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California's Hidden Organic Wine Region

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Less than two hours north of San Francisco is a tiny town called Hopland. As its name suggests, decades ago it was a bustling community of beer makers, but those glory days have passed and Hopland disappeared into oblivion. But with the rise of organic wines and biodynamic farming, Hopland once again is on the radar for foodies and wine connoisseurs.

The area surrounding Hopland is known as Sanel Valley (pending AVA designation) and is ready for its début on the international winemaking scene. The region is a mere speck compared to other wine regions -- about six miles long and two miles wide -- but when it comes to biodynamic and organic winemaking, this valley is a giant. Within this relatively small plot of land, there are 11 organic and biodynamic wineries.

Photo by George Rose

This miniature wine valley has steadily built a reputation to those in the biodynamic business, but it was the reopening of the former Fetzer Valley Oaks Food & Wine Center (closed in 2006) that got visitors coming back to Hopland. The property is now called Campovida ("Field of Life"), and it is a family-owned and operated certified organic farm and working vineyard. Campovida reopened in 2010 and has been restored to its former glory by husband and wife team Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck.


Originally opened in 1983, the 51-acre property was well known for being the first organic food and wine center in the United States, and once hosted culinary legends such as Emeril Lagasse, Julia Child and John Ash. One of the favorite places on the property is the 13-acre biodiversity-rich, organic garden featuring more than 2,000 varieties of fresh fruit, herbs, vegetables and edible flowers. There, guests are free to roam the fragrant gardens and taste fresh herbs and vegetables. The property can host overnight parties up 20 guests and has a serene pool overlooking the picturesque fields of Sanel Valley. Renaming the property Campovida, Gary and Anna hope to regenerate and restore the vibrant and historic property to its former abundant glory, creating a beautiful and interactive destination for wine tasting, private events, weddings, company meetings, team building activities, educational garden tours, art exhibits and culinary events.


The location is perfect for a private event such as a family reunion, a wedding, a corporate retreat, or girlfriends' get away. Guests can rent the 3-bedroom farmhouse or the farmhouse and the additional 7 rooms, which includes 3 suites with kitchens. They don't rent the rooms on an individual basis.

13601 Old River Road
Hopland, CA 95449

Owner Daniel Fetzer's, award-winning Brut Rose can easily compete with any renowned champagne. This spectacular sparkling rose produced methode champenoise is America's first and only Blanc de Noir created from 100% organically grown and certified Pinot Noir grapes. Jeriko Estate boasts an impressive list of 18 different wines: Jeriko Estate Brut Rose, Brut, Rose, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, The San Francisco Wine Press Chardonnay, Yerba Buena Red, The Natural Wine Company Strawberry Blonde Syrah Rose, Natural Blonde Chardonnay, San Greal Red Supper Wine and the San Greal Port Don Antonio Blend.


What makes this winery so special is Daniel Fetzer's dedication to biodynamic farming. It's common to see chickens, goats and sheep roaming Jeriko's vineyards and hillsides. Hidden in the 160-acre vineyard is a stunning estate house that is available for rent. It has six beautiful bedrooms, an opulent wine cellar and private swimming pool.

Jeriko Estate Winery, Estate House and Tasting Room
12141 Hewlitt and Sturtevant Road - Off Highway 101
Hopland CA 95449

Atop of a beautiful steep hill, overlooking acres of sunflowers is perched Saracina Vineyards. This slice of heaven is a small-production California certified organic winery that boasts the first wine caves in Mendocino County. The dramatic caves were carved out of solid rock and it took over two years to create the underground masterpiece outfitted with artwork and a tasting room. The scenic property is populated with sheep and goats roaming the hillsides.

Photo by George Rose

Along with making wine, olive oil is produced on the property from the groves of 100-year-old olive trees. It's easy to get lost in the pomegranate orchards, bamboo gardens, hiking trails, organic vegetable gardens and ponds that are teaming with wildlife. The owners, John Fetzer and Patty Rock, are committed to preserving the land and the rivers that run through the property. Along with producing seven types of wine: Saracina Suavignon Blanc, Atrea The Choir, Atrea Old Soul Red, Saracina Pinot Noir, Saracina Zinfandel Saracina Syrah and Saracina Petite Sirah, the winery produces honey from the many wild bees that take up residence in the surrounding hillsides.

Photo by George Rose

Saracina Vineyards
11684 Highway 101
Hopland, CA 95449

Terra Sávia organic wines are made exclusively from their estate, Sanel Valley Vineyards, and they produce only 4,000 cases seasonally. Jim Milone shares his views on organic winemaking, "Producing organic wines is better for the small piece of the planet that we get to take care of. Well-made wine in general is a pretty natural and healthy beverage. I have been making wine commercially for 34 years now. I have always tried to do as little as possible to the wine, making it as natural as possible. This is why attention to the vineyard is so critical. Great grapes make great wines with very little intervention from the winemaker. As I learned years ago in the study of ecosystems: All things are connected." Jim's focus has been on Bordeaux Varietals but he is creating some delicious Sparkling Wine and Chardonnay as well.


Terra Sávia Organic Wines
14200 Mountain House Rd.
Hopland, CA 95449

Nestled in the Mayacamas Mountains and bordering the McDowell Creek, McDowell Valley Vineyards was established in 1970. Their vineyard has one of the longest records of continuous wine grape production in California. Syrah and Grenache have been planted on this soil for almost a century. They use organic grapes to make their award-winning Syrah, and today McDowell is a renowned producer of Rhône varietal wines. Included in this lineup are: Coro Mendocino, Mendocino Syrah, William Roan Shiraz, NV Port and Grenache Rose. Spend the afternoon enjoying the rustic scenery while tasting wines in their old farmhouse.

McDowell Wine & Mercantile
13380 Hwy 101
Hopland, CA 95449

This family-run business has been operating in Mendocino County for over 40 years and now an active participant in the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program. Grandfather Irv Bliss purchased the Mendocino County property in 1943 and the Brutocao family released their first wine in 1980. With their deep Italian history, this winery rings with Italian traditions, including the bocce ball courts just next door. Their impressive lists of wines include: Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Rose, Merlot, Syrah,Port, and a few other seasonal varietals.


Brutocao Cellars
Hopland Tasting Room:
13500 Highway 101
Hopland, CA 95449

This passionate family is committed to organic farming, offering a variety of wines that have been produced in ultra-small batches with tender love and care. They use sustainable and organic practices in their vineyards and they are part of the Fish Friendly Farming program in California. For such a small operation, they have an impressive wine list, which includes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel Rosé, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Orange Muscat, Ice Riesling and a Late Harvest Viognier.


Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room
550 Nelson Ranch Road
Ukiah, CA 95482

At MWG, they produce a portfolio of wines that merge bucolic farming traditions with cutting-edge and old-world approaches to winemaking. They produce roughly 10,000 cases from their four in-house labels, Mendocino Farms, Old River Vintners, Talmage Selection and Ukiah Cellars. Their grapes are sourced from sustainably farmed, certified organic and Biodynamic winegrowers. "Mendocino County has an unparallel place in the history of the sustainable wine, food and agriculture movement -- something we've been proud to be part of," said Owsley Brown III, Proprietor of Magnanimus Wine Group. Their wine shop and tasting room is located at Campovida.


Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida
13601 Old River Road
Hopland, CA 95449

This itty bitty 22-acre site owned by Joe and Julie Golden has been farmed organically since 1986 and biodynamically since 1994. The Native American Pomo people gathered in this place and they called it Sanel (SHA -nel) living in complete harmony with the land. Today, the Fairbairn Ranch's award-winning Syrah are rooted in the Redvine sandy loam soils of Hopland. Initially planted in 1986 and farmed organically, then replanted with Syrah in 1994 and farmed under Biodynamic practice ever since, nearly 20,000 vines rise gently along a northwesterly slope.


Golden Vineyards

14251 Old River Rd.
Hopland, CA 95449

Patti Fetzer's Patianna Organic Vineyards, 126 prime acres stretching along the Russian River in Hopland, Mendocino County. Patti is one of the eleven children of the pioneering winemaking Fetzer family, and was inspired by her family's organic and biodynamic viticulture. Patti Fetzer took over the property in 1998 and enthusiastically embraced the Biodynamic practices, which builds upon organic farming in an even more labor intensive and integrated biodiversity.


Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Cesar Toxqui moved to Mendocino County from Mexico when he was just 16 years old. His first job was tying down grape vines at the famous Fetzer Vineyards. He went on to be trained in winemaking by distinguished winemaker Jesse Tidwell, then moved on to Cellar Master for Brutocao Cellars. He decided to pursue a career in winemaking, and worked full-time while attending school on evenings and weekends. He eventually completed his senior thesis on organically grown grapes, and most of the grapes he uses today are organically grown (he started his own label four years ago). "I grew up near Cholula, Puebla, one of the places in Mexico where the first vines were planted in the 1500s by the Spanish in the New World," Cesar says. He made this discovery while reading about wine history. As he puts it, "It's so exciting to find out this piece of history and it explains why I love making wines. It runs in my veins."

Tucked away behind old oak trees and fields of lavender is Bonterra Vineyard. They have been committed to organic sustainability since 1987. Today their vineyard is an environment of incredible diversity: soil, plants and animals work together to create a web of natural balance where all the elements thrive. The wine varietals for Bonterra include: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet. They also produce two certified biodynamic wines called "The McNab," and "The Butler." Robert Blue, the winemaker shares his philosophy: "Our holistic approach to winemaking took root in 1987 when we were experimenting with wine and food pairings. The fruits, vegetables and herbs we used came from our extensive organic garden. Since then, we committed ourselves to growing grapes organically. Today our vineyard is an environment of incredible diversity: soil, plants and animals work together to create a web of natural balance where all the elements thrive."


This winery is not open to the public

The Fetzer Winery manages 1,000 acres of organically certified vineyards in the Hopland and Ukiah Valleys. And since their founding in 1968 in Mendocino County, Fetzer Vineyards has been a pioneer of California winemaking. In 1984, Fetzer undertook the commitment to total sustainable growing of all its grapes. What started as a simple garden project grew into the defining mission for all of Fetzer's vineyards. One by one, as each vineyard committed to sustainable growing.

Clip here for information about Hopland and Mendocino County