It’s hard to remember that there is wine country beyond the borders of Napa and Sonoma County, even for someone who grew up in exactly just that. Most of the world associates vineyard growing and wine producing with the iconic Napa Valley and, for those who really know, Sonoma County. The latter is where we currently reside. To live here is to feel as if you are privilege to an elite pocket of the universe, full of merlot manufacturing, self titled, wine connoisseurs. Truth is, most of the top wines do come from Napa and Sonoma however, plenty of great wines also come from further north, in the neighboring counties of Mendocino and Lake. Coastal, Mendocino County houses quite a few recognizable labels including one of the more commercially known, Fetzer Vineyards. Inland, Lake County is home to over 30 wineries, including the birthplace of the national supermarket staple, Kendall-Jackson. Vineyards grow under geological conditions unlike anywhere else in the industry and grow quite well. Most are found around the base of volcanically active Mt. Konocti and miles from the shore of California’s largest natural lake, Clear Lake. To help celebrate and support the county beyond, Ryan and I try to attend Lake County’s Wine Adventure annually.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, at 11:00am on a Saturday morning, our designated driver, Mom, and fellow enthusiasts, Babe and Dad, headed to the beginning destination, Steel Wines. In standard wine adventure fashion, we received our glass for the day and “passport”. We kicked off the morning with Steel’s red sparkling wine, which was different, and swedish meatballs, which were delicious. After our meatball brunch, we headed down the road to Robledo where we said hello to Larry, plucked pinot off the vine and tasted 2 whites and 1 homemade empanada.
With temperatures reaching high 90s and the clock barely past noon, Chacewater’s covered patio was desperately needed by stop 3. From winemaker Mark Burch, whom I have known since I was in the 6th grade, Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill is consistently one of the best spots to visit in the entire tour. Between the live band playing Lynyrd Skynrd, the carnitas taco buffet and running into over a dozen members of my childhood, it was hard to move on. Prior to parting ways, we made our first wine purchase of the day. On to the next one.
Location four, Wildhurst, is pretty special to our family. Being the employer of my mother, it’s guaranteed to be full of friendly faces. The huge spread of small bites and our favorite local Zinfandel are the cherries on top. I had my first pickled green bean, loved it. Spent some time in the sun listening to “The Hip Replacements”, that’s really their band name. Perused the gift section of the tasting room, always full of a handful of “I wants”. Most importantly, I had my super random bonus moment of the day, discovering vintage forgot-me-nots while using the upstairs ladies room. It was like the playground of a high fashion centerfold begging to happen. I could totally see head to toe Marc Jacobs climbing out of the abandoned refrigerator, reaching for the shovel, or something.
The fifth stamp in our passports was worth visiting for the view alone. Vigilance Winery, with tasting room built above authentic, rock-lined wine cellar, sits hillside over looking the historic Anderson Marsh. Unfortunately, this year, the cellar apparently was an invite only affair which we did not have a ticket to and we found ourselves shown out just as fast as we had seen ourselves in. It’s not a party until you get kicked out of somewhere, I guess. Due to a nut allergy, I was unable to enjoy the lead pairing, home-grown lamb pitas, but the adorable nut warning made up for the strictly liquid menu. NEXT.
Running out of steam we fit in just 2 more stops, wrapping up the end of a 6 hour day. Gregory Graham is always a must. Great, great wine and this years menu selections topped any of it’s predecessors that day. Carried along a garden path, we flowed from whites to reds accompanied with bacon macaroni and cheese, tacos, cheeseburger sliders and an indoor dessert round involving caramel and sea salt. It was like a fancy Super Bowl party minus the football parts.
Lastly, for encore sake, we called it good at Laujor Estate. The minute you enter their quaint tasting room you are hit with one of the best views in the entire county. The newest winery on the map, Laujor gifted some of my most memorable moments of the whole day. Soul comforting, mushroom marinara polenta, my mothers reaction to end the day patrons that had too much to taste, Ryan jumping into a stranger’s group photo, capturing one of the my new favorite pics of my dad, all within the last fifteen minutes of our grand adventure.
With two thirds of our Saturday over, after lounging for a little over an hour and remodeling my parents living room fireplace for free (you’re welcome), we stepped out for dinner to one of the longest lasting local restaurants in Lakeport, Park Place. Babe finally got to have the infamous “Gorganzola Bread” I constantly talk about and I got to have the only grilled chicken caesar salad I religiously order.
The day shut down around 1:00am for the 4 of us, with beer, wine and stories of my dad’s days in college bringing it to an official close. Taking in one last look at the overwhelming country night sky, the smiles, laughter, drinks and excitement settled down, and so did we. Here’s to next time Lake County. Until then, cheers!