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Crafts, wine, antiques, cheesecake ... it's Hopland, right on U.S. Highway 101.

Crafts, wine, antiques, cheesecake . . . it's Hopland, right on U.S. Highway 101 It was named for the aromatic herb that was once grown all around it, but Hopland could just as well have earned its name from the way the town has jumped from one side of the Russian River to the other. Starting out in the mid-19th century on the west side of the river as Sanel (a name its valley still bears), the town picked up stakes and moved to the east side when a toll road was constructed there. It moved back across the river when the railroad came through in 1887.

Trains don't stop in Hopland anymore, but U.S. 101 brings plenty of traffic right through the center of town. If you're planning to travel through northern California on 101, there are increasingly good reasons to schedule a stop or even an overnight stay in Hopland, 95 miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County.

Wine and beer tasting, crafts and antiques shopping, and new accomodations are among the draws, in addition to a small-town atmosphere largely unaffected by the thousands of people who drive down the main street each day.

Here, we describe some places we particularly enjoyed. Area code for all telephone numbers is 707. For a full listing of area accommodations and businesses, write to the Hopland Chamber of Commerce, Box 677, Hopland 95449.

Grapes now grow in the old hop rows

Dealt a one-two punch by Prohibition and a decline in the use of hops in beer, Hopland's namesake industry was out for the count by the 1950s. But wine grapes, another crop with long-standing roots in the area, soon began to flourish; vineyards now cover much of the Sanel Valley.

In 1977, Jim Milone opened Hopland's first post-Prohibition winery, in a hop kiln built 30 years earlier by his father and grandfather; it's just south of town on the west side of U.S. 101. The Milano Winery's small production consists mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay varietals made from grapes grown in its nearby vineyards at the base of Duncan Peak. An unusual bottling that you can try in the tasting room (open 10 to 5 daily) is a late-harvest Chardonnay.

Four miles east and 600 feet above Hopland on winding State Highway 175, McDowell Valley Vineyards specializes in making wines from grapes of the Rhone region of France, some grown on vines planted more than 70 years ago. It's worth making an appointment for a weekday tour and tasting at the attractive winery (744-1053). A less appealing tasting room in town is open 10 to 5 daily.

In terms of the quantity of wine produced, both these wineries pale in comparison to giant Fetzer Vineyards. Although it was founded and still maintains a winery in Redwood Valley (north of Ukiah), Fetzer has gained a big presence in the Hopland area in the past decade with the acquisition of almost 3,000 acres of ranchland and the construction of a new winery. Its large, in-town tasting room (open 9 to 5 daily) occupies the old Hopland high school; the building also houses a gourmet food shop.

Browsing for local wares and antiques

Hopland is home to three shops selling crafts created by local artisans.

Hopland Willow Factory. Willows harvested from the banks of the Russian River are made into armchairs, rockers, bed frames, and other rustic furniture. Open 10 to 5:30 Fridays through Mondays, or by appointment; call 744-1170.

Made in Mendocino. This cooperative gallery sells ceramics, stained glass, jewelry, and weavings. Open 10 to 5 daily (to 6 weekends).

Mendocino Woolens. Frank and Rose Killian turn local wool into sweaters, afghans, and other items. They also sell clothing made by larger manufacturers. Open 10 to 5 daily.

Of the handful of antiques stores clustered near the south end of town, Hopland Antiques proved most intriguing. The red wooden building (originally a church) is packed with relics ranging from early issues of Life magazine to old arcade games. Proprietor John Carpenter specializes in Western paraphernalia, such as spurs, bits, and chaps.

Stop for a bite . . .

The opening of the Hopland Brewery in 1983 probably did more to put the town on the map than any other recent development. The first brew-pub in California since Prohibition, it sparked a trend that has since spread throughout the state and beyond. Although the small-scale brewing operation is housed in a structure patterned after a hop kiln, hops now have to be imported from Washington state.

Seated either in the adjoining brick pub or an outdoor beer garden shaded by trellised hops, you can wash down a sausage or hamburger with raptor-inspired brews, ranging from light-bodied Peregrine Pale Ale to hearty Black Hawk Stout.

To eavesdrop on local gossip over basic but hearty breakfast and lunch fare, stop in at the Bluebird Cafe, open 6 to 6 daily.

Wherever you eat, leave room for a slice of cheesecake and a cappuccino at The Cheesecake Lady. You might have already tried one of the many flavored cakes made here; hundreds of northern California restaurants and shops are among its customers.

. . . or overnight

Two recently opened inns now accommodate road-weary travelers and visitors who'd like to extend their stay.

Built more than a century ago to serve passengers on the new railroad, the Thatcher Inn (744-1890) survived a long period of architectural neglect before a new owner in the early 1980s restored it to its original appearance. Current owner Ron Hooper extensively renovated the hotel's interior, creating a high-ceilinged lobby and a cozy library with fireplace, before reopening the 20-room hotel in 1989. Rooms, which are all doubles with bath, range from $75 to $125 a night. (To avoid being awakened at dawn by trucks rumbling down the highway, ask for a room toward the back.)

The hotel's Victorian-elegant dining room serves breakfast and inventive pizzas, pasta, and meat and seafood entrees to casually dressed diners. Seating on a rear patio is also available.

Just north of town on U.S. 101, Hopland House offers five rooms in a 1920s bungalow. Rooms with shared bath cost $60 a night, with private bath $75.
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Title Annotation:California
Date:May 1, 1991
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