Winegrapes were first planted in Mendocino County in the years following the California Gold Rush, in the 1850s. Immigrant farmers, failing as prospectors, turned to agriculture as a way of life in their new home. Saving the flatter lands on the river plains for farming food crops, these pioneer winegrowers planted their vineyards on the more rugged hillsides and sun-exposed ridge tops.
Isolated from larger city markets to the south, Mendocino’s early winegrowers sold, traded and drank their wines close to home. Vintners in Napa and Sonoma Counties, closer to San Francisco, transported their wines to the big city market by boat, gaining greater exposure and broader markets for their bottlings.
By the time the railroad and highways had pushed farther north, to Mendocino County, Napa and Sonoma wineries were already well-known and established in the burgeoning San Francisco wine market, a gateway to the world for California’s wines. Mendocino winegrowing remained relatively unknown.
Prohibition nearly put a complete stop to Mendocino’s nascent winegrowing industry. The small wineries disappeared and vineyard acreage declined. Only the efforts of the Parducci family in Ukiah kept wine being made in Mendocino County in the difficult post-Prohibition years from 1933 until the 1960s.
The “wine boom,” beginning in the 1960s, inspired an increase in Mendocino grapes and wines. Shipping was no longer a problem. Old vineyards were revived, new vineyards were planted, and local wineries began to make wine from grapes that, just a few years earlier, had been shipped south to generic wine producers in Sonoma County.
Through the 1970s and, especially, the 1980s, winegrowing expanded in Mendocino County. Grape growers and winemakers became more skilled with the wine varieties and styles demanded by the American public. Mendocino wineries, led by Parducci Wine Cellars and Fetzer Vineyards, gained great acclaim and world-wide distribution.
Today, Mendocino vineyards and wineries prosper, as the name “Mendocino,” and the special qualities of its wines, become increasingly well-known. Attention in the region has now turned to focus upon the particular grape varieties and wine styles that, in each particular Mendocino microclimate, can produce the best and most distinctive wines.
With new vineyard locations, different varietals, specialized viticultural techniques, a strong regional emphasis on organic grape growing, and skilled winemaking, Mendocino grapes and wine are positioned for even greater success in coming years.