Mendocino Jams & Preserves: Behind the Jar
At the west seaward end of Main Street in the historic, coastal village of Mendocino sits a quaint jam shop: Mendocino Jams & Preserves. We’ve been coming here since we were kids, eager to sample every jam, jelly, and chocolate sauce we could get our hands on. The Mendocino Coast is about an hour’s drive from our Ukiah ranch, so naturally it’s been our longtime favorite weekend retreat. It almost looks like a New England village, but it's got that quintessential California feel that makes it an unforgettable destination.
One of our wine club members, Andrew Wells, was born and raised here, attending grade through high school. He grew up in the town of Mendocino, not far from the jam company where he’s currently the Head of Kitchen Operations. Andrew has worked in many of the local restaurants, learning the ins and outs of a commercial kitchen, but it was jam that ultimately called him home. “It was 2008. I had just moved back to the Coast from Sonoma County and was approached by a longtime friend whose father happens to own Mendo Jams,” Andrew remembers. “They were looking for someone to help out in the kitchen and knew I had some culinary background.” Aside from Andrew, the business has only six employees. It's actually the small team that's one of his favorite things about working here. Opened in 1975 by Marilyn Douglas and later purchased by Robert Forest in 1989, you’ll find that their product line is so much more than just jams and preserves. The list might not fit on a sign, but they have everything from jams, jellies and butters to mustards and ketchups, dessert sauces and nut butters, and marmalades and chutneys.
Andrew personally recommends the Loganberry jam. "It has a great flavor resembling a cross between raspberry and blackberry with a nice, floral taste."
They are currently working on sugar-free and low-sugar jam, "but as with all of our products, it has to be the highest quality so it’s still in its trial-and-error phase,” Andrew shares. The jam we reach for the most at Cox Vineyards is their Ollallieberry jam, which is a definite customer favorite, but the Apricot Jam is not far behind on our list. While we're partial to spreading the jams across a warm, toasted slice of sourdough, Andrew thinks outside of the traditional pairings and dreams up inspired savory creations.
“I use a few of our products in my crab cakes, mainly our Orange Marmalade for the sauce,” he says. Andrew has even graciously shared the recipe with us below and recommends pairing it with our 2018 Boeket Sauvignon Blanc. Another great way to use jam is on a fruit and cheese spread or a charcuterie board. I really like the Apricot Jam with the cured meats, and a favorite pairing at our house is your Rosé of Carignane with the Apricot. During WineSong, we use our Olallieberry and Sour Cherry jams in small pastry cups with local chèvre for a nice appetizer.”
Now, you might be wondering what makes their jams different or better than the ones you’ll find in the grocery store. I mean, is a jam really just a jam? There is definitely a difference in taste with this shop’s jams and we can personally attest to that, similar to how we feel farming and winemaking philosophies can really shape what's in the glass. In short, you can taste the purity of fruit, not the artificial sugars or flavors that often come with other generic jams you may be familiar with. The Wild Blackberry jam really does taste like the wild berries we’d forage for as kids around one of our ranch’s ponds. The Rhubarb jam is one you’d be inspired to make from your own summer garden. And, the Strawberry Jam is best put by their own description: “Just like Grandma would make, with that extra taste of ‘something special’ that comes with love and care.”
Currently, most of their fruit is sourced from “small farms in the greater Pacific Northwest,” Andrew explains. “We use a family-owned, small food service business out of Rohnert Park, as well as a local produce company to source the highest quality berries and fruit.” Aside from their dedication to the best quality fruit, Mendocino Jams & Preserves packaging is truly a step above. Sweet doilies and pretty floral-patterned paper adorn the tops of the glass jars and feel elevated, all while maintaining that thoughtful, small business touch. This attention to detail is probably another reason why so many locals and tourists love to give their jams as gifts. Furthermore, the business loves to give back to the close-knit community.
“Every year we participate in several events such as Winesong, which supports our local hospital, the Annual Crab Cook-Off, which raises funds for Mendocino Coast clinics, and the Mendocino Film Festival, which highlights aspiring local filmmakers,” Andrew says.
Of course, the pandemic has halted a lot of these well-attended events, but the business still continues to show their support to local groups and organizations through thoughtful donations and gift baskets.
Growing up on the Coast and now living here full-time, Andrew believes it really “offers something for everyone.” If you’re planning on making a trip to this gorgeously-rugged part of the California coastline, he recommends checking out the local museums and exploring the Headlands. There’s the Ford House Museum, which covers everything from the great migration of the gray whales to the steam whistle logging era of the early twentieth century. The Mendocino Headlands he’s referring to are essentially three miles of trails that wind along the coastal cliffs, giving great views of spectacular sea arches, hidden grottos, and the occasional wildlife spotting. “Big River Beach has an old haul road that is great for hiking and biking,” Andrew also notes. He’s an avid fisherman and also recommends a jaunt down to Noyo Harbor to check out the fishing fleet.
If you’d like more coastal recommendations, head to our Mendocino Guide here. And, if you’re eager to stock up on jam or any of their other delectable products, head to their website here. They ship!! You can find Mendocino Jams & Preserves on Instagram (@mendocinojams), sharing tips and daily happenings, too.