2019-01-01 / Wine Notes

Napa’s Northern Neighbor

Robert D. Richards, CSW

Whether looking at a wine country map or your smartphone’s GPS, visitors to California’s Napa Valley can plainly see that the winery-dotted stretch of highway ends in a quaint western town called Calistoga. Known for its hot springs and mud baths, Calistoga also is home to some of the Valley’s most prestigious wineries, including Chateau Montelena, the fabled property whose Chardonnay won the historic Paris Tasting back in 1976 and helped to put California wines on the world stage.

But just beyond the northern county line lies another region that continues to grow in popularity as it produces some noteworthy wines that reflect the mineral-rich soil and climate that, like its southern neighbor, are highly hospitable to growing some magnificent wine grapes. The place is called Lake County, and it takes its name from Clear Lake, the oldest lake in North America that also happens to be California’s largest natural body of fresh water found within the state’s borders.

Tens of thousands of years ago, volcanos erupted and added to the diverse landscape and the soil structure in the area. Today, that helps us to explain why the county, which is part of the larger North Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) has seven sub-appellations. The temperature moderation, courtesy of Clear Lake, also adds to the diversity of climate in the area.

Winemaking is not a new endeavor in Lake County. With its start in the mid-19th century, the wine business was booming by the late 1800s. Early vintners settling in the area recognized the area’s suitability for growing wine grapes, so they planted Zinfandel, Riesling and Muscat, among others.

Wine production in Lake County continues to climb, with some 8,400 acres now planted with wine grapes. Influential growers, like the legendary Andy Beckstoffer, have bought property there and have set up operations. Here’s the good news for wine consumers: The cost of plantable property in Lake County is less expensive than in the other parts of the North Coast region, and that translates to top-quality wines at lower prices. Some of those wines have made it into Pennsylvania. •SCM

Hagafen Cellars
Clearwater Ranch Riesling Lake County 2015

(#26234, $24.99)
Crisp and citrusy, this fruit-forward wine is a good match for Asian dishes.
Aquinas Cabernet
Sauvignon Lake County 2014

(#32131, $17.99)
Hints of black cherry and tobacco are part of the aroma whose complexity is assisted by Petit Verdot and Malbec, which are blended in the wine.
Baron Herzog Special
Reserve Cabernet
Sauvignon Lake County 2015

(#73874, $39.99)
This wine exhibits characteristics of jam, black cherry, cocoa and vanilla.

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