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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for May 5, 2000


Winery of the Week

Mendocino. Where's the Vino?


1875—There was one operating winery in Mendocino County, that of Italian-born Daniel Gobbi.

1967—There was one operating winery in Mendocino County, that of Adolph Parducci.

The Rest of the Story

Marilynn and Carl Thoma As you can see, winemaking in Mendocino did not take off like a rocket. In fact, while it is one of California's original 27 counties, it still remains a cure for the big-city blahs, as symbolized by the sketch of the Mendocino "Breakfast Club."

Speaking of sketches that capture the rural charm of the area, that's the theme of our Winery of the Week. Proprietors Marilynn and Carl Thoma, (pictured), have released their SketchBook Collection of six Mendocino varietals. of all things, they are made partly from Parducci grapes, for they purchased the winery a few years ago.

Speaking of purchases, the couple also bought Hidden Cellars. In my tastings in past years, Hidden Cellars grapes made excellent wines. Some of that fruit is going into the SketchBook bottles, too. Let's examine the region more closely.

Your Mendocino Moment

Mendocino is a huge county of over two million acres. However,only the lower one-third is vine-friendly, so the total vineyard acreage is but 15,000. The Thoma Winery is not involved in the marine-cooled western side. Their fruit comes from the somewhat warmer eastern side. The chief town is Ukiah, the dominant vineyard areas are the Potter and Redwood Valleys. You don't grow wine grapes much farther north in California than in the Potter.

Climate Excitement

So if eastern Mendocino isn't coastal cool, is it inland warm? Not exactly. It swings back and forth. Hot, 100 degree periods are followed by an invasion of ocean air. A hot day can be followed by a cool evening, say down to the low 5Os. On the average, the Thoma grapes are going to have a warmer season than, say, a coastal Sonoma vineyard, but less heat than a Clear Lake vineyard to the east.

SketchBook Wines


The Mendocino Mood

Recognizing those Italian roots, veteran winemaker Bob Swain has turned out a Sangiovese (Chianti's chief grape) and Barbera (the most widely-planted Piedmont variety). From the Rhone, there's a serious Syrah, and a lighter Grenache. And of course, Bordeaux is represented by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I'm getting good reports on these from my contacts, but will hold off on specific recommendations until my picky panel sips them. Meanwhile, if you like 'em light, try the Grenache. For more clout, the Merlot would be my choice. Prices are in the $25-$30 range.

Contact—Jill Beaverson, Thoma Winery, (707) 463-5386, FX (707) 581-1860, e-mail:

Postscript—The Name Game

There are five Mendocinos...a canyon, a national forest, a town, a county and a cape. The cape was the first to receive the name. The county was named after the cape. and the cape was named after Viceroy Mendozo, the head of New Spain. That is, he represented the King of Spain in the New World. Sounds simple, yet we don't actually know who was the source of the name???

You see, Don Antonio de Mendoza was viceroy in the 1540s and Lorenzo Suarez de Mendoza held that lofty position in the 1580s. It's not known which lent his name to "Cabo Mendocino." Last, would you believe? Cape Mendocino, that gave its name to the county, is not in Mendocino. It's farther north in Humbolt County!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created May 2000