COUNTY TRAVEL ITINERARY
Around the Lake We Go!
Northern California's scenic Lake County is experiencing
a nascent renaissance. A new generation of growers, wineries and hospitality
is remodeling old tourist destinations and building new ones that are state-of-the-art.
Indeed, things are changing fast in this attractive area, which is focused around the beautiful,
recreation-oriented jewel of Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in California.
Whether you are enjoying a romantic getaway, or balancing family fun with wine country explorations,
Lake County offers everything you need to enjoy a rich, exciting change of pace.
Cultural influences from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and
beyond are coalescing around the lake. For its hospitality, Lake
County offers a blend of wine country experience with a diversity of cultural
opportunities that are unparalleled. And the litany of top-notch
concerts of popular music at Konocti
Harbor Resort draws thousands monthly to a unique Wine Country value-added
As you explore the area, the focus is usually on Clear
Lake's periphery, a leisurely circular drive. Stellar vines and
wines abound, and a plethora of water activities and nature. There are three outstanding 18-hole golf courses; you can typically
walk on and play even on a Saturday! In Middletown County Park, you might
explore the 2005 Lake County Sculpture Walk, a stroll blending the work of nature and
world-class art. There is definitely a lot to do.
A day trip from Napa County to Lake County is an easy jaunt. If your focus is already
on Up Valley Napa, Calistoga or Pope Valley, then you are on your way. Middletown,
as the name implies, is less than 20 miles from downtown Calistoga and about the same distance from Clear Lake.
Most of us will want to stay longer though, perhaps to enjoy hot summer days,
cool water and refreshing nights, along with the diverse entertainment the area has to offer.
You can enter the circular Clear Lake Itinerary at any point around the lake. Find your entry spot along the lake, and explore from there.
A map that includes most of the wineries mentioned in this article is downloadable at the
Lake County Winegrape
Growers website, and the friendly volunteers at the Lake
County Visitor Information Center in Lucerne on the eastern side of the lake between Shannon
Ridge and Ceago wineries are exceptionally helpful.
If you are spending more than a day at the
lake, resorts and bed & breakfasts
dot many lakefront areas around Clear Lake. Following are some recommendations. The Lakeport
English Inn offers High Tea and warm accommodations,
along with turndown service and a special British bedtime treat. Nearby,
the Mallard House personalizes
your visit with terrific, friendly service in a traditional California
vacation setting. Located beyond Upper Lake, The
Lodge at Blue Lakes offers nicely kept rooms and lake recreation without motors at
the side of Highway 20.
For family-friendly, extended stays, you might spend time
with the good old boys at The
Beachcomber Resort in Lucerne. Enjoy boatloads
of water fun; maybe learn to drive the boat at this throwback to
another era of classic California vacationdom. The Blue
Fish Cove Resort in Clearlake Oaks is another old-time favorite
one WineCountry.com staffer remembers from childhood, run by nice
people, with pedal boats and wave runners available for rent.
Though the Magoon family has retired from Guenoc & Langtry
Estate Vineyards & Winery, the spectacular views of the
Guenoc Valley and the historic home of colorful old-time theater
star Lilly Langtry are still the perfect setting for a picnic.
Nearby Middletown and the Guenoc
Valley are off the lake, so Guenoc will be your first or last tasting
opportunity if you are approaching or leaving via Highway 29. Petite Sirahs, which have won numerous
medals, and the awesome Vintage Port are standout wines at Guenoc.
Moving towards the lake, at Ployéz
Winery, European transplant Gerald Ployéz practices an interesting
Eurocentric winemaking style. The only winery producing
sparkling wine in the county, we also liked the Gamay Beaujolais. This sprightly, lightweight
red has a deep, dry masculine temperament. With its rock
bottom low alcohol at 12.5%, it is a tantalizing food wine! The
winery is also known for its musical events, featuring local talent
and the many stars who reside on the lake. On June 19, The Ployéz Jazz
Festival kicks off a Saturday Evening Jazz Series running
July through October.
