Day trip to Mendocino County town nearer than you think entices with easy-going hospitality, varied experiences.
Let’s get the logistics out of the way first: a half-hour’s drive from Healdsburg and a 90-minute straight shot north from the Golden Gate Bridge, Hopland hides in plain sight along U.S. 101. The pace slows in this southern Mendocino County town, population about 900, and not just because its section of the highway narrows to one undivided lane in each direction and the speed limit drops to 35 mph. (Watch out for pedestrians and sometimes the cops.)
Anchor a day trip of touring with tastings at three wineries – Saracina, Alta Orsa, and Terra Sávia – each known for easy-going hospitality and striking views. All allow guests to bring picnics, or you can eat (suggestions below) in the small “downtown” business district, where two hotels, a few restaurants and cafés, half a dozen wine-tasting rooms, a cannabis dispensary, and a shop or three straddle the highway.
Best Time to Go
This itinerary is best done from Thursday through Sunday, when you can cap your visit with a beer or wine flight at Campovida’s downtown tasting salon or hang out in the beer garden at nearby Hopland Tap and Grill. Both stay open into the early evening. Alta Orsa requires a reservation. It’s good to make one for Saracina and Terra Sávia, though the latter two usually accommodate weekday walk-ins.
Your Day In Hopland
Saracina Vineyards is a must-do stop for its landscaped grounds, hospitable staff, and masterful winemaker. Alex MacGregor has fashioned Saracina’s wines for more than two decades – he knows this land and its grapes well. Tastings often start with a white or two like the Unoaked Chardonnay and the Lolonis Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (from the nation’s oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines, per Alex). Among the reds, the Pick and Shovel Zinfandel (unfined, unfiltered, with some Petite Sirah) impresses with its back-palate spice, elegance, and mild tannic kick, and the Malbec seduces with dark-fruit flavors and herbal/savory notes. The Winter’s Edge, a red blend of old-vine Carignane, newer Grenache, French Colombard, and a “mystery grape” that might be Cabernet Sauvignon, all cofermented and aged together, is lively, unique, and perfectly balanced.
Note: If you can’t get a reservation at Saracina, try Nelson Family Vineyards, about 6 miles north in southern Ukiah. Run by the same family since the early 1950s, it’s got a large patio and a redwood grove, both with vineyard views.
If you won’t be picnicking at a winery, head to downtown Hopland’s the Golden Pig or hop across the street from the Pig to Hopland Tap and Grill. When it’s open, the Thatcher Hotel’s Café Poppy serves salads and a few panini.
Alta Orsa Winery
A nearly 2-mile-long gravel driveway winds past oaks, manzanitas, pines, and firs to the steep, stunning 160-acre estate of Alta Orsa Winery. Winemaker Martin Bernal-Hafner, who hails from Colombia and has done wine work on three continents (his mentors include Paul Hobbs), conducts many of the tastings here, sometimes with “sales and marketing steward” Lucy Potter. Except when the weather doesn’t cooperate, sessions take place under a decades-old cork tree, usually after a vineyard walk if you’re up for it. Bernal-Hafner specializes in single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Sonoma County fruit and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Hopland estate, where Merlot, Petit Verdot, and a few other varieties also grow. While sipping his gracefully made wines, you’ll learn about the commitment of Bernal-Hafner and his team to holistic, organic, regenerative farming practices.
There’s a lot to unpack at the day’s throwback winery, Terra Sávia, a sheer delight that’s a window into Hopland’s soul. In addition to organically farming 35 acres of grapes, the winery’s owners, Swiss-born Jurg Fischer and Dominican Republic native Yvonne Hall, cultivate 24 acres of olive trees, tend to a slew of rescue animals, sell nursery plants, and exhibit art.
Some Terra Sávia guests come just to sample the olive oils, but the wines, crafted by longtime Hopland-area winemaker Jim Milone, whose great-grandfather operated a pre-Prohibition winery in these parts, are worth seeking out. Enjoy them by the flight in the tasting room, or purchase a glass and wander the grounds. The unoaked Chardonnay and Merlot are two good choices, and the sparkling rosé of Merlot hits the spot on a hot summer day. Milone’s style trends old school, but his wines come from good soil and vines and have plenty of soul.
The owners of Campovida winery hipped up Hopland by refurbishing the Thatcher Hotel, which sits next door to their seven-room Stock Farm Inn, home to a restaurant and a bar in front that doubles as the Campovida tasting room. At time of writing, only club members could visit Campovida’s ranch (it’s about a mile outside town), but a flight of the winery’s sensitively crafted Rhône-style whites and reds – plus Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and wines from unusual Italian varieties like Tocai Friulano and Nero d’Avola – may induce you to join. You can also opt for beer served, like the wines, by the glass or flight indoors or on an umbrella-shaded patio.
Also in Mendocino County
Lead photo: Cabernet vines at Alta Orsa Winery.