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Mendocino County AVAs

by Staff Writer - B. Shaughnessy | February 09, 2012

Mendocino County is a wine producing region found in California. Regionally speaking, Mendocino County is one of California's northernmost wine regions. Ten AVAs are present in Mendocino County and while many different opinions exist concerning the quality of wines found in the various Mendocino AVAs, actual tasting results can be quite surprising.


The history of winemaking in Mendocino is somewhat shorter than other wine areas in California. Mendocino takes its name from two 16th century explorers, brothers Lorenzo Suárez de Mendoza and Antonio de Mendoza. Winemaking was not introduced to Mendocino County until about the mid 1800s. In the 1850s, former gold rush miners established vineyards within Mendocino County. The wineries built by these failed miners were small operations. With the onset of Prohibition, all of these small wineries were put out of business. Any remaining vineyards were ripped out and replaced with fruit and nut trees.

During the 1890s, Italian immigrants of the Greenwood Ridge area began planting vineyards in logged out patches of land. These patches, which were found at elevations of 1,400 feet, provided unique growing conditions for the grapes. As the patches were located above fog lines, the vineyards benefitted from increased exposure to sunlight as well as the decrease in the chance of frost damage. The development of ridge vineyards was minimal but the vineyards did manage to survive Prohibition. After Prohibition many of these vineyards focused their resources on Zinfandel. The end result can be seen with modern operations of the various ridge vineyards. Today, many of these ridge vineyards produce some of the best Zinfandels found in California.

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Mendocino County is also a leader in a unique but important area of the California wine industry. Viticultural practices were reviewed by some of Mendocino County's largest producers and as a result more sustainable agriculture including organic wine production was introduced. Today Mendocino County is one of the leading organic wine producing regions. Over 25% of wineries are certified by California Certified Organic Farmers as being organic. This is by far the largest percentage of vineyards that can be found in any county within California.

Ten American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) can be found in Mendocino County with the majority of the AVAs being located on the eastern side of Mendocino County. An AVA known as the Mendocino AVA contains all other sub AVAs with the exception of the Covelo AVA. Broken down, the Mendocino County AVAs are known as the Anderson Valley AVA, Cole Ranch AVA, Covelo AVA, Dos Rios AVA, McDowell Valley AVA, Mendocino Ridge AVA, Potter Valley AVA, Redwood Valley AVA and Yorkville Highlands AVA.

Anderson Valley AVA

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The Anderson Valley AVA of Mendocino County is an American Viticulture Area located near the Anderson Valley. Anderson Valley AVA is located approximately 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and as such is subject to various climate changes governed by the Pacific Ocean. Fogs from the Pacific Ocean are strongest closest to the Ocean while the effects of the fog diminish further inland. Temperature variations due to fog intensity can be seen throughout the Anderson Valley AVA. Typical mid day temperatures hover at around 80 degrees while nighttime temperatures can get as low as 40 degrees. The more fog found in a given area leads to reduced average temperatures.

Due to the cool conditions found in the Anderson Valley AVA, grape varieties are contained to the varieties that grow well in a cool-climate setting. Some of the more popular varieties include Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. Out of these various grape varieties both Riesling and Gewurztraminer are standout examples of the excellent wine of the Anderson Valley AVA. Only in Sonoma's Russian River Valley can one find a comparable high quality Gewurztraminer wine. The same is true for the Rieslings produced in the Anderson Valley AVA as they retain a certain Mosel delicacy.

The vineyards found within the Anderson Valley AVA are relatively young and somewhat small. Current acreage is at around 2,000 acres of vine under cultivation. The future development of vineyards does look promising with respect to increased varietal diversity. New Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones promise to perform well in the Anderson Valley AVA thus increasing the varieties and quality of wine.

Mendocino Ridge AVA

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Mendocino County is a unique wine region and the Mendocino Ridge AVA does not detract from this fact. This can be seen in the fact that while the Mendocino Ridge AVA covers roughly 250,000 acres, only land above 1,200 feet is suitable for grape production. Due to this fact, the Mendocino Ridge AVA is considered a non-contiguous AVA. With this in mind it is estimated that only 1,500 to 2,000 acres are available for grape production. Only about 75 acres are currently cultivated in the Mendocino Ridge AVA.

The Mendocino Ridge AVA is where immigrants locating to the Greenwood Ridge started winemaking. Originally focusing on the Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, Muscat, Palomino and Malvasia varieties, the wineries of the Mendocino Ridge AVA have recently put their efforts exclusively behind Zinfandel. The end result is the production of truly stunning Zinfandels.

Redwood Valley AVA

Redwood Valley AVA is a region located in Mendocino County and is home to the Fetzer vineyards. Redwood Valley can be described as a stretch of land running north and south while paralleling the Russian River. The climate of Redwood Valley is somewhat cooler than neighboring AVAs. Due to the cool climate, grapes grown at Redwood require slightly longer growing seasons. The Redwood Valley also has a slightly higher elevation when compared to neighboring AVAs.

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The remainder of AVAs found within Mendocino County are smaller AVAs where average wines are produced. The Potter Valley AVA is located near the Potter Valley and has about 1,000 acres of vineyards. The local watershed has created conditions favorable for the production of botrytized wines. Popular grape varieties include Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The McDowell Valley AVA is another small region where the McDowell Valley Vineyards are located. Only about 750 acres are cultivated with Syrah being the grape of choice. The Cole Ranch AVA is a small 66-acre region located southwest of the hills of Ukiah. Wines produced from this region are typically vegetal in nature and as such not highly regarded. Dos Rios is an AVA located near the middle fork of the Eel River in Mendocino County. The climate of Dos Rios is cool due to breezes. Also, the Dos Rios AVA soil can be somewhat infertile when compared with neighboring AVAs. The Yorkville Highlands AVA is located in southern Mendocino County and separates Sonoma County's Alexander Valley AVA from Mendocino County's Anderson Valley AVA. Soil types of the Yorkville Highlands AVA are somewhat rocky with temperatures averaging out between the Alexander Valley AVA and Anderson Valley AVA. The Covelo AVA is located in northern Mendocino County and is interesting due to only 2 acres of grapes being planted. The Covelo AVA was granted AVA status due to the unique climate conditions of the area.

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