As you might imagine, Mendocino's Hopland gets its name from that essential ingredient for beer, the humble hops. Hops were once the dominant cash crop, but as cycles do, that one went bust, and pears became the prize. That cycle, too, wrung itself out, bringing the beginning of the grape boom, which doesn't appear to be waning just yet.
Hopland's 23rd Annual Passport wine weekend rolls into town Oct. 18-19, bringing 14 of the area's wineries, including Brutocao Cellars, Frey Vineyards, Jeriko Estate, Milano Family Winery and Rivino Winery, together to pour their wines and host food purveyors. The festivities include wine tours, art exhibits and live music. The events take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Tickets are $45 to $55 and can be purchased at www.destinationhopland.com.
Be sure to visit Graziano Family of Wines, where the arneis, tocai Friulano, aglianico and other Italian varietals are stellar. At $9 per bottle, the Primo Bianco blend of Italian whites is unbeatable, and winemaker Greg Graziano makes one of the finest pinot grigios in the region. Drop into McNab Ridge for some of winemaker Richie Parducci's outstanding petite sirah or Coro blends, and there's always something yummy to accompany the wines.
Another destination should be Sip! Mendocino, the be-all, end-all of wine shops, featuring wines from all over Mendocino County. It's open every day, and proprietor Bernadette Byrne serves local beers, too. Ask for a sip of the 2013 "Wild Thing" Carignane rosé from Carol Shelton: bright and strawberry-sweet. Another standout is the 2013 Mariah Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino Ridge, filled with white grapefruit and bracing acidity.
For pinot lovers, Mendo will always be paradise. Try the 2011 Phillips Hill Boontling pinot for a solid, everyday drinking pinot that's easy to love. Don't forget to visit Frey Vineyards' new organic wine tasting bar inside the Real Goods Store, just south of downtown Hopland, where you can explore sustainable housing options at the Solar Living Center while sipping on organically grown pinot, sangiovese and cabernet.
Beside Bluebird Café (13340 Highway 101) in downtown Hopland, try the Hopland Tap House and the excellent wood-fired pizza at Piazza de Campovida (13441 Highway 101), which is also an inn and a brewpub, with brews made in collaboration with Oakland's famed Linden Street Brewery. Visit nearby Sho-Ka-Wah casino (13101 Nokomis Road) for the Pepperwood Steakhouse.
In downtown Ukiah, the Italian steakhouse Crush Ukiah (1180 Airport Park Blvd.), Patrona (classy, farm-to-table; 130 W. Standley St.) and Oco Time Sushi (111 W. Church St.) are highly recommended.
It's too bad the Hopland Inn has closed. But there are still options nearby, including the inn at Piazza de Campovida (formerly the Fetzer estate) and motels in Ukiah that are clean and reasonably priced.
-- L. Ness, Correspondent