The Subaru winds its way through the oak trees. It’s spring, and Hoodoo Creek weaves through the bright green grass. A vineyard suddenly appears in front of us, filled with thick, gnarled grapevines. We step out of the car to look at them. Each vine curls around itself like a twisted fist, shooting off new leaves. “This is our Hoodoo vineyard,” Dave Rosenthal tells us in his easygoing manner. He’s dressed in a casual sweater and baseball cap. “These Zinfandel vines were planted in 1937.” As he tells us the history of the vines, I snap a few pictures. “My mom, up ‘till two years ago, would come out and work this vineyard,” he continues. “She’d work for a bit, then nap for a bit, like this.” He puts his head on his chest and slumps. “She was enjoying herself, but we got a few calls from the neighbors telling us that Mom had collapsed in the vineyard.” He smiles.
The cooler weather we’ve had these past few days has certainly been a treat. I was starting to feel like the Wicked Witch of the West, melting from the heat. It certainly makes dancing more fun when the sun goes down.
So here’s what we’ve got going this week. You may have seen them as you wandered through Kelseyville: poetry boxes are popping up all over the place. Last weekend, The Bloom talked with the masterminds behind the project and their plans to spread poetry everywhere in Lake County.
On a sadder note, Gene Paleno, writer of the Lake County History articles and one of the first supporters of The Bloom, passed away. Gene lived his life fully and had a profound impact not just on me but on all of Lake County. To honor his memory, I’ve written an article about our friendship. And if you get a chance, read an interview I did with him back in 2018. In it, I discover that Gene filled his life with new experiences and always looked for the best in people, something well worth modeling. Here’s to you, Gene. You ran the race well.
Clear Lake Campground rests on the edge of Cache Creek and has welcomed visitors for decades. RVs, tents, and trailers stretch along the creek’s banks. Kids play ping pong under the covered patio; an older couple sits in their foldup chairs, sipping on coffee. It’s another summer Saturday at the campground. But there’s excitement near the office, where Lisa Wilson, owner of Clear Lake Campground, Georgina Marie, Lake County Poet Laureate, and Gary Maes, the mastermind behind the Main St. Poetry Boxes, check the alignment of the newest poetry box. You may have bumped into a poetry box while wandering down Main Street in Kelseyville or wandered by one in Middletown. There, if you take a second, you’ll notice a well-made wooden box mounted to a wall, a poem tacked inside. It’s all part of a plan to spread poetry throughout the county.
I first met Gene three years ago at Judy’s Junction in Upper Lake over a cup of coffee to discuss publishing his Lake County History serially. By the time I got there, he was already sitting in a booth, coffee in hand, waiting for me. Even in his 90’s, Gene had a large presence. Sure, he walked with a hunch and held a cane, but the years he spent playing football and bodybuilding had left their mark. As I talked with him, he stretched his arms wide to make a point, and they reached out past the edges of the booth, able to encompass not just the table but me as well.
Amy Thorn was drawn to Lake County years ago when she worked as a wine judge. At a competition, she tasted an unnamed Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon and was hooked. “I thought, this is the place where we need to start a winery,” Amy says. “The volcanic soil brings it such a unique flavor.” On her first visit, Amy went to Konocti Harbor, watched Credence Clearwater Revival play, then came to look at the property where Thorn Hill’s tasting room currently sits. The night was dark, and the stars shone brilliantly. “I felt like I was in the Sound of Music!” Amy continues. “We walked around and could see the stars like I could reach out and touch them. I’d never seen anything like it before. I knew this was the place.”
The odor of heated fiberglass fills the air. I’m trying to keep up with what’s happening but can’t see through the smoke of the car with the blown head gasket trying to round turn one. Who’s in first? It doesn’t matter. A roar comes from the crowd watching turn three. It looks like a couple of boats got stuck together, and one car’s dragging the other around the track. I glance at it for a second, then get distracted by the major crash happening directly in front of the grandstands. A boat’s disconnected from its chain and cartwheels in front of the Blazer. The driver twitches the steering wheel, not to avoid it, but to ensure he gets a direct hit. He aims directly for the bow, and it explodes into a spray of fiberglass and old steering cables.
Sabrina Andrus, owner of A+H General Store and maker. roams the side street, a big smile on her maskless face. “This is a new thing for me,” she says, referring to the novelty of being outdoors with other people and no masks. “It feels a bit weird.” She and her sister Caitlin are the co-visionaries behind the market and have created a place where people can enjoy high-quality, locally crafted goods. It’s not a farmers’ market, though there is produce, and it’s not a craft fair, though there are candles and soap. Instead, it’s a market for the many artisans that live in Lake County. The sisters are proud to note that everything sold at the market is grown, produced, or made here in Lake County.
