Wine Ink: Journey to The Madrones in Mendocino County
April 29, 2017
Perhaps the best part of wine travel is discovery. It could be a grape you have never tasted. Perhaps a vineyard you see for the first time. Or it could be an oasis in a region just a bit further afield.
A recent wine infused sojourn took me to the "next county," Mendocino. It's both geographically and spiritually above and beyond Napa and Sonoma. While the region is fast becoming a go-to for wine lovers, it is still, happily, a bit funkier than its southern cousins. It is also home to one of those wine travel discoveries, an oasis of a place called The Madrones.
Just off California Highway 128 in the Anderson Valley, cheek to jowl with Duckhorn's Goldeneye Winery, lies a Spanish/Tuscan/Santa Fe/California-inspired compound called The Madrones. And yes, when you pass through the walls into the courtyard, it is easy to begin humming the song "Hotel California."
The Madrones consists of nine stylish guest quarters, three excellent wine-tasting rooms pouring Anderson Valley wines, an incredible restaurant and a curio and antique shop that would be a find in, say, New York's East Village.
The product of interior designer, builder and visionary Jim Roberts, the complex began life as a rural homestead and television repair shop. Sensing a hidden gem, Roberts rebuilt the compound as a base of operations to house his thriving design firm and a creative incubator for local business in the mid-2000s. He also built a home that lies cocooned inside the exquisite English gardens that surround the property. Today, that home has been repurposed as tasteful and luxurious guest quarters for travelers.
The guest quarters are named for the original rooms of the main house, such as "The Master" or "The Kitchen." Each showcases the building's classic bones and details such as vaulted ceilings and window seats. Luxury linens and contemporary elements give it a sophisticated and comfortable vibe. Views of the gardens and a small pond imbue the feeling of staying at a California wine country manor.
Where offices once occupied the front of the compound, there are now tasting rooms for three small-lot family wineries. The newest addition, Smith-Story Wine Cellars, consists of host husband and wife, Eric Story and Allison Smith, and their goldendoodle, Mr. Sandwich. Eric and Allison were buyers and promoters of other people's wines before they decided to produce their own. They pour releases of their Mendocino and Sonoma County wines alongside a project they produce in the Rheingau region of Germany. They may be the only family owned winery in the U.S. with a German 2015 Rose of Pinot Noir.
Across the courtyard is Bink Cellars. It is the creation of Deborah Schatzlein and Cindy Paulson, who have a passion for producing small lots of Mendocino County wines with concentration, intensity and flavor. While pinot noir dominates in the area, I particularly liked their merlot and syrah, both of which hail from their estate vineyard, Hawks Butt, in the Yorkville Highlands American viticultural area.
Drew Family Cellars rounds out the tasting rooms with a roster of serious — and seriously good — wines, many of which come from the cool climate of their estate vineyard, a former apple orchard high up the Elk-Philo Road just three miles from the Pacific Ocean. Family owned by Jason and Molly Drew, these wines show a delicate and deft hand. The small lot, single-vineyard wines are a tribute to the fruit of the Anderson Valley.
STONE & EMBERS
The heart of The Madrones complex may well be the wood-burning pizza oven in the small gem of a restaurant. A simple kitchen fronts the tiny room, which feels more like a community hideaway than a fine restaurant. It puts out an amazing array of pizzas, salads and other tasty dishes, all made with impeccably freshest local ingredients grown in Chef Partrick Meany's farm down the road.
Many came to the valley following time spent in the kitchens of San Francisco's Gary Danko, and Bouchon in the Napa Valley, to pursue a passion for creative local cuisine. With partner and farmer Matt Barnes, they have created simplicity in each dish with a "menos is mas" ethic. The fresh Little Gem lettuce salads, the impossibly thin, crisp mushroom chicharonnes and the potato beignets burst with flavor and yet are light and delicate.
Comfortable and classic. Just like The Madrones.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.