SAN FRANCISCO, May 15, 2012 — Delicious wines, fine dining and breathtaking accommodations. No I’m not talking about Napa, I’m talking about Lake County, a two-hour drive from San Francisco.
At the very heart of Lake County is Clear Lake, California’s largest natural freshwater lake. Rising above the lake is 4,300-foot Mt. Konocti. Scattered around it are the small but charming towns of Lake County, each with its historic downtown and traditional main street.
Lake County is a fine destination for outdoors enthusiasts. Bird watchers, hikers, bikers, fishermen, kayakers, boaters and picnickers will find serenely beautiful vistas and surprisingly varied terrain and wildlife habitats. Others of us will come for the food and the wine.
Lake County is home to many small wineries, most showing extraordinary promise, some producing wonderful, sophisticated, award-winning wines. Lake County cabernets and sauvignon blancs were among the local varietals grabbing top honors at this year’s San Francisco Wine Competition.
These accolades are not new to Lake County. By 1900, Lake County wines were winning awards in international competitions, and the region was gaining a reputation for producing some of the world’s best wines.
Lake County features more than 35 wineries, five distinct AVAs (American Viticulture Areas), the cleanest air in the state, and wineries that not only adhere to principles of sustainable agriculture, but many whose output is organic and biodynamic.
Lake County offers visitors some experiences unique to the region. The people are warm and gracious, unpretentious in their hospitality or about their wines. Here are a few exceptional highlights:
Ceago Vinegarden: Ceago is the product of a lifelong dream by Jim Fetzer, former president of Fetzer Vineyards. He wanted to create a beautiful biodynamic farm and winery, surrounded by natural beauty, and he definitely accomplished this. “Ceago” is a Pomo Indian word that means “grass-seed valley.” Jim and the people at Ceago take this quite literally, loving the land and treating it with the utmost respect. Their short-term vision has been accomplished with flying colors: They make lovely, craft, small-lot wines from their estate-grown grapes. In addition to grapes, they also grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, kiwis, olives, walnuts, figs and lavender.
Ceago’s long-term vision is to be a real destination location for tourists, locals and even folks who want Ceago to play a larger part in their lives. The 132 acre estate has big plans for creating a high-end wine experience, complete with hotel, casitas, villas, restaurant and spa. For now, you can enjoy this magnificent property by renting one of their lovely casitas. Stay for the weekend, grab a chair and a bottle of wine, and chat with Jim about his past, present and future. He and the Ceago family are gracious and willing to share their dreams and their passion for wine and Lake County.
Tasting suggestions: 2011 Syrah Rosé, 2010 Muscat Canelli, 2010 Syrah, 2009 Merlot, and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (give this one another year or two to age).
Langtry Estate & Vineyards: Located in Guenoc Valley, this breathtaking property has a history as rich as its acreage is vast. The estate occupies 35 square miles of gorgeous terrain. It encompasses wide open spaces, rolling hills, and wildlife as far as the eye can see. The vineyard is the namesake of none other than flamboyant English theatre star Lillie Langtry, who purchased the property in 1888, sight unseen. Her tomboy roots and affinity for riding horses was her motivation for this unlikely purchase - that and her love of wine, which she loved so much she began to make it. She claimed to have the greatest claret in the country.
Fast-forward a century, and the wine and the property have maintained their high quality. Even though the property totals 23,000 acres, the vineyards are limited to 400 prime acres, ensuring wine of the highest quality. The estate produces approximately 150,000 cases of wine annually.
Tasting suggestions: 2011 Langtry Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Guenoc Chardonnay, 2007 Langtry Petite Sirah, and the 2007 Langtry Tephra Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.
Vigilance Vineyards & Winery: This Lake County sustainably-farmed, “green” wine treasure also happens to offer a jaw-droppingly beautiful view. The winery sits on a hillside overlooking historic Anderson Marsh at the south end of Clear Lake.
Vigilance doesn’t make a bad bottle of wine, and their customers and visitors tell them this on a regular basis. They consistently produce good wines at a good value.
Before you head out to the winery, you can pre-order boxed lunches from local chef Julie Hoskins and her staff at Chic Le Chef. The meals are made fresh from scratch, and menus change constantly. Sit down at a Vigilance picnic table, take in the view, and enjoy your lunch with a glass of their wine. Follow it up with a game or two of bocce ball. If you’d like to stay on the property, they do offer a private winery vacation home rental.
Tasting suggestions: 2009 Cimarron, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Petite Sirah and the 2010 Dalliance. Also try wines from their sister winery, Shannon Ridge, which recently was named to the Hot California Wineries List.
Downtown Wine Tasting and Dinner: A great way to experience multiple wineries is by visiting one of the many in-town, boutique tasting rooms. Go, for instance, to downtown Kelseyville and try the Rosa D’Oro tasting room. It is owned and operated by the Buttitta family, which has been growing grapes in California since 1953. The Buttittas focus on old-world Italian wines, so you’ll get a little something different than the other wineries in Lake County. They also make excellent olive oil from their estate-grown trees.
Tasting suggestions: Start off with the 2010 Arneis, then try the 2009 Primivito, the 2009 Sangiovese, and finish off with some of the not-too-sweet Moscato and Dolcetto.
After your tasting, jump back in the car and head north to the town of Upper Lake to visit the Blue Wing Saloon Restaurant. Here you can either dine indoors, on the heated veranda, or in the garden under the sycamore trees. The original Blue Wing opened in the 1880s and was extremely popular until prohibition. The current saloon was rebuilt and designed with the original in mind. Enjoy an array of daily specials, lunch, dinner and brunch menus, along with a selection of local wines and microbrews.
For dinner be sure to try the risotto fritters filled with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil, the arugula beet salad, classic Blue Wing burger, and the butternut squash cannelloni. For wine, try the Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, Gregory Graham Viognier, Rosa D’ Oro Sangiovese or the Gregory Graham Syrah.
The Blue Wing Saloon sits next to the now-fully-restored Tallman Hotel. After dinner, stay for the night at the Tallman, a quaint bed and breakfast with 17 rooms full of tradition, romance and luxury. When you first walk in to the Tallman, you are instantly transported back in time, almost to the point of expecting to see a horse-drawn carriage outside. But don’t let the vintage interior fool you; the Tallman is heavy on service, luxury and accommodation. For an extra treat, stay in one of four historic veranda rooms, featuring 14-foot ceilings, fully restored period fixtures and a private veranda overlooking the property.
A little wine tasting and a little gambling: If wine and gambling are your cup of tea, then look no further than Twin Pine Casino and their “Off the Vine” tasting room. Twin Pine is a wonderful way to kick off your Lake County weekend. Located at the southern edge of Lake County, Twin Pine is the only casino that is actually wine-themed. You will be surrounded by wine décor, barrels, and wines from all over Lake County. Stay for dinner at the Manzanita Restaurant, perhaps do a little gambling, and stay the night in one of their luxurious suites. The next day you can eat a hearty breakfast before taking off on your wine-tasting adventure.
You can see all the photos on Facebook and Pinterest.
Columnist Sherrie Perkovich offers an insider’s perspective of the very best San Francisco has to offer. Join her weekly to experience the best the City by the Bay has to offer - from parties to parks and everything in between.
Sherrie is a San Francisco local that fancies herself an extroverted fine dining, wine drinking, know-it-all. If it’s happening in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sherrie is in on it. Follow her column, for the widest range of Out and About San Francisco treats.
Read more of Sherrie’s work at Out And About San Francisco in the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Out and About on Twitter and on Facebook for even more inside scoop. Follow her on Pinterest to follow the visual story.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.