Wine Country Itinerary: Mendocino Coast

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By Courtney Cochran

The drive is just three hours north of San Francisco, but it might as well be a century back in time. Sometimes called "The Lost Coast" since it was largely cut off from the modern world until the mid Nineteenth Century, Mendocino's hauntingly romantic North Coast is home today to long stretches of pristine wilderness, a host of welcoming inns and B&Bs, renowned restaurants and - yes - wineries and tasting rooms that make the most of this spectacular stretch of California coastline. 

Our suggested itinerary takes you northwards on Highway 1 from the town of Mendocino to just north of historic Fort Bragg, and includes a midday pit stop for lunch.  And while the majority of Mendocino's more than 50 wineries are to be found further inland, the coast is where you'll find California's only oceanside winery as well as a handful of tasting rooms in coastal towns fit to bursting with Victorian-era charm and architecture.  But take note: In keeping with the slow pace of the region, the dramatic cliffs and myriad turns along winding Highway 1 make travel here slow by necessity.  Happily, it's a region that welcomes lingering, something you'll find all too easy to do once you get there. 
Winery 1 - Le Vin Winery Bar
Start your day in the charming village of Mendocino at the new Le Vin Winery Bar, where guests sample award-winning wines made from high altitude vines in southern Mendocino County. Housed inside the Coastside Gallery, the bar boasts sunny décor and a pleasant staff, who are all too eager to fill visitors in on the winery's unique winemaking style (they favor natural yeasts, superior clonal selection and follow organic and biodynamic viticultural practices), estate-produced extra virgin olive oil, and fascinating history.
Tasting Room: 45055 Albion Street, Mendocino, CA 95460; Open daily 11am-5pm
Tasting Fee: varies

Lunch - Moosse Café

The garden behind the charming white clapboard Blue Heron Inn is about as tranquil and lush as they come, making the Inn's Moosse Café - whose deck overlooks the garden - about as ideal a lunch spot as they come. The Café's menu offers a good variety of dishes highlighting the almost unbelievably fresh ingredients found in the region, and diners are invited to linger as long as they like before paying the check. Grab a table inside on colder days, where a charming fireplace warms the space.
Location: The Blue Heron Inn, 390 Kasten St. Mendocino, CA 95460
Hours: Lunch beginning at noon, Dinner at 5:30pm

Winery 2 - Paul Dolan Vineyards
Take in breathtaking views of Mendocino's craggy cliffs and the rollicking Pacific beyond from Paul Dolan Vineyards' quaint tasting room on Main Street in Mendocino. Previously home to Mendocino Wine Co.'s tasting room, the spot was recently converted to showcase the organic wines of local wine guru (and Mendocino Wine Co. partner) Dolan, whose pioneering role in spearheading the development of green winemaking in Mendocino can't be underestimated. As you might expect, the purity of his wines shows up in the glass.
Tasting Room: 45070 Main St., Mendocino, CA 95460
Tasting Fee: $5 for 3 or $10 for 4 (subject to change); Open 11-6pm daily

Winery 3 - Pacific Star Winery
Though getting there is admittedly a hike - the winery itself is located 12 miles north of Fort Bragg - travelers looking for a true coastal experience will find exactly what they're looking for at Pacific Star Winery. Perched high on the cliffs immediately above the ocean, Pacific Star rewards visitors who make the trip with complimentary tastes of an impressive 9-10 critically acclaimed wines. Sample them in the barrel room located on top of the operation's "sea caves" or outside, where picnic tables overlook a jaw dropping 74-mile panorama of the North Coast. Whale watching at sunset, anyone?
Tasting Room: Open daily 11am-5pm
Tasting Fee: Complimentary taste of 9-10 wines

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The Pacific Star Winery now has a $6 tasting fee.

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