has since been dissolved, but the commitment to sustainable farming practices in the region has remained.

Today, visitors to Ukiah have many wineries to choose from, but a local favorite is Nelson Family Vineyards in the upper Russian River Valley. For over 50 years, the Nelsons have farmed plums, olives, and Christmas trees that grow alongside vineyards bearing pinot gris, riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel. Owner Greg Nelson grew up on the property and today runs the ranch with his sons.

Saracina is another family-owned and certified sustainable Hopland-area winery where grapes grow alongside olives, vegetables, bees, and wildlife. Saracina’s wine making practices were pioneered by legendary California vintner David Ramey of Chateau Petrus fame. Stopping by Saracina’s tasting room, visitors can sample a lush, silky, fruit-forward chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, cabernet, and malbec. Nearby neighbors with beautiful properties and friendly tasting rooms include Barra, Rivino, Simaine, and Testa.

Typically, Frey is a must-stop winery for those interested in organic and biodynamic wines, but tragically, the Redwood Valley winery was lost during the furious Redwood Valley Fire of 2017. The blazes, which also unfolded simultaneously in Sonoma and Napa, caused widespread destruction: Frey lost its winery, tasting room, and acres of estate vineyards. Two years later, Frey is busy rebuilding its facilities along with other area vintners affected by the destruction.

After a day of wine tasting, scenery, and history, it’s definitely time for dinner. Head to Ukiah’s fashionable Patrona to enjoy an upscale but casual selection of salads, oysters, burgers, steaks, and pasta served in a modern, brick-wall bistro. On Tuesdays, Patrona offers a selection of gourmet tacos, including white bean and kale, carnitas, or fish, which pair perfectly with crafty cocktails like the Ukiah Girl, $9 (vodka, pomegranate, and lime), and the Sage Advice, $11 (bourbon, lemon, blackberry, and sage). If a beer and burger are more your speed, head across town to the Ukiah Brewing Company, a certified organic facility. All menu items are organic, including crab cakes, wings, burgers, and the usual pub fare.

One thing you won’t find in Ukiah is a crowd. Drive the extra hour to sample the fruits of some of California’s oldest organic vineyards and taste what’s so hot in Ukiah.