Brewery Gulch Inn

The Brewery Gulch Inn is  tucked up on a hilltop above Smugglers Cove,  in Mendocino. In August 2019 USA Today readers voted the Inn as one of the 10 Best Readers Travel Awards – one of only two California Properties to be so awarded. When I read of this award I thought a blog was appropriate. The text that follows is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Fort Bragg – Mendocino Packet. The author was Margi Gomez.

Brewery Gulch Inn - just south of Mendocino on Highway One

Brewery Gulch Inn – just south of Mendocino on Highway One

Margi writes …….

The history of this award-winning inn is closely tied to the history of Mendocino itself. Harry Meiggs, who built FishermanS Wharf in San Francisco, financed the first sawmill in Mendocino, at the mouth of Big River, in 1851. It was the beginning of a log and lumber boom that lasted for over a century. With the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires in San Francisco, Mendocino became a key source for much needed building materials. The Mendocino Coast became the “Redwood Empire,” with giant redwood trunks dammed up in the more than twenty-five dams along the banks of Big River. When winter rains swelled the river, the logs were released, causing a log stampede down to the river’s mouth and the Meiggs’ sawmill. Many of the largest of the logs sank deep in the river sludge. It was some of these same logs, mineralized to warm hues over the ensuing years, that would later become lumber for the Brewery Gulch Inn.

Over a hundred years later, in the late 1980s, the logging industry began to slow. Overloaded logging trucks, groaning with the weight of one or two huge chunks, had until the 1970s and early eighties been ubiquitous on the North Coast. Now they were seen less and less, and when they did travel the coast, were more often than not loaded with skinny “pecker poles” that “real” loggers disdained. A small group of intrepid men began dredging Big River in pursuit of the giant “sinker logs” that had sunk under the weight of thousands of others.

The practice came to be called “eco salvaging,” and literally cleared the rivers of logjams that were several decades old. Using portable sawmills, they harvested this bounty of prime virgin redwood, which by this time was as valuable as pirate’s gold. By the time the powers that be became fully aware of this “hidden treasure” asleep in their rivers, it was nearly gone.

Arthur (“Arky”) Ciancutti, who had purchased the original farmstead at Brewery Gulch, was in the right place at the right time one rainy winter night at Dick’s Place, the popular Mendocino watering hole, when he was pulled into a conversation about the salvage operations. He became fascinated with the potential of the sinker logs, and he began devoting himself to the salvage of these prize logs, known as “pumpkins.” Using a skiff, a winch, and old-fashioned muscle power, he and a few helpers brought up as many of the big trees as they could. During this period Arky amassed nearly a hundred thousand board feet of old growth redwood. He laughs “What I couldn’t bring up myself, I bought and traded for'” Arky still deals in redwood, and enjoys the ties to history that the work brings.

The owner of the original Brewery Gulch farmstead was Homer Barton, who chose the site for its protective mini-climate, perfect for raising produce and livestock. “They say this was perhaps the first farm in Mendocino County,” Arky asserts. “Certainly it was the first one anywhere around here.”

Homer Barton, who purchased the land with money he made dragging logs to Big River with his team of oxen, eventually established a dairy on the farm, along with a brewery. Long before grapevines covered Mendocino County hilltops, hops were king, and a workingman had to have his beer at the end of a long day in the woods. The Homer Barton farmstead, protected from coastal winds and blessed with plenty of water, catered to all the needs of Mendocino’s early settlers, with Homer ferrying his goods across Big River on a daily basis.

Arky, who bought the Brewery Gulch farmstead in 1977, brings a diverse background to Brewery Gulch Inn. His early life as a Bay Area pediatrician and emergency room doctor gave him plenty of opportunity to study human nature and the challenges of team effort. He developed his own management consultant business, and later set up The Learning Center, helping Bay Area businesses promote teamwork as a path to success. In 1984 Arky renovated the original farmhouse, running it as a small bed-and-breakfast inn. Arky, a single dad at the time, plunged into homesteading with enthusiasm. “We propagated wild iris and amaryllis and replanted rhodies we rescued from construction sites. My kids and I put in all the irrigation. It was an exciting time.” Now that the new
eleven-room Brewery Gulch Inn is open, he lives in the original farmhouse, relishing the country life on the pastoral ten-acre site.

Many area designers and craftspeople contributed to the inn’s design. Architect Caroline LaPere was responsible for the initial building plans, and local designer, Ed Powers also became involved, Arky says. “Ed added so many important touches to the Great Room. He did a beautiful job customizing and combining the redwood, the glass, and the steel.” Renowned local boat builder, Chris Van Peer, designed the enormous fireplace that gives warmth during chilly mornings at Brewery Gulch Inn. Penny LivingstonI-Stark, who runs the Permaculture Institute (of Northern California) in Marin, consulted Arky on the design of the ponds that provide bird habitat between the inn and the ocean.

Birding is spotlighted at Brewery Gulch Inn, and the Great Room is equipped with a telescope and bird-related literature. Arky explains that dead trees, called “snags,” are critical for bird habitat. “We leave every snag that we cam We’ve planted as many flowering plants as we can to attract songbirds. We restored the wetlands to attract migratory birds.”

Arky adds that early on he realized that the bull pines that had been planted as a wood lot on the original farmstead were diseased. “Beginning in 1986, we began replacing the dying trees with native species, like hemlock and white fir,” Arky points out. “We’ve been reforesting for a long time now.”

An avid gardener, Arky has planted hundreds of native rhododendrons, creating a visual feast of frilly pink within the redwood forest. Heirloom roses, which tumble off the rough-hewn fencing on the road to the inn, along with water plants in the ponds below the inn, provide colorful accents. He has also added thousands of daffodil, dahlia, and other bulbs. They combine seasonally along with other naturalized flowers such as calla lilies and foxgloves to create ever-changing highlights throughout the property.

Both the homestead property and the gardens at the inn have been certified organic since 2002, and the garden at the original farmhouse produces dozens of varieties of edible flowers, greens, herbs and spices, heritage apples, and more. Arky and his partner Francesca Campbell, also maintain the garden, where they cultivate two strains of garlic, white garlic from a family farm in Pennsylvania, and red garlic from Arky’s progenitors in Italy. Using kitchen scraps from the inn, they produce their own composting material, which in turn is used to grow all of the herbs and some of the produce used at the inn. “It’s a circular system,” Arky explains. “We support the inn and the inn takes care of us.”

In the winter months Arky and Francesca collect wild mushrooms that will later be cooked, along with eggs from their free-range chickens, in Brewery Gulch Inn’s omelettes_ “We hatch all our own eggs,” Arky says proudly. “We also create all the chick feed, since so far we’ve been unable to find organic chick feed, and I refuse to feed them what’s available—too many antibiotics”‘ Arky has also grafted numerous heritage apple varieties onto hardy rootstock, preserving heritage apples such as the King and Spitzenberg varieties that grew in the original orchard. “These apples are great,” Arky says.  “They have the true taste and aroma of a real apple.”