During the first part of September, as summer comes to a close, there is still one place that offers a world-class quintessential wine-and-arts weekend—the almost-impossible-to-describe beautiful Mendocino County coast, which is home one of our favorite events. This is the perfect time for a visit from the North Bay area, and a celebration of autumn.
Just the drive to Mendocino entices the senses, as you traverse redwood forests coming from the east, or parallel the Pacific if you come from the north or south. The village of Mendocino itself is reminiscent of a New England whaling town and offers charming shopping, dining, entertainment, and accommodations in the town itself, and nearby.
Yet it is Winesong that draws us there each year. The event is staged by the Mendocino Hospital Foundation as a fundraiser for the only hospital in this vast county, which is in Ft. Bragg. The festive affair begins with a high-end Pinot Noir tasting on Friday afternoon, featuring producers primarily from the Mendocino appellations. Emerging and established Mendo wineries of note that usually participate include Drew, Baxter, Foursight, Toulouse, Meyer, Maggy Hawk, and Witching Stick. Quite the start of a large lineup.
However, Saturday is “the day.” It begins at 11 a.m. in the Botanical Gardens, located about eight miles north of Mendocino on the rugged ocean. The gardens are comprised of a series of maze-like trails, where you can enjoy differing flora about every hundred yards. On Winesong day, however, as you reach various clearings along the way, you’re greeted with tables of fine wines from throughout California being poured by their proprietors and winemakers (which makes for fun discussions). Established wineries such as WALT, Calstar, Goldeneye, Christopher Creek, Pride Mountain, McNab Ridge, DeLoach, and Matrix join up-and-coming wineries such as Panthea, The Calling, Valiance, Minus Tide, and Burrell School. Though three hours are allotted for your “hike,” and probably can’t taste all that is available.
But what is wine without food? Chefs from the finest dining establishments on the north coast are spread throughout the gardens, offering gourmet bites to please all palates—curry chicken, pizza, mushroom risotto, cupcakes of every flavor, BBQ, lamb chops, hand made jams, and so much more. A true feast to accompany the libations.
However, It is what else happens in these small glades and the trails leading thereto that makes the event unique. You will also discover romantic, relaxing, and rejuvenating live music. It might be a single instrumental guitar, a jazz combo, a pop group, a string quartet, or a folk singer—you never know what you will encounter. And unless one is on a mission to taste each and every wine, taking the time to enjoy the sounds and melodies of these musical artisans in the gardens and in view of the Pacific surf is a magical sort of experience.
Three hours is enough, right? Not quite on this day. Yes, our feet are tired and some of us are feeling the effects of the alcohol, though we were given small tasting pours and provided with dump buckets. Yet we’re all hungry for an entrée after all the appetizers on the trail, so to a great degree we are only beginning.
It’s time to take our seats under the large tent to enjoy chicken, pork, and various other dishes, accompanied by donated wines. The weather is the usual Mendocino late summer day – about 70 degrees, sunny, and pleasingly dry. Auction books are in hand and two of the country’s finest charity auctioneers, DawnMarie Katsonis and Richard Pio Roda are primed and ready to offer about 40 lots geared to those who love living, travel, the arts, and wine. It’s all to raise money for the hospital, so no bid is too large.
Today, a trip to Italy goes to a dozen people for $110,000, a trip for four to South Africa garners $17,500, and a trip for a couple to New York adds $19,000. A single bottle of Pappy van Winkle Bourbon brings an astonishing $7,000 and a famed artist’s hand-painted bourbon barrel goes for $3,000. Perhaps the most gratifying part of these auctions is called “Fund a Need,” where the audience donates from $100 to $20,000 each for a specific need of the hospital. Last year it was an ambulance. This afternoon $175,000 was raised to replace an aging anesthesia machine and to purchase a 21st century monitoring system.
Add the silent auction items (old and new wines, paintings, crafts, and complementary tastings) on which one could bid all day, and this small 40-bed hospital that cares for people over a wide swatch of territory will receive more than $500k. Everyone in attendance will feel good, and will also treasure grand memories of a wonderful day. We have been going for 12 years, and will plan to return. Next year, won't you join us?
Monty and Sara Preiser have been writing about wines for magazines, newspapers and websites for over 25 years. Today, they publish the highest-circulated winery guide for Napa and are also co-owners of the premium Shadowbox Cellars wines. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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