A brief history of Mendocino County and the Sanel Valley:
The Sanel Valley appellation gets it's name from a village called 'Sanel' that was inhabited by the native Pomo People. The Pomo were the original inhabitants of the area, and 'Sanel' means 'sweat lodge' in their language. The first official township in the area was also named Sanel, and was located on the West bank of the Russian river in what is now Hopland. First established in 1859, Sanel was part of 'Rancho Sanel', a nearly 18,000 acre Mexican land grant that was given in 1844 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena to Fernando Feliz (or Felix). Following the cession of California from Mexico to the Unites States after the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored. Feliz therefore maintained ownership of the grant, forming the first working rancho in the region. Feliz encouraged development in the Rancho, selling land at low prices with favorable terms to settlers, and by the time of his passing in 1859, he owned but one small lot in what is now East Hopland.
Mendocino County County was entirely uncharted when it was created in 1850 at the time of California's statehood, making it one of California's original counties. The Sanel post office opened in 1860 and the town would eventually extend to both sides of the Russian River and across Feliz Creek. In 1891 the name was officially changed from Sanel to Hopland. The new name reflected upon the fact that from the 1870's until the mid 1950's most of the region's economy was based on the cultivation of hops for use in brewing beer. Unfortunately a hop blight in the 1950's destroyed the hop industry and it never returned to the area. It would not be until 1983 that the beer industry would return to the Sanel Valley, with the opening California's first brew pub since prohibition - the Hopland Brewing Company (later renamed the Mendocino Brewing Company),
The favorable climate of the Sanel Valley is one of the primary reason that the area has been home to a vibrant farming community for the last 150 plus years. An excerpt from History of Mendocino County, California by Bowen Alley, published 1880, illustrates this point beautifully:
"The climate of Sanel is delightful, being almost that happy mean where summer's heat and winter's cold are unknown. It is certain that the extremes of temperature are not found in this section. The summer's sun is robbed of its fierceness by a gentle bracing breeze, which always finds its way up the river from the ocean, making the days very mild, and even in temperature. The snow of winter seldom reaches as low down as the valley here, and when it does, it only remains on the ground for a few hours at the most. The fogs that infest the coast do not reach this valley very often, and yet the air is kept moist enough by it to be always grateful and refreshing. To sum the matter up in a few words, the climate in Sanel is all that can be desired."
In 1968, Fetzer Vineyards opened in Hopland and would go on to become the largest producer of organic wine in the California, starting a new era of wine grape production for the region. Fezter quickly became one of the leaders in organic and sustainable agriculture practicies, steering the agriculture industry in this direction. Mendocino County is home to the nation's first organic winery, first bio-dynamic winery, first solar powered winery, first off-the-grid winery, and first organic brew-pub. Now 28% of the vineyards in Mendocino County are certified organic, the highest percentage anywhere in California, and four times higher than anywhere in the United States. Organic agriculture would continue to expand in the Sanel Valley and in Mendocino county over the next several decades. Mendocino would become the first municipality to ban GMO's in 2004, and is now known for being one of the 'greenest' regions in the nation.
The 1960's would also usher in the production of another agriculture crop - cannabis. During the 1960's and 1970's Mendocino and the surrounding areas saw an influx of hippies, scholars, artists, farmers and entepenuers who migrated to the area as part of the 'Back to the Land" movement. These individuals wanted to escape the 'rate race' of mindless 9-5 jobs, excessive consumerism, and a government which they saw as both corrupt and authoritarian. The movement embraced a deep respect and love for nature, rugged individualism, creativity, art, self reliance, organic farming, and of course cannabis. Thousands of the 'Back to the Lander's' carved out their homesteads in the remote and rugged hills of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties in order to fulfill their dream true independence and living off the land. The three counties of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity would become know as the "Emerald Triangle', renowned throughout the world for the production of high quality cannabis. These early pioneers would pave the way for the cannabis culture and industry of the future.
In 1996 California became to first state to legalize medical cannabis with Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. This act allowed qualified patients and their designated caregivers to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal medical use, and has since been expanded to protect a growing system of collective and cooperative distribution and cultivation. Following this victory, Mendocino County voters approved 'Measure G' in 2000, which called for the decriminalization of cannabis, the first county in the nation to do so. Measure G declared prosecution of small-scale marijuana offenses the "lowest priority" for local law enforcement and county residents were allowed to grow up to 25 cannabis plants for personal use. Mendocino County District Attorney Norm Vroman and Sheriff Tony Craver both supported this bold move and were instrumental in it's success. Unfortunately 'Measure G' was narrowly repealed in 2008 with 'Measure B', despite 'B' being both illegally placed on the ballot due to lack of signatures, and being ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court.
Two years later in 2010 the 9.31 Mendocino Medical Cannabis program was quietly put into place by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Alman. The experimental program was the first of it's kind in the nation, allowing medical growers to cultivate up to 99 plants, provided that each plant was tagged with a 'zip tie' that could be purchased from the Sheriff's office. These 'zip ties' certified than these plants were being cultivated legally and were to be left alone by law enforcement. Within two years nearly 100 farms had registered with the program. Sadly the innovative 9.31 program was shut down in 2012 after the DEA threatened action against the Mendocino County Sheriff Department and the 9.31 program participants, and raided the farm of Matt Cohen the “poster child” for the program.
Then in 2015 California passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). The bill creates a comprehensive state licensing system for the commercial cultivation, manufacture, retail sale, transport, distribution, delivery, and testing of medical cannabis. It also allows for local jurisdictions to set their own guidelines, which resulted in Mendocino County dusting off the old 9.31 program and implementing it as a temporary ordinance in 2016. By summer of 2016 the Mendocino County Sheriff Department, under the guidance of Under-sheriff Randy Johnson was issuing cultivation permits and zip ties to qualified farms.
California went even further in 2016, with the passage of Prop 64, or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act which fully legalized cannabis use for all adults over the age of 21. Currently both the state and local governments are working towards building the framework for a fully realized medical and recreational cannabis industry. By 2018 both MCRSA and Prop 64 will take effect, cementing California's legal cannabis industry permanently.