Discovering Lake County Wineries


Written by:

Joe Becerra

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We spent three days exploring the wine region of Lake County. What we discovered was an array of beautiful vineyards and exciting and delicious wines being produced from this wine region. This was our first trip to Lake County and we found much to like here, enough to convince us that we need to develop a section on our wine travel Website, WineCountryGetaways.com, devoted to the wineries of Lake County. This wine country is an exciting area of opportunity for winemakers, wineries, and wine travelers.

Red Hills AVA

After visiting and tasting wines at eight different wineries, I found the wines to be delicious and very well made wines. I have read accounts in a few well-known wine publications that Lake County has a way to go in producing quality wines, particularly among the red wines. Perhaps these wine writers better check again. The Sauvignon Blanc wines, in my humble opinion, are overall better and livelier than the Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Napa Valley. The Cabernet wines are very good, perhaps none nearing the quality of the upper echelon of the great Napa Cabs but nonetheless rich in flavors and priced reasonably. I tasted a Tempranillo wine that was absolutely out of this world!

The geology and climate of the various AVA’s of Lake Country provide an ideal growing season for all the main varietals, twenty in all that I counted. Some other important clues regarding the quality of this wine region: Andy Beckstoffer, the king of the grape growers in the Napa Valley, has 1000 acres of vineyards planted in Lake County. Nils Venge, the noted consulting winemaker in the Napa Valley and of Saddleback Winery fame, recently purchased a small winery here, Cougar’s Leap, and is making fantastic wines under this label including an amazing Petite Sirah. For many years Gregory Graham made wine for the very esteemed Rombauer Vineyard in the Napa Valley. Gregory Graham saw the potential in Lake County and jumped on the opportunity to buy land and start his own winery, Gregory Graham Wines. You will also notice that many of the wineries in the Napa Valley are producing wines aimed at the under-$20 consumer, and often those wines have on the label “Lake Country.” Grapes are much less expensive in Lake County but still make great wines. The mountains are the Mayacamus, the same mountain range on the West side of the Napa Valley. The Vaca Mountains on east side of the Napa Valley merge with the Mayacamus at Lake County.

Andy Beckstoffer has 1000 acres of vineyards in the Red Hills AVA

When you think of Lake County, you think of hot summer months. Yet the majority of vineyards are growing at the higher altitudes of 2000 to 3000 feet. The average diurnal temperatures range can be as much as a 40-degree difference. Much of the soil is volcanic and that provides ideal drainage. It is a beautiful red colored soil.

The wine people here are very friendly, welcoming, and down-to-earth. They love visitors, and tasting room fees are low at $5 or nothing at all. The biggest obstacle facing the wineries here is tourism. It is a haul from the Bay Area, about 3 hours. Plus the drive is not an easy one through the mountains approaching from any direction. Other obstacles include a Clear Lake shoreline that is dotted with shabby-looking trailer parks and abandoned storefronts. Lodging and upscale restaurants are few and far between. All this will be fixed in time as the wineries build their reputation and wine lovers discover the wonders of this wine region.

Look for our next post on Lake County about our visit to the only winery in California where you can arrive by boat or seaplane. It is Jim Fetzer’s Ceago Vinegarden.

High Valley AVA - Mount Konocti in the background
  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.

1 thought on “Discovering Lake County Wineries”

  1. Excellent review of an area that is often forgotten my most wine lovers. Quality fruit and wine comes from growers and vintners who know how to deal with the land. Lake County wineries are best served with people who dedicate a long weekend for part of a vacation week to exploring the area. Summer weather and a group of friends make this an ideal get away. Too bad the Lodge closed. As we climb out of the recession things will improve. The vintners are very nice people and open to all visitors. They deserve your attention. For now the whites are consistent winners with some reds also worthy.

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