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Mendo Vino 

The Wines of Mendocino

When folks think of California's best wine regions, Napa Valley and Sonoma are usually the first places that leap to mind. Hey, why shouldn't they be? Wineries are making some kick-ass grape juice among those picturesque vineyards. But I've got news for you: there's a lot more to California wine than Napa Valley.

Take Mendocino, for instance. Just north of Sonoma lies a virtual wine paradise. Pining for some great Pinot Noir? Have a hankerin' for some stellar sparkling wine? Mendo's the place.

TALKIN' "BOUT AN EVOLUTION

Though the region's only starting to get the recognition it deserves, people have been making wine in Mendo since the 1850s, when immigrant farmers gave up prospecting for gold and turned to agriculture. Due to the region's isolation, it wasn't until the 1970s and 80s that Mendocino finally came into its own. Meanwhile, areas with better access to The Big City took all the glory.

Today it's a different story. Though Mendocino is still firmly planted in the middle of nowhere, its wines enjoy the respect and adoration of wine lovers around the world -- even in the Napa Valley.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER

Mendocino is part of California's North Coast wine region, which also includes Napa and Sonoma. Within this area, Mendocino County is divided into eight official growing regions (or appellations), the most famous of which are Anderson Valley, Redwood Valley, Mendocino and McDowell Valley.

Bordered by the Coastal Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean, Mendocino is home to unique microclimates that influence the character of the region's wines. The coastal areas have lots of rain, ocean breezes and cooler temperatures, while the inland places are warmer and drier. Summer weather generally features hot, sunny days and cool nights, which results in very ripe grapes with good acidity.

DRINK THE WINE

There are more than 15,000 acres of vineyards in Mendocino, with 39 wineries, many of them practicing organic grape growing. The appellation's main grape varietals include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Viognier. Mendocino (Anderson Valley in particular) is also known as one of California's best sparkling wine regions.

Of Mendocino's wineries, Fetzer is probably the largest and most famous. The region is also home to excellent lesser-known wineries like Handley Cellars, Husch Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Pacific Echo, Navarro Vineyards and McDowell Valley Vineyards. Chances are, you'll find these brands at a wine shop or grocery store near you.

For traveling types who prefer to sample wine at its source, Mendocino is well worth the winding three-hour drive from San Francisco. Unlike California's more famous (and more developed) wine regions, Mendocino remains a remote, rural place enhanced by a rugged coastline, majestic redwood forests, charming small towns and nice folks.

If you don't have a plane ticket in hand, don't despair. Pour yourself a glass of wine and experience Mendocino from the inside out.

CHARLOTTE WINE & FOOD WEEKEND benefiting Hospitality House of Charlotte and the Charlotte Symphony is set for April 18-20. The weekend includes vintner dinners, numerous tastings, a Napa-style barbecue, a silent auction and a live auction and gala. Costs vary depending on which events you wish to attend. Reservations for any of the events can be made online at www.charlottewineandfood.com or by calling 704-552-9780.

SPRING WINE & JAZZ EVENT will be held at the McNinch House, 511 N. Church St., on April 7, 6pm. Chef Ellen Davis will pair an international selection of wines with some of her best known recipes. Jazz guitarist John Sharp will provide the music. Cost is $65/person. For more info or reservations, call 704-332-6159.

TONIC 1427 E. 4th St. has free wine tastings every Wednesday. The evening begins at 8:30pm and runs till 2am. Entry and tastes are free. For more information, call 704-347-2582 after 8pm or visit www.withtonic.com.

THE WINE GALLERY 8020 Providence Road, offers wine tastings every Thursday, 6:30-8:30pm. Cost is $5 per person. Call 704-544-2455.

WINE TASTING at Founders Hall on March 21 from 5:30-7pm. Three wines from Palmer Vineyards will be sampled. For more information call 704-632-4784.

WINE TASTINGS AT REID'S 7TH ST. WINE SHOP Every Wednesday night at the Wine Bar from 5:30-7:30pm, very informal. Three wines will be tasted each week. Cost is $10 per person. Call 704-513-7014.

WINE TASTING AT THE VILLA Something Classic offers monthly wine tastings with food pairings at the Myers Park location, 715 Providence Rd. Empire Distributing hosts March 20, 5:30-8pm, with wines by Chateau S. Jean, Casa La Postelle & Kenwood. Wine tasting is free. Call 704-347-3666.

Wine tastings, classes, or other wine-related events will be listed at the discretion of the editors. Send information to Creative Loafing one of three ways: Fax to 704-944-3605; email to molly.mckinney@cln.com; or by regular mail at 6112 Old Pineville Rd. Charlotte, NC 28217. All events must be received at least two weeks in advance.

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