Visiting Brassfield Estate
Winery requires an appointment, but is worth it! This
ambitious winery is already delivering on its phenomenal
potential. After a short twisty drive, you arrive in the
hot new High Valley area which has spectacular volcano views, history
and an impressive new winery tableau. The friendly staff
loves showing off additional sweeping views of the valley from
the hillside ridge vineyards if you arrange for a longer tour.
The Brassfield Zinfandel is fruit forward
in a way that will be familiar to fans of Monterey County wines. You
also might enjoy the gentle, not overdone sweetness of the tasty,
winery-only Gewürztraminer, which
was a perfect compliment back at home to the subtle spiciness of
hot pepper marinated ahi tuna. Currently, tasting is available
by appointment only, but is easy to arrange. Call (707) 998.1985.
Pioneers in the area for more than 25 years,
Clay and Margarita Shannon have developed world-class vineyards
throughout Lake County. The 2005
Lake County Grower of the Year recently began offering its
own superlative wines at Shannon
Ridge Winery, a charming new tasting room in an historic one-room
schoolhouse in Clearlake Oaks. The wines here are
first-class, and offer great value. The Sauvignon Blanc is
made from only the higher elevation fruit produced in the area. The
red wines are consistently terrific at Shannon Ridge; you owe it
to yourself to taste through the complete list offered!
As members of the Fetzer family emerge from non-compete agreements
following the sale of their venerable Mendocino County brand,
new projects are being revealed, and Ceago
Estate Wines is perhaps the most exciting and ambitious of all. Biodynamic,
sustainable farming rises to a new level, completely friendly to
neighbors like turtles and bald eagles. Impressive faux-granite
walls flake at your fingertips. They are made from RASTRA, an attractive,
innovative, energy-efficient recycled material. You will want to
visit this property for the wines, and to get a handle on
plans that include an Eco-focused set of 40 casitas you will want
to have first dibs on.
While Ceago’s new Lake County plantings proceed to fruition,
Redwood Valley in Mendocino County and McNab Ranch south of Hopland supply the grapes, which are
now married to state-of-the-art Lake County hospitality. Boaters can stop at the picturesque dock here,
then explore wines like the Ceago Kathleen’s
Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, one of the most popular wines in the
area. The Rosita of Cabernet and Merlot is another perfect
match to the Mediterranean climate and attitude.
In Kelseyville, the Blue
Wing Saloon is scheduled to open this summer, and the completely
revamped Tallman Hotel, with eight hotel rooms and four more cottage
duplexes, is due in late fall. Yes, Clear Lake hospitality
is on the move! If you are hungry, try the Blue Heron restaurant
down the street, a casual favorite of locals for family style meals
and tasty Mexican treats.
A little inland from the lake between Lakeport
and Kelseyville, Steele Winery beckons.
Former winemaker and vineyard manager of cult winery
Edmeades in Anderson Valley, Jed Steele also presided as founding
winemaker and general manager at the birth of industry giant Kendall
Jackson. In recent years he has upgraded the wines at the old
Konocti Winery, under both the Steele and Shooting Star labels.
The great staff here is ready to help you
explore wines made with fruit carefully chosen from unique spots
around California; Pinot Noir and Zinfandel wines from the legendary
DuPratt Vineyard in Mendocino are good examples. The Lake
County Shooting Star Sauvignon
Blanc and the Steele Catfish Zinfandel, made from the
fruit of 105 year-old vines, were particularly impressive. A Farmer’s
Market operates on the property Saturdays from 9-12 during summer.
The Wildhurst Vineyards tasting
room experience expresses the charm of old-time Kelseyville, while
Winemaker Mark Burch (who also makes wine for others) shows he is
ready to break out to megastar status. We liked the light,
2.5% residual sugar Johannesburg Riesling, a tasting room
exclusive, for its wonderful floral nose and soft flavors, but the
leading pick here is the Cabernet Franc. Dry and with
good intensity of flavor, this rather young wine is showing tremendous
potential as a sipping superstar at only $14!
LAKE COUNTY: A Growing Wine Country Scene Under