Despite the Valley Fire in September, Lake County vineyards and wineries live on, and now is a good time to get to know them better if it has been awhile since you sought them out.
Where the Mayacamas Mountains and Vaca Range join, Lake County has been recognized as an appellation since 2006. Once a popular resort destination, the county now depends more on wine than on tourists. Its 8,380 acres of vineyards ring Clear Lake, one of North America’s oldest lakes.
It is largely around this geological monument that 140-some growers have made their living selling grapes to their neighbors in Napa and Sonoma, and increasingly making their own wines as well. Just about 95 percent of Lake County vineyards are located at elevations of 1,000 feet or higher, some as high as 3,000 feet.
Cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, petite sirah, syrah and tempranillo are just a smattering of the varieties in which the region excels.
Here are a handful of Lake County-based wineries worth knowing and the wines that make them memorable:
Gregory Graham 2010 Cinder Cove Reserve ($25): A resident of the Red Hills-Lake County area, Gregory Graham makes a range of whites and reds, including many from Sonoma County, but he is perhaps best known for his Cinder Cone Reserve blend. The 2010 vintage out now combines syrah, petite sirah, malbec, grenache and cabernet sauvignon, a heady mix of gamey meatiness, black pepper and plum.
All the grapes are from high-elevation sites, including the winery’s own Crimson Hill Vineyard. The tasting room is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and for private tours by appointment. Dogs are welcome.
13633 Point Lakeview Road, Lower Lake, 995-3500, ggwines.com
Hawk & Horse Vineyards Latigo Cabernet Sauvignon Dessert Wine ($45): In Lower Lake, within the Red Hills-Lake County AVA, Hawk & Horse’s vineyards just barely escaped burning, and the owners evacuated.
When they were allowed to return, the vineyards still stood, surrounded by charred earth. Their spot was miraculously spared, “green and jovial,” said co-owner Tracey Hawkins, “as if in defiance of all that darkness.”
The specialty of the house is mountain-grown cabernet sauvignon, in addition to a sultry cabernet sauvignon dessert wine called Latigo, but the property is as much about animals as it is about wine.
Ranch and vineyard tours incorporate the Scottish Highlander cattle and American Saddlebred and American Quarter horses.
13048 Highway 29, Lower Lake, 481-6941, hawkandhorsevineyards.com
Obsidian Ridge 2011 Half Mile Proprietary Red Wine ($60): This cabernet sauvignon specialist farms 105 acres along a ridge at the highest portion of the Mayacamas Mountains, deep in the Red Hills-Lake County AVA.
There, vines planted in 1999 rise up to 2,640 feet elevation on considerable slopes. Named for the dark black obsidian rocks within the soils, the winery produces structured, sinewy and powerful wines. In addition to the estate-grown cabernet and syrah, Obsidian Ridge makes a cabernet called The Slope from the steepest section of the vineyard and a proprietary red blend called Half Mile, a nod to the highest point on the site, a half-mile up from the lowest point.
The wines are available to taste daily at the Tricycle Wine tasting room in Cornerstone Gardens; a private visit to the vineyard may be arranged by appointment.