The old logging train out of Willits makes its way slowly through the darkened valley of the redwoods, its windows spattered with cold, steady rain, and inches its way to a stop among the utilitarian wooden structures of isolated Camp Mendocino. A couple of hundred passengers, mostly in good spirits from having consumed Mendocino mimosas on board, make their way through the chilling, late-morning drizzle to a large temporary tent where they each are handed a plate and a wine glass.
Welcome to the Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Festival.
And, in spite of weather that only a mushroom or a manufacturer of rain gear could love, it turns out to be a magical afternoon in the Redwood Forest. The wines poured at the various producers’ tables in the tent and in an adjoining building are not only good, they are very interesting in a positive way. The mushroom-based nibbles and soups served by local restaurants and caterers are quite tasty, and the rollicking big band music and jazz played by a pickup band headed by local flautist George Husaruk is concert-worthy.
There are lectures on mushrooms in a room with a fireplace and mushroom walks in the forest, but it is the wine that deserves attention.
The Mendocino Pinots Noirs are especially good, some excellent, from producers such as Berridge, Baxter (which deserves close watching), Breggo and Goldeneye. The sparkling wines of Rack & Riddle are well-made and quite flavorful, especially the meaty rosé, and their Tempranillo table wine is good and will probably get better. Chiarito, which wins a jury prize as top winery at the festival, serves all reds, and especially interesting are its Italian-style varietals – Negroamaro and the very complex Nero d’Avola. And then there is the venerable Weibel, still calling its sparkling wine “American champagne,” but nevertheless making an enjoyable drink.
After a few hours, it is all over, and we take the curiously named Skunk Train to its other terminus, Fort Bragg, along the Pacific Ocean. But the magic of the moment still lingers.