Lake County At-A-Glance
Lake County is directly north of the Napa Valley, about 15 miles from Calistoga and 90 miles from San Francisco. The drive up Highway 29 from Calistoga is mountainous, so driving time is about 30 minutes. From San Francisco, driving time is a little more than two hours along either Highway 101 through Sonoma County or Highway 29 through the Napa Valley.
Commercial winemaking in Lake County dates to the 1870s, but the industry did not survive Prohibition in the 1920s. The modern winemaking era in the county began in the 1960s and is growing rapidly in both size and reputation. Today the county is home to around 20 wineries, but many more grow or buy winegrapes in the county to make Lake County wines in neighboring wine regions.
Clear Lake—the largest natural, fresh water lake in California—is by far the most prominent feature of Lake County. With a couple of exceptions, the county’s major winelands are clustered around the lake. Driving Clear Lake’s 130 miles of shoreline takes you through the towns of Lakeport, Upper Lake, Nice, Lucerne, Clearlake Oaks, Clearlake, Lower Lake, and Kelseyville. To the south, between the lake and the Napa County line, are the towns of Cobb and Middletown.
Many a wine drinker has been introduced to Lake County wines through an excellent Sauvignon Blanc. You will find many interpretations of this varietal when you visit, but know that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted winegrape in the county, followed by Merlot. More varietals that are typical of the region include Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel, and various Rhone and Italian style wines, among several others.
Top Picks For Wine Tasting
Here’s our list of four favorite wineries to get you started building a Lake County tasting itinerary. The Lake County Winery Association is a good resource for identifying other wineries you may want to visit and seeing what wine events may be happening during your visit. Click here to go to the Association website, or here to download the Association’s printable map of Lake County wineries.
- Roso D’Oro Vineyards, 3915 Main Street, Kelseyville; 707-279-0483. The Buttitta family crafts food-friendly Italian varietal wines and extra-virgin olive oils at this sustainably farmed winery.
- Six Sigma Winery & Vineyards, 13372 Spruce Grove Road, Lower Lake; 707-994-4068. This is the only winery you will ever visit named for a business process improvement methodology that founder Kaj Ahlmann applies to his wines. It works. The proof is in the wine.
- Steele Wines, 4350 Thomas Drive, Kelseyville; 707-279-9475. Jed Steele was the founding winemaker for Kendall-Jackson. Did someone say Chardonnay? Also Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and other varietals.
Where To Dine
Where there is fine wine there is also fine food. Winemakers and tasting room staff can usually give you good advice on the better places to eat. Restaurants that will often be included in winery recommendations, and that also are among our Lake County favorites, include:
- Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St, Upper Lake; 707-275-2233. A recreation of the town’s original saloon built in the 1880s and demolished during Prohibition, the Blue Wing prides itself on serving fine food and local wines at affordable prices. Lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Indoor and outdoor seating.
- Manzanita, Twin Pine Casino & Hotel, Hwy 29 at Rancheria Road, Middletown; 707-987-1200. A fine-dining venue featuring steaks, seafood and pasta dishes, in addition to an extensive wine list and Chef’s features. Dinner.
- Saw Shop Gallery Bistro, 3825 Main Street, Kelseyville; 707-278-0129. Chef Jeremy Zabel serves up small plates and large plates featuring creative, cross culture cuisine with ingredients sourced locally. Dinner.
- Studebakers Coffee House & Deli, 3990 Main Street, Kelseyville; 707-279-8871. A down-home favorite of locals and visitors, Studebakers serves full breakfasts and pastries with good coffee in the morning and excellent deli sandwiches for lunch.
You’ll want to spend more than one day touring and tasting in Lake County. There are many B&Bs and smaller accommodations throughout the county, together with a few larger hotels. Here are some suggestions for lodging:
- The Bungalow B&B, 10195 East Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks; 707-998-0399. Originally a 1930s roadhouse, this three-room B&B has been restored in the Arts & Crafts style. The spacious grounds include 125 feet of lake access. Visit online at www.thebungalow.com.
- Tallman Hotel, 9550 Main Street, Upper Lake; 707-275-2245. This country hotel, built in the 1890′s, was completely restored and expanded to a 17-room luxury facility in 2006. The Blue Wing Saloon & Café is adjacent to the hotel. Visit online at www.tallmanhotel.com.
- Twin Pine Casino & Hotel, Hwy 29 at Rancheria Road, Middletown; 800-564-4872. A new, family-friendly, 60-room hotel with luxury appointments and amenities.