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Weekender: Redwood Valley, Calif.

Discover a hidden wine enclave, soak at a spa, or explore nearby Ukiah.

Lake Mendocino in Calif.'s Redwood Valley
Photo caption
Toast the view of Lake Mendocino from the hill at Fife Vineyards.

As a wine region, California's Redwood Valley may not have the same off-the-top-of-your-head name recognition as Napa or Sonoma. But what this 35-square-mile tract off Highway 101 in Mendocino County lacks in reputation, it more than makes up for in the zinfandels, petite sirahs, and other varietals that are poured at the tasting rooms of the area's small, family-owned wineries. And, of course, you'll find a few more surprises to accent your visit—picturesque Lake Mendocino, a world-class art museum, and the first certified organic brewpub in the United States.

Bisected by the headwaters of the Russian River some two hours north of San Francisco, Redwood Valley was originally the domain of Pomo and Yurok Indians. In the early 19th century, this pastoral landscape was the northernmost of Mexico's land grants in coastal California. American settlers arrived in the 1850s, and by the 1870s, Italian immigrants had also moved into the valley, having found the weather and fertile soil perfect for cultivating grapes.

Today, Redwood Valley's 10 wineries are linked by winding back roads—perfect for those who wish to spend a lazy afternoon sipping their way through deep, savory reds and crisp whites. Notable among the group is Frey Vineyards, which began producing an organic cabernet sauvignon (no added sulfites or other preservatives) almost a quarter century ago and is now the oldest winery of its kind in the United States. At Fife Vineyards' hilltop tasting room, the berry-spiced zinfandels come complete with a view of Lake Mendocino. Sample fragrant merlot or sweet muscat canelli infused with a hint of citrus at Barra of Mendocino and Braren Pauli, which share a spacious tasting room with a towering ceiling.

Late spring is one of the best times to tour the wineries, especially during the Taste of Redwood Valley. Held over Father's Day weekend, this annual open house treats visitors to select barrel tastings, delectable gourmet treats, and live music.

Redwood Valley wineries, such as Frey Vine-yards, are generally open to the public by appointment only. Contact the Mendocino County Alliance at (866) 466-3636 for a free winery tour brochure.

The town of Redwood Valley itself consists mainly of a fire station, a tiny store with a deli, and a few service-oriented businesses at the intersection of East Road and School Way. There are, however, two noteworthy restaurants nearby. You can order a veggie omelet or try the ever-popular lean buffalo burger at the no-frills Redwood Valley Cafe. Followers of the Atkins diet should be pleased with the Broiler Steak House's wood-grilled rib eyes and fillets.

Eight miles south of Redwood Valley lies the city of Ukiah, which derives its name from the Pomo word yokayo, meaning "deep valley." A stroll along the shady streets of Ukiah's downtown will lead you by antique shops, sweet-smelling bakeries, and three independent bookstores.

At the Redwood Valley Cafe, bite into a buffalo burger, touted by fans as a low-fat, low-cholesterol alternative to traditional beef burgers.

The Grace Hudson Museum, without doubt the city's most prized attraction, is also an homage to its most famous daughter. Hudson, who was raised in Ukiah, made her mark in the early 20th century with her paintings of Pomo babies. In addition to chronicling Hudson's life and work, the museum hosts changing exhibitions throughout the year. Visitors may also tour the neighboring Sun House, a 1911 redwood craftsman bungalow where Hudson lived.

Another landmark of note is the Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant. This laid-back establishment became the first certified organic brewpub in the United States in 2001. The Pilsner Ukiah, chocolaty Palace Porter, and other handcrafted brews complement the pub's versatile fare—home-smoked meats, Thai curry, beer-braised pot roast with mashed potatoes. And much like the wines of Redwood Valley, the beers will more than please your palate.

Photography by Clay McLachlan


This article was first published in May 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.