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History of the Mendocino County Wine Industry
by Benjamin Bicais

Early History of Mendocino County Wine

The history of wine production in Mendocino dates back to the mid 19th century. The first Europeans to settle in the region were Russian hunters and trappers. They made their living selling seal and otter pelts.

The Gold Rush caused the population of the San Francisco Bay Area to expand dramatically. The local timber industry took off with the increase in demand for building supplies.

The first grapes were grown during 1850s by failed gold prospectors. The wine produced during this era had a mainly local customer base due to the isolation of the region.

In 1851, the Anderson Valley was discovered by accident. Italian immigrants planted vineyards on the sunny hillsides of the valley during the ensuing generation.

Even when the railroads were extended north, Mendocino's Wine Industry remained relatively unknown in the national and international markets. Despite the region's obscurity, there were over 5000 acres of vineyards and several wineries during the late-ninteenth century.

Phylloxera and Prohibition

Most of California Wine Country was hurt by the spread of the Phylloxera Louse in the late 19th century. Despite the damage, the isolated region fared better than some other parts of the state. The industry rebounded after the utilization of Phylloxera resistent rootstocks. In the 1910s, there were close to 6000 acres of vineyards in Mendocino County.

Prohibition was almost a death sentence for the region's wine industry. With a few isolated exceptions, almost all was lost. A few Zinfandel vineyards in the Mendocino Ridge survived and are thankfully still alive today. However, all of the wineries were closed during Prohibition.

The Parducci Family is credited as being the stewards of the wine industry during the ensuing difficult years. In the 1960s they owned and operated the only winery in the county. It is located near the Redwood Valley.

The Renaissance

The industry began to come alive with the rest of the California wine industry during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968, the Fetzer family established a winery near the McDowell Valley. Finally the Parducci Family had some company. Substantial investment went into planting vineyards, but not much wine was actually produced in Mendocino. Most of the region's grapes were sold to non-resident wineries and used in faceless blends.

Thankfully, this has changed. There are currently many high-quality wineries in the county. In recent years, the region has gained a reputation for producing many varietals exceptionally well. The practice of shipping grapes to other regions for production lessened as the large AVA's renown increased. It currently contains over 15,000 acres of planted vineyards.


Benjamin Bicais lives in the Napa Valley and is the webmaster of