8 Northern California Wineries That’ll Give You A Taste Of The Old Country


Highway 101 in Mendocino County, California, parallels the Russian River and passes through land settled by Italian immigrants with names like Parducci, Barra, Graziano, and Testa. Their legacy lives on in the 100-year-old vineyards that populate the area. There are wineries still run by the fourth- and fifth-generation heirs who grew up on this land with winemaking in their blood.

The best way to experience these incredible wines is to follow the Coro Mendocino Wine Trail. Coro Mendocino is the first wine to set strict parameters distinctive to its region in the United States. Honoring the “Old Italian” field blends, each Coro wine starts with Zinfandel a minimum of 40 percent and then blended for up to nine named varietals. Another unique feature is that winemakers must go through four blind tastings to be worthy of the Coro Label. These tastings are infamous in the area for being brutal, but with the input of fellow winemakers, the results are a better wine.

Pro Tip: If you fly Alaska Airlines, you can bag check a case of wine for free. Such a bonus.

Tasting room at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards.
Peggy Cleveland

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards is a lovely winery that is a little off the beaten path. It is just off Highway 128 in Philo. It takes a windy mountain road to get here but is well worth the drive. The tasting room is in the Anderson Valley and you will pass through some darling small towns to get here. The tasting room is built from a 400-year-old redwood that fell on the property. That one tree provided enough lumber for the building. You won’t be able to try their limited edition Coro Mendocino because it is reserved for wine club members. Instead, try the Islands in the Sky Pinot Noir, named after the guest house, which sits just above the fog line. There is a lovely courtyard to enjoy an outdoor tasting with views of the mountains and the charming property with ponds, ducks, and beautiful landscaping. Make sure to check out the grapevines in the front of the winery, which have signs for each varietal.

Next, head to Hopland, which has tasting rooms right in town.

Bocce at Brutocao Family Vineyards.
Peggy Cleveland

Brutocao Family Vineyards

The tasting room for Brutocao Family Vineyards is housed in the old schoolhouse built in 1920. It is a very unique site for a tasting room. The plaza outside has six Olympic regulation bocce ball courts with leagues playing throughout the year. Farmers for four generations, they have a deep love for their land, which includes three different vineyards giving the winemaker plenty of options. Speaking of winemakers, Hoss Milone is a fourth-generation winemaker who grew up in his own family’s vineyards, learning the ropes from his grandfather and father. His daughter Ally Milone works in the tasting room as well. Brutocao has crafted a Coro Mendocino every vintage since its inception in 2001. They are known for their Italian varietals and make a variety of Italian wines.

Wine samples at Graziano.
Peggy Cleveland

Graziano Family Of Wines

The Graziano family began growing grapes in Mendocino County in 1918. Now, the fourth generation is keeping that spirit alive at the Graziano Family of Wines. Their tasting room in Hopland is the least scenic one I visited. It is a small shop in Hopland, but it was the most fun to visit thanks to the tasting room host, John Reagh. His warm, welcoming personality is infectious. He greeted me by popping open a bottle of Brut Scandalous Cuvee #12, so named by the owner because it was so scandalous to include an Italian varietal (Arneis) in French champagne-style wine. By the time I left, John had ensured that everyone left the tasting as friends.

Pro Tip: Make sure to try the Monte Volpe Lapel wines. I loved the Primo Rosso, a blend of old-world varietals including Zinfandel, Primitivo, Carignane, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. It is aged in oak barrels for five years. It is unbelievable to find a wine of this caliber for $12 a bottle. It is similar to a Coro Mendocino but at a much lower price point.

Wine club flyer at Testa Vineyards.
Peggy Cleveland

Testa Vineyards

The Testa Vineyards are some of the oldest in Mendocino County. Craggy old vines with deep roots surround the tasting room which is one of the most scenic on the Coro Mendocino Wine Trail. This family farm was established in 1912 by Italian immigrants. The fourth- and fifth-generation descendants work together to produce award-winning wines. On your visit, you may even see the sixth generation toddling around absorbing what the land has to offer. Winemaker Maria Martinson is surrounded by over 100 years of history, and it is in her thoughts as she crafts wines honoring her heritage. Their first wines were simply called Black and White after the old Italians called the field blends of red and white wines. On the Testa Ranch, varietals planted include Carignane, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, Grenache, and Charbono, while in the Gusto vineyard, you will find Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon. Make sure to try the Coro Mendocino. Maria’s blend is Old Vine Zinfandel, Carignane, Charbono, and Petite Sirah grapes, all handpicked from their estate vineyards. This is one special wine.

Pro Tip: If you like to camp, check out the Harvest Hosts program, which allows you to camp for free at wineries and farms throughout the country for a $99 membership fee. You must have a self-contained RV with a toilet, water tank, and inside cooking facilities. No tents. There is no charge to camp, but you are asked to support the wineries and farms by purchasing their products. Testa Vineyards are a Harvest Host.

Disclaimer: Maria is my husband’s cousin, so I admit I am partial to the family wine.

Bottles of wine at Barra.
Peggy Cleveland

Barra Of Mendocino

 The Barra of Mendocino tasting room is so unique. The building was designed to look like an upside-down champagne glass. The round building with a fountain in the middle is just a delight. Views from the windows show vineyards and mountains in the distance. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Martha Barra, who shared the story of their founder, Charlie. He was born in 1926 to Italian immigrants whose family had worked vineyards dating back to the mid-1800s. He grew up learning grapes from his time in his father’s vineyard before establishing his own farm in 1955. Barra wines are all made from 100 percent estate-grown organic grapes. The quality shows in the wonderful wines produced here. Their lower-priced line, Girasole Vineyards, offers surprisingly good wines at under $20 a bottle.

Coro Mendocino Trail

There are four more wineries on the trail, all located right off Highway 101 near Ukiah and Hopland. Parducci Wine Cellars is the oldest continuously operating winery in Mendocino County. Golden Vineyards and DNA Vineyards do not have tasting rooms, but you can try them at Sip Mendocino in Hopland. Jaxon Keys Winery is housed in an 1880 Farmhouse Tasting Room. It sits amidst their 1,250-acre ranch in Hopland. The deck overlooks the Russian River and the vineyards. What a great place to enjoy some wine.

Pro Tips

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many wineries no longer offer food other than packaged snacks. All the wineries on this trail invite you to bring your own food. 

The Montgomery Woods State Natural Preserve is located 13 miles west of Ukiah and has large groves of massive redwoods. At one point, the largest was located here before bigger ones were discovered on the coast. Well worth a detour.

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