One of the five counties which comprise the large North Coast sub-zone, Lake County’s winemaking history dates back to the 1870s when settlers to the area realised the potential of its terroir. A century later, having at first thrived but subsequently succumbed to the perils of Prohibition and Phylloxera, Lake County began it’s re-emergence as a serious viticultural force. Today it boasts around four-thousand hectares of vineyard, more than thirty wineries and a number of sub-appellations which highlight the diverse terroir of the region.
Located inland, the climate of Lake County is generally warm and dry. Largely protected from the cool Pacific Ocean breezes and directly in the rain shadow of the Mayacama Mountains, it is the lake itself and the altitude of the vineyards (many vines are planted at or above three-hundred-and-fifty metres above sea level) that have the biggest influence on climate here.
Proximity to Clear Lake affects the diurnal temperature variation of specific sites. Those close by tend to experience less variation between day and night time temperatures on account of the moderating impact of its waters, whilst those further afield benefit from intense Californian sunshine during the day with much cooler nights, thus allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and hence to develop complex flavours whilst maintaining acidity. Each of the sub-appellations is distinct in terms of its microclimate and specific growing conditions, and subsequently, the grapes that thrive here and the style of the wines produced are wide ranging.
Having said that, Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Lake County with wines from the Red Hills AVA coming in for particular acclaim in recent years. These bold, well-structured varietals deliver intense fruit flavours and generally represent excellent value. The area’s crisp, tropical Sauvignon Blanc wines are also well respected along with examples from the Chardonnay, Syrah and Zinfandel grapes.
Located in the southwest of California’s Lake County, the tiny appellation of Benmore Valley was granted AVA status in 1991. Covering an area of just six-hundred hectares and characterised by a climate significantly cooler than surrounding areas, Benmore Valley has historically been planted principally to the Chardonnay grape. However, currently there are no vineyards within the appellation’s bounds.
Kelsey Bench AVA in Lake County, California has four-hundred hectares of vineyard set between the volcanic mountains and the flood plains. Starting life as a pyroclastic lava flow and designated appellation status in 2013, Kelsey Bench is best known for varietals from Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel.
Overlooked by Mount Konocti, Red Hills - or Red Hills Lake County to use its full title - is an American Viticultural Area contained within the larger Clear Lake AVA. The area has a growing reputation for deeply concentrated, elegant and age-worthy wines from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.