Every time I have been to Thai American Market, I’ve been impressed with how Dale and Yupa go out of their way to make Asian food accessible. It’s easy to walk into an Asian market in the city and have absolutely no idea of what to purchase. I’ve walked out of stores with a can of quail eggs and three different types of rice noodles, only to go home and have no idea of what to do with them. That won’t happen at Thai American Market, because neither Dale nor Yupa would never allow it. Just walk into the market, tell him what you want to make, and they will walk you through exactly what you need to create that perfect Asian dish to impress your spouse and friends. He even places recipes along the shelves, just in case you see something but aren’t sure how to make it.
“It was inevitable that Alex and I would end up running a brewery,” Tim O’Meara, one half of the O’Meara Bros. Brewing Company, says. A pump hums in the background, pushing a batch of Elk Mountain IPA into the fermenter. “When we were kids, we always pretended we were bartenders. We had bottles all over the place filled with concoctions we had created.” He laughs. “Mom told us, ‘Someday you’re going to run your own business together.’ Can you give me a second?” he stops, listening to his brewer’s intuition. “I need to go check on that batch.” While Tim heads off to look things over, Trudy and I sip on a flight of his beers. It turns out his mom was right. Decades after her prophecy, and nearly seven years into business together, brothers Tim and Alex are still at it, creating quality, drinkable beverages.
The sun’s still above Cobb, but it’s steadily easing behind it, stretching the light into the four-car garage, where, tucked in a corner and surrounded by sound-dampening cloth, Breaker One-9 finishes up a song. A few thumps and bass notes fiddle around, then quiet as the band takes a break from practicing their first set. In an empty bay of the garage, papers, a tablet, and Diet Coke spread across the pool table. Mike Mendenhall sits at its edge in a foldup chair, his knees pressed against the table.
The Gathering podcast is hosted by Michelle R Scully. We’ll be gathering together great guests to explore thoughts, learn more about our neighbors, magnify kindness, and there will be laughing. Gather with us and let’s start making up for all those lost times together over this past year. The guests in this episode are Rachel and Christian Ahlmann, of Six Sigma Ranch, Vineyard, and Winery but we won’t be talking business. Four years ago Rachel and Christian decided to live debt-free and create a light carbon footprint by making a vintage Airstream trailer home to them and their three awesome kids. Multiply that togetherness in a 30’ by 8’ aluminum space by 1000x when the pandemic came along and threw a curveball or ten. We talk about what makes the Ahlmann 5 tick, life lessons with kids and from kids, and everything in between.
We spot Ben Hittle as we walk into the Farmers’ Market in Middletown. He stands underneath a gigantic oak tree, sunglasses pulled up onto the striped beanie pulled tight on his head. He’s selling trees. “It’s a cedar,” he tells us, his blonde goatee framing his smile, “and it can only be found in two places in Lake County. It’s an endangered species.” “That’s incredible,” I reply. “What type of cedar is it? “I don’t know,” he responds. “I’ve looked for hours and spent way too much time on the phone trying to figure it out. Nobody knows. No,” he pauses. “Somebody knows. I’ll find them.”
It’s springtime again, and all the bushes and flowers are slowly coming back to life. This slow budding of the new season also is happening with one of my favorite plants: poison oak. Even in its budding, it’s beautiful. Three small leaves poke out, bright green and red-orange. They spread across the ground, wind their way up trees, and work their way across fields. Then, as summer is followed by fall, they turn golden, red, and orange, covering those fields with a painter’s palate-worth of color. However, not everyone feels the same way that I do about this plant. “I hate it,” most people tell me. But that is something I could never, ever, do. You see, my love for poison oak is hard-earned.
Wine barrels sit under the extended awning of 350 North in Lakeport, converted into tables. Barstools stretch around them, with diners propped on the edges, enjoying a beer and burger. Inside, sports play on the televisions, and country music fills in the moments between conversations. “Be proud of your hometown. It’s a big part of what makes you the person you are”, a large sign above the bar reads. “Lakeport Proud”. The atmosphere’s relaxed, casual. It’s the kind of place to get a meal, then hang out for a couple of hours chatting with friends.
