Mendocino County represents the northern limits of California's quality wine-growing regions and, even within the county's limits, there is a clear vineyard bias towards its southern half, where the majority of its 6900 hectares (17,000 acres) of vines are located. As such, Mendocino County is one of California's largest wine-growing areas, although far from the most densely planted, and is recognized for the diversity and quality of its wines.
The county is home to more than 10 AVAs, among them the famous Anderson Valley and the Mendocino AVA, which is something of a catch-all title as it incorporates more than five other location-specific AVAs. The climatic variation between the inland and coastal AVAs here is largely to thank for the broad range of wine styles produced in Mendocino County.
? Wikimedia/Jay Bergesen
The region is divided into two distinct climatic zones by the Mendocino Range, one of several mountain ranges which make up the Pacific Coast Ranges. Unusually for California, the vineyards lean towards the inland areas rather than the coast – inland it is significantly warmer and drier and vines are sheltered from the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean. This area is classified as Region III on the Amerine and Winkler climate classification scale, in contrast to the Region I classification of Anderson Valley. Indeed, it was the cool, moist climes of the Anderson Valley that caught the attention of Louis Roederer and led the Champagne giant to establish the Roederer Estate vineyards in this AVA.
Mendocino County's cooler areas produce outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines. Alsatian white grape varieties – Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris – have also found a home here, while the warmer parts of the region are suitable for growing more robust reds, including the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Zinfandel.
Viticulture in Mendocino County dates back to the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, although there was a significant hiatus in wine production here (as everywhere in the US) during Prohibition in the early-1900s. Today, Mendocino County is particularly known for its organic and biodynamic wines, with approximately 25 percent of the county's vineyards certified as organic – more than any other wine region in California.
As is happening all over the world, new wine-growing terroirs are being discovered in this area each year, pushing California's viticultural regions further north.