"Mendocino County--The Inn at Newport Ranch was the perfect base for further exploration

by Joe Hilbers

Our approach route to Inn at Newport Ranch was by leaving Highway 101 at Cloverdale and taking Highway 128 which proved a scenic trip itself. We recalled visiting Yorkville en route on our first visit many years ago before it became an wine Appellation of its own. Then in Anderson Valley, with its row of family owned vineyards and wineries, followed by a wondrous trip through State Park redwood forests and finally connecting with Highway One.

During our stay at the Inn at Newport Ranch we did have the opportunity to visit nearby Fort Bragg. It and Scenic Highway One are becoming increasingly important as a mecca for tourists since there is so much to see and do. One is the Skunk Train, built originally for hauling timber, it is now a wonderful way to see redwood forests and mountain meadows. In its forty miles the line moves over thirty bridges. My family took the train many decades before and I did want to do it again but lacked the time on this trip. During some seasons the train goes all the way to Willits

We did visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens at Fort Bragg . The Gardens include 47 acres with trails that reach to the sea. The Gardens have names like Heritage Rose, Heaths and Heather, Succulents, Mediterranean and Big Leaf Rhododendrons. This was a wonderful peaceful scene and often we just chose a bench to sit and enjoy its beauty. The Botanical Gardens are open year round but hours do change with the season.

One evening we had dinner at the Little River Inn which has a family history dating back to 1863. The house still stands that was built by present owner Cally Dym's great, great, great grandfather. The Inn includes 225 acres with 65 ocean view rooms and the Ole's Whale watch Bar and Restaurant.

We were soon in a conversation with Executive Chef Marc Dym whose credentials include graduation from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Originally from Denver, Colorado he traveled widely both in the U.S. and Europe before becoming chef at Little River Inn. Now Cally and Marc are husband and wife, married in 2006.

We had to let Marc go since he had a full house that night with several groups and every table in two dining rooms was full. As expected the menu shows many seafood items especially among the starters and small plates. From here we chose the Calamari, an Inn specialty, local Petrale Sole Almondine which was pan sauteed with gulf shrimp, almonds and brown butter sauce served with toasted orzo pilaf and sugar snap peas. The sole from nearby Noyo Harbor. Our wine was Meyer Family Mendocino Syrah from Mendocino.

Some of Marc's other specialties include Beef Bourguignon and Bouillabaisse and a Confit Pork Osso Bucco. Our desserts included his own Bread Pudding and a chocolate sundae. We were impressed with the professional approach of the wait staff and especially Dining Room Manager Misha Bruton.

Just a mile distant from Inn at Newport Ranch, also on North One Highway is the Pacific Star Winery. And this leads to a story. About a decade ago this Writer was on a trip to Mendocino to experience its growing vineyard and wine industry especially in the Anderson Valley. It was also suggested that I visit the Pacific Star Winery which was unique in being situated seaside north of Fort Bragg. There I was to meet Owner and Winemaker Sally Ottoson. I arrived just before noon, knocked on the door of the house and Sally invited me in after I explained who I was and who had suggested I call on her.

She said she was busy preparing lunch for some of her staff but undeterred I said we could talk while she prepared lunch. So I leaned on the kitchen counter as she worked explaining that I had interviewed more than one restaurant owner in this position. I was intrigued with both Sally and the winery with its seaside location. I should add here that the ocean scene from the property is awesome with waves dashing against the many rock formations and reefs. The fact was that many of the wine barrels were exposed to the weather, and Sally explained that she believed the sea salted air, on the barrels, improved the aging of the wines. This was also a new concept for me.

At the time of this first visit the Inn of Newport Beach was still in the planning stage and nothing showed on its property.

When I arrived at Pacific Star on this trip I was amazed at how many changes had taken place. Now there were extensive areas for picnics and parties that extended almost to cliff edge above the surf. Also there was a delightful tasting room and much new winery equipment.

On arrival I recognized Sally and introduced myself by saying I had been there before and she might remember me. She doubted this until I gave her my Vittles, Vintages & Voyages business card and she suddenly said that yes she did remember the meeting although not the part about preparing lunch that day for staff.

Something else is new at Pacific Star. A recent earthquake revealed a new Fault that runs under the winery and it has been named the Pacific Star Fault. Sally pointed out that she has the only winery so named and has adopted the slogan "Its my Fault".

And of course Pacific Star still maintains its place as the only seaside winery in California. Sally now makes fourteen wines with one white wine entitled "Its my Fault". I recalled from that first visit that she was making wine from the little known Italian varietal Charbono and she still does, as well as Barbera and Negroamaro.

When we left the tasting room we found a patio bench and for a long time watched the waves as they produced huge amounts of spray on what was otherwise a most peaceful scene of natural wonder and beauty.

Pacific Star Winery is located at 33000 North Highway 1, 12 miles north of Fort Bragg. The Tasting Room is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily May through October. From November to April closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. A tasting room is also located in Fort Bragg. Telephone 707 964-1155.

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Last Update:10/30/16

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