Lake County has deep roots in winegrape growing and making wine. The first vineyards were planted in the 1870’s and internationally recognized wines were being produced by 1900. Like many regions, Prohibition stopped winegrape production and it did not reemerge in this agriculturally oriented county until the 1960’s. Many of the area’s growers are generational farmers whose families grew such crops as pears and walnuts before planting vineyards.
Today, Lake County has over 8,400 acres producing winegrapes. “We have gone from historical to traditional to professional,” notes Peter Molnar, Chair of the Winegrape Growers and himself, a vineyard manager of his family’s Obsidian Ridge Vineyard found in Lake County’s Red Hills AVA.
Increasingly, Lake County is gaining notoriety for the quality of the winegrapes and friendly price-points. For example, the Red Hills AVA was recently cited as one of 12 “Next Great Wine Regions” in Food & Wine Magazine. Lake County has also been featured recently in publications such as Wine Spectator and Decanter magazine.
The region boasts excellent terroir. For example, the Mayacamas Range, sometimes referred to as the “Axis of Cab” runs through Lake County and down into Napa’s famed Cabernet Sauvignon producing area. However, the cost of land is considerably cheaper than other parts of the North Coast appellation, creating a compelling combination. Many experienced growers, such as Andy Beckstoffer and Reynaldo Robledo, who cut their teeth in other parts of the state, have seen this confluence of factors and established operations in Lake County.
The region is most recognized for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. But, numerous other varietals do well in the area and are on the rise such as Petite Sirah, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, and Riesling. In addition to some 167 growers, there are now 32 wineries in Lake County. Wine critics are paying attention. Lake County wines have been winning awards and receiving critical acclaim.
The region boasts some of the best air quality in the state. In addition, the majority of the vineyards are planted above 1,500 feet. This creates a higher and drier growing environment that reduces the threat of mildew and pest pressure, resulting in less pesticide use. Lake County is positioning itself as a leader in high-altitude winegrape production hosting international symposia on the topic and helping drive “The Elevation of Wine” program.
The Lake County Rising campaign is funded in large part by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture and support from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It also partners the Lake County Winegrape Commission with the County of Lake and the Lake County Winery Association.