The Laughing Lady leans back and guffaws, her huge, smiling body rocking. Meanwhile, the boy above her sticks his tongue out, then slowly draws it back in. The nutcracker wiggles back and forth eagerly, while blackbirds desperately try to get out of the pie. But it’s just getting started. The kittens search for their lost mittens, while Giannini from the Bank of Italy in San Francisco looks on impassively. The Fonz, the Man From U. N. C. L. E, and Atom Ant all make an appearance, as does Fozzie Bear. It’s just another afternoon at the Lunchbox Museum in Nice, where Deb Clarke showcases her massive collection of retro Americana.
“The first time I tasted a Malbec, it was like that movie Ratatouille,” Miguel says. “You know how that one bite took him back to his childhood?” Miguel poses the question. “The first smell of the Malbec took me back to when I was six or seven years old in Michoacán. We had to go up the mountain and plow the furrows for the corn by hand. And after a long, hot day of work, my father would pick the prickly fruit off the cactus. He would pick the spines off the fruit and hand it to me to eat. When I was a child, I was mad at having to do all that hard work, but the reward of the work was the taste of the fruit in my mouth.” He smiles, remembering that moment once more. “And that moment was in that glass of wine. Wine tasting is personal,” he continues. “You won’t have the same feeling or memory that I have when you taste something, but it’s that moment with certain wines, where you are taken back to a certain time or emotion. Then the wine becomes part of who you are. That makes wine special. Winemaking is memories.”
“I call myself a winegrower,” Greg says. “I’m my own vineyard manager, and at the end point, I’m a winemaker. It’s not about getting tonnage. It’s about growing high-quality fruit. Grapes don’t ripen at the same time. I pick them over three weeks to ensure they are picked at the peak.” And it shows in his wines. Every bottle at Gregory Graham is distinct, unique, and thoughtfully created. “I would put my grapes and wines against anyone,” he says. “I put my thumbprint on the wines.”
Wind whips around the tasting room, groaning through the flapping sunshades, but around the corner, it’s quiet and warm. Two chairs huddle near a patio heater, a tray filled with hand-labeled two-ounce bottles of wine to taste between them. Below the old farmhouse, old walnut trees fill the courtyard, where the wind blows water from the fountain several feet into the gravel. Birds flick through the bare branches, rising with each breeze, then settling on a new tree. A bocce court framed by a rock wall marks the end of the tasting area and the beginning of the vineyards, which sweep downward to Anderson Marsh and Clear Lake. Snow-tipped mountains rise in the distance, dusted in sugar.
Spring’s in the air, and it’s a great time to get out and support some of our local wineries and businesses. And what better way to do it than by getting a Winery Passport? It’s got complimentary tasting at eighteen Lake County wineries, plus a host of other perks. Pick up a free appetizer at the Saw Shop Public House when you purchase an entry, enjoy a complimentary kayak rental from Clearlake Campground, or get a discount on a room at one of several places, such as the Tallman Hotel or The Lodge at Blue Lakes. You’ll pay $66.95 per passport, and once you go to a couple of wineries, you’ll have paid for it already. For more information about the program and to purchase, head to the Lake County Winery Association Website.
Since reopening October 15th, Live Oak Grill has quickly established a loyal customer base. Much of it has to do with owners Jennifer and Jamie’s friendly disposition. They’re relaxed, comfortable, and easy to talk to. And a lot has to do with the quality of the food. Everything’s handmade and done well, with plenty of attention to detail.
“We’re creating healthy alternatives for people,” Josh says, finishing up the smoothie while Margie rings up the customer. “When I discovered this, I worked at the post office, and Margie was at CVS. Hang on.” He pulls out his phone and scrolls through it. “Here it is.” He flips the screen our way, showing a picture of him with a neck brace. “I had to go through neck and spine surgery and felt terrible. But I lost 100 pounds in ten months, and feel great. Margie lost 50 pounds.” He’s bouncing around the shop, full of energy.
Margie’s just as excited as Josh. “It’s a healthy café,” she adds. “We have protein waffles, protein donuts, vegan options, and a fitness and recovery menu. “We are making a healthy, active lifestyle hub. It’s more than coming in and getting shakes.”
The Bloom seeks quality restaurant and winery reviews. If you love Lake County’s food and wine and have the ability to tell a story, get in touch with us. We’re looking for storytellers, not reporters, and consider the ability to communicate an experience of vital importance. For more information, check out our submission guidelines.
It doesn’t matter what you order at Wholly Bowl; you’ll get quality food made with fresh ingredients. Jenn doesn’t over-spice or over-sweeten her food. It’s meant to be balanced. “’Wholly’ means all-inclusive,” Jenn says, excitement in her eyes. “It’s all in one bowl.” She ticks off ingredients on her fingers: “The crisp of the veggies with the fat of the avocado, the hot rice, and the crunch of the cabbage and kale