Of hippies, eco-wines and peace and quiet: Mendocino County
Dec 1, 2009, 5:11 GMT
Mendocino, California - What do the German football club FC St Pauli and the pop singer Michael Holm have in common? The answer: 'Mendocino,' the 1960s pop music hit. The fans of the club in Hamburg's red-light district have taken the tune to turn it into their theme song.
People who live in Mendocino would probably be taken back a bit if they were ever to witness a mob of football fans singing about their northern California region, where life is so quiet that time seems to stand still.
Mendocino is a town on the Pacific Ocean coastline, in the midst of Mendocino County. The 10,000-square-kilometre area counts some 86,000 inhabitants, or a density of just 9 persons per square kilometre.
Before actually reaching Mendocino, a traveller will be going past countless farmsteads which all have one thing in common: A slightly morbid charm. Often, only mobile homes instead of houses stand on the properties, while chickens are scratching around in the dirt and out in the pastures tethered goats are munching away at the grass.
The residents - regardless of whether male or female - wear headbands and have their hair in ponytails. Mendocino was once a bastion of the hippies - and by all appearances, it still is.
Mendocino itself counts about 800 souls and it is not actually a village but is rather a kind of settlement area with houses strewn far apart. Only a small group of Victorian-era wooden houses with their spice gardens stand directly by the seaside. Mendocino is known as an artists' colony, and in the summer months it attracts countless visitors who like to search for treasures in the town's souvenir shops. Besides ceramic wares and paintings, there may be a hippie-style flowing dress, leather armbands, and peace symbol-decorated potholders on sale.
Those things which attracted the hippies back in the 60s - the peace and quiet, the deep forests, the vineyards and the scenic coastal cliffs and isolated beaches - are what attract tourists today. And so, as a result, a number of inviting hotels been built in the solitude of northern California over the past couple of decades.
One particularly nice example is the Agate Cove Inn. Eight of the ten lovingly decorated rooms of the now 25-year-old hotel are located in cottages on the hotel's two-hectare grounds. From virtually every vantage point, the ocean is visible, and with a bit of luck, a visitor might catch sight of some whales.
Also lying directly on the seaside is the Howard Creek Ranch. The historic farm is 60 hectares in size and has both beaches as well as mountain landscapes to offer. The ranch owners, Charles and Sally Grigg, have been running the farm for more than 20 years and have won a number of prizes for their gardens.
The Stanford Inn is likewise embedded in a scenic garden landscape of wild herbs, fruits and vegetables. The home-grown produce is then used in the hotel's vegetarian cuisine, with guests treated to such gourmet restaurant delights as citrus polenta and whole-grain pancakes topped with berries.
Weather-wise, the region's warm temperatures are perfect for wine growing. The neighbouring Napa Valley's wines are spoken of everywhere, but few people know about Mendocino's wine. The region actually has seven wine-growing areas, with the best-known label being Fetzer.
At night, the temperatures in Mendocino County can become chilly, even in the summer, dropping into the low teens Centigrade. Often, this results in thick fog in the coastal areas in the morning. But in the course of the day the sun will heat up the air to 30 degrees, and so the Syrah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and even Riesling and Gewuerztraminer grapes will ripen gloriously.
Most of the vintners - around 85 per cent of them - in the hills of Mendocino produce according to biological methods. The Lolonis vineyard, for example, has been producing wines on its 410 hectares for the past 50 years without the use of any chemicals. As a result it is regarded as the oldest ecological vineyard in the United States.