In California's redwood country, job prospects are looking good for Bigfoot. If he were to emerge from the forest he could put those big feet of his to work stomping wine grapes. While Humboldt County popularly is seen as the state's garden spot for groves of redwood and patches of marijuana, not vineyards, a wine culture nevertheless is emerging.
It's young, dating back around three decades. It's small, amounting to about 100 total acres. It's scattered, with isolated wineries stretching from Redway in the county's southern reaches to Orleans in the far north. The wine list of VI Restaurant in the Victorian Inn at Ferndale includes a couple of dozen wines from 14 Humboldt County wineries. The list shows how many miles you have to drive from the inn to get to each of the wineries - 15 to Old Growth, 37 to Fieldbrook, 61 to Briceland, 70 to Dogwood.
But the wine trade in Humboldt is growing. Membership in the Humboldt Wine Association is up to 25 wineries. And yesterday, the Humboldt County Fair held a competition for both commercial and neophyte winemakers. Some 60 commercial wines were entered. I was one of eight judges who formed two panels in C.J.'s Turf Club, right next to the fair's horse-racing track and just across the way from Bo Peep's Barn. (When the wine competition first was held four or five years ago it was during the run of the fair, but when judges complained of the intrusion of smells from livestock barns and food concessions the judging was moved up to just before the fair; this year's fair, which runs for 11 days, starts Aug. 11.)
Broadly speaking, the chardonnays were snappy with apple fruit, the pinot noirs refreshing with the flavor of plump cherries, and the sangioveses rich and complex. Complete results aren't yet available, but we did learn the identities of the wines we chose as best white and best red. They were intriguing because the grapes that went into both were grown someplace other than Humboldt County. That could have been a fluke, or it could say something of the nature of the wine trade in the county, namely that Humboldt's wineries are dependent on fruit from outside the area because the topography and climate about Eureka, while dandy for redwoods and marijuana, may be just too challenging for wine grapes. Perhaps that fog will lift as more results from the competition become available.