Saturday, July 9, 2011

Independence Day Weekend 2011 (Day 2) – Lake County, California

After visiting my Papapietro Perry Winery in Healdsburg, CA on Day 1, I headed over the hills on Highway 128 and then on to 176 to Calistoga at the north end of the Napa Valley. Then I took a left on Tubbs Road over to Highway 29 and another left to begin the climb mountain to Lake County where I would spend the next two nights in Upper Lake and explore wineries around Clear Lake.

As I drove over Mount Saint Helena, an extinct volcano that is the border between Lake County and Napa County, on the winding roads wondered if perhaps I should have planned to spend my entire weekend in the Anderson Valley instead of making this long and winding trek over the mountain. But, just as I entered Lake County I was astonished at the beautiful view of the enormous forest of vineyards covering the hills as I drove along highway 29 along the west side of the lake. 

This region is a seldom mentioned and rarely acknowledged gem, which is the sort of discovery that wine country exploration is all about! To go where few have ever gone before!

Having said that, the Lake County Wineries have a major challenge in attracting visitors. In order for tourists coming from the south to get there they have to pass through the beauty of the Napa Valley on the Silverado Trail. No doubt, it would be very tempting to stay in the Napa Valley rather than make the trek over the mountain, unless you own a Porsche and enjoy the challenge of the narrow winding road.

While the difficult drive can be a disincentive, if you make the trek you’ll find that your efforts will pay off for this area has a unique and distinct beauty - the atmosphere and hospitality of the wineries is unpretentious and the quality and value of the wines are remarkable.

Lake County consists of five American Vitculural Areas (AVA) - Benmore Valley AVA, Clear Lake AVA, Guenoc Valley AVA, High Valley AVA, Red Hills Lake County AVA. The area covers 1,329 square miles with approximately 8,800 acres planted to vine.

I decided to stay at a hotel the north end of the lake in Upper Lake and explore the wineries on the west side, a wine tasting room in Upper Lake and then on the second day visit a couple wineries in the south on my way back home.

Ceãgo Vinegarden – Nice, California

My first stop, on my second Independence Day Weekend wine country traveling adventures, was at Ceãgo Vinegarden located on the east side of the lake in the town of Nice. Ceãgo (pronounced “see-AY-go”) Vinegarden, like many other wineries in the region, is committed to biodynamic farming which is:

…a proactive approach to farming that looks at the individuality of each property and adds back with natural plant and animal life to emulate nature and create a self-sustainable environment. Biodynamic® farming integrates agricultural, biological and ecological scientific knowledge into crop rotations, compost production, plant diversity, homeopathic sprays and soil and animal practices.”

Ceãgo also hosts a beautiful lavender garden that you can stroll through as you walk from the winery to the docks where you can get a fantastic view of the lake and the distant mountains. I have been to hundreds of wineries since 1997 but this was the first one that I have ever been to that you can get to via a boat as their winery is located on the lake.

After touring the vineyards and snapping some pictures I headed into the tasting room where I was greeted by Sandy Van Lingeau, who was both extremely hospitable and very informative about the winery and its wines. A real credit to her line of work.

My first wine was the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. It displays a classic citrus style without the gooseberry or cat pee, very crisp, great acidity and a fantastic prolonged mineral finish.  This is a great Sauv Blanc for $16.

My next wine was the 2010 Chardonnay Del Lago. A bit aromatically challenged at first, but after warming and swirling it I picked up hints of green apple on the nose and palate followed by a little butter and balanced acidity. An “okay” wine for $16, but there are plenty like in on the market at the $8 to $10 range.

My third sample was the 2010 Syrah Rosé Del Lago. This wine has a very intense fruit forward “scratch and sniff” strawberry profile followed by roses, dried cranberries and watermelon. On a hot day this one is a winner if you like this style and at $16 a bottle it won’t break the bank.

My first red wine of the day was the 2009 Ceago Field Blend (53% Syrah, 43% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon). A complex wine with a big nose and palate with red currant, raspberry jam and spice with a long finish with a hint of cinnamon stick on the return. This wine sells for $22 which I thought was a fair price so I bought 2 to take home, one to share with friends.

My third wine was the 2009 Syrah. A BIG fruit forward wine with pomegranate, red currant, cassis and fresh raspberry sorbet on the nose and palate. A nice wine for $26.

My fourth pour was my favorite, the 2006 Winemaker’s Blend (35% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec). Think of this as the big brother of the Ceãgo Field Blend but with a stronger floral component, intense cherries and a hint on anise on the tail end. A great wine but a tad bit pricy at $55 a bottle.

I then transitioned to their dessert wines beginning with the 2010 Muscat Canelli. A little aromatically challenged which is unusual for this varietal, but it may have just been a little too cold. As it warmed up I did pick up on the nose white flowers, faint orange blossoms, and wet stone. A bit pricy at $26 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2007 Late Harvest Semillon. A truly unique wine. Golden in color, on the nose I picked up candied pineapple, band-aid/petrol, Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal, apricot and a hint of honey. This wine is very viscous/oily and as it coats your palate there is fresh honey from the comb followed by a hedonistically lingering rich finish. This would go great with cheese cake. It sells for $22 and I brought one home.

To see more pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Ceãgo Vinegarden
5115 E. Hwy 20, Nice, CA.

Brassfield Estate Winery and Vineyard

After enjoying my visit at Ceago and as the holiday crowds were starting to roll in, I headed further south along the east side of the lake to Clearlake Oaks. Then I turned left up High Valley Road to climb the mountain up to the High Valley AVA, where I drove across the ranch lands to visit the majestic Brassfield Estate Winery and Vineyard. 

 Located in the western section of High Valley at High Serenity Ranch at 1800 foot elevation, this beautiful winery reflects the heritage of California Missions complete with a statue of St. Francis which is surrounded by vineyards, palm trees and vine covered hills. 

The higher vineyard blocks rise to nearly 3000 ft. which are some of the coldest in CA, giving Brassfield a heat summation equivalent to a Region 3 or less in some vintages. This enables to grow cooler region varietals such as Pinot Noir.

In 1973, Jerry Brassfield purchased the original 1,600 acres as a cattle ranch and wildlife reserve and over the next three decades he acquired additional property. Today, the Lake County estate includes 2,500 acres across both the eastern and the western sections of High Valley, as well as the Round Mountain Volcano.

In 1998 the land was examined for its potential to produce high quality estate-grown wines and in 2001 they began planting vines to produce all their wines, all of which are 100% Estate Grown and bottled. The tasting room was

My first wine was the 2010 Pinot Grigio. Served a little too cool, but as it warmed up I picked up on the nose more minerality than fruit which was unusual. Wet stone dominated the aromatics but as I kept swirling I also picked up lemon, grapefruit and dried pineapple.

 My second wine was the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, which was convincing me that Sav Blanc may be this region’s specialty as it was very similar to Ceago’s, (lemon zest, dried apricots, grapefruit, no gooseberry or cat pee) but sells for only $13.

They offered another wine called “Serenity” ($13) which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer and Semillon, but I was eager to move on to the reds.

My next wine was the 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir. Light peach in color on the rim to a blood orange at the base, this dry wine exudes fresh roses and muted strawberry and cranberry. I wasn’t impressed  at $19 a bottle.

The second pour was the 2008 Pinot Noir. Now, what I had to keep in mind is that all of their wines come from Lake County Estate Fruit. So, I was really curious, can this region produce a quality local Pinot? This wine is a deep red with little light showing through. On the nose and palate it displays dark fruit with an underlying smokiness followed by cinnamon stick and pepper and is almost syrah-like. A respectable effort at $19, but I have my doubts about this terroir, even in the cooler hills, producing a Pinot that can compete with the coastal regions or the Russian River.

My next two red wines were the 2009 Volcano Ridge Zinfandel ($22) and the 2005 Reserve Zinfandel ($55). Both displayed various dark fruits, plums and dark earth. The latter however had a very intense fresh ground black pepper on the nose and palate that dominated the wine’s profile.

 My next red was my favorite in the lineup, the 2009 Eruption. A proprietary blend of Syrah (37%), Mouvedre (30%), Grenache (14%), Petite Syrah (10%) and Malbec (9%). A complex and layered wine with supple tannins that starts with raspberries, transitions to milk chocolate, and ends with a lingering blueberry finish. A great wine for $22, I brought two of them home!

My fifth read was the 2006 Petite Syrah. This is an intense black-inky wine with dark fruit, dark chocolate, and French Roast coffee one the nose and palate, velvety smooth with supple tannins. A nice wine for $28 but there are many like this one on the market in the $15 to $20 range.

My final wine was the 2005 Elevado, a Zinfandel port-style wine ($30). Intense blackberry and what reminds me of IHOP boysenberry syrup without the gloppy texture. This wine is delicious but not very complex. I prefer ports that use the traditional Portuguese grapes (Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Francesca) which provide a wide range of flavors.

To see more pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Brassfield Estate Winery and Vineyard
10915 High Valley Road
P.O. Box 1661
Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423

LCWS – Lake County Wine Studio

Just around the corner from the hotel where I was staying is the Lake County Wine Studio. Just across from the Tallman Hotel and Blue Wing Saloon, LCWS features beautiful art work and wines from local wineries, many of which don’t have their own tasting room. So, if you see a winery on the Lake County Winery list that has no tasting room, but want to taste them, this is probably where you’ll need to go to try them out. 

I tasted a long list of wines here from Lavender Blue, Robeledo, Bell Hill Vineyards, Obsidian Ridge. I won’t review all of them, but just mention a few notable wines that I purchased.

The 2007 Lavender Blue Cabernet Sauvignon. Black Currant, black cherry, blackberry, and fig on the nose and palate. Really nice for only $20.

The 2008 Robeledo Lake County Tempranillo is an old world style wine that displays a classic profile for this varietal, which is not very friendly towards most fruit forward wine drinkers. It is very dark and earthy with layers of crispy bacon, beef jerky, dark chocolate, and vanilla on the return. This wine would be AWESOME with a barbequed burger served with bacon and blue cheese. It sells for $23.

The 2007 Obsidion Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot). This wine kicks some serious ass for only $28! Explosive aromas of the blackberry pie, black cassis, concentrated black cherry, hints of clove, cinnamon, cigar box and dried herbs. Seriously, I put this up against many Napa cabs that sell for more than twice as much.

To visit or for more information:

Lake County Wine Studio
9505 Main St
Upper Lake, CA 95485
(707) 275-8030


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