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Searching for Whiskey and Wine In Mendocino

By Charles Olken and Stephen Eliot

In a little more than a week, Steve and Charlie will decamp for Mendocino in search of whiskey and wine. We do not write about spirits in this blog as much as we might like, but we are serious aficionados of those higher alcohol potions in all their various colors and glories. Great spirits, whether lovely gins from the likes of St. George or aged tequilas or peaty Islay scotch whisky (note no “e” in their whisky) or layered sophisticated bourbons and ryes, once only from Kentucky but now produced all over the United States, we appreciated spirits that have nuance, range, depth, authenticity. In that regard, whiskey appreciation is not all that different from wine.

The weekend of February 20 will see us attending two events that are right up our alleys, both for beauty and for serious intent. We initially split the duties with Steve at the wine event and Charlie at the whiskey event, but both are so interesting that we are going to be running to both and taking in as much as is possible. And you, dear reader, are also invited.

The Wine

There are, in fact, two noteworthy wine events on this year’s calendar, and serious wine lovers should note of both. The first is the 11th annual Alsace Varietals Festival hosted by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association slated for February 20th and 21st. The under-appreciated aromatic whites made from Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat get top billing for the weekend, and, although Saturday’s line-up of lectures and tastings is sold out, Sunday is devoted to open-house winery visits wherein these varieties and the foods that go with them get the spotlight for a second day. We are great fans of those varieties and bemoan the relative paucity of them here in California.

In May comes the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, now in its 19th year. Sponsored by the same Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and an event that we make every effort not to miss, it is has grown in size and scope commensurate to the appellation’s reputation as an important Pinot producer, and is highly recommended to dyed-in-the-wool devotees of the grape. This year’s edition will include three days of tasting, winery visits, a technical conference, winemaker dinners and a casual Friday night barbecue. The festival dates, May 20-22, have just been announced, so there is ample time to make arrangements to join in, and more information for both events can be found at the association’s website,

The Whiskey

By strange and lovely coincidence, there is a world-class whiskey unveiling taking place just a short drive away from the Anderson Valley at Mendocino’s rightfully famous Little River Inn. On Saturday night, February 20th, in what is billed as an “American Craft Whiskey Caberet”, the Little River Inn will present locally made whiskies, under the Low Gap label, that have been made in a small cognac still.

These fascinating whiskies, both single-grain (think “single malt”) and blended, will add to the range of artisanally crafted products increasingly available all over the country. We have more than a few Kentucky Bourbons and their rye-based mates in our pantries and cellars, but the efforts of folks like New York’s Hudson Bay and Utah’s High West are new favorites, and Low Gap is following in their footsteps and drawing us up to Mendocino to enjoy them.

The evening will feature dinner, the folk guitar music of Windham Hill artist, Alex de Grassi, and a chance to enjoy some very fine whiskey. We will be there. Come join in the fun. For more information, have a look at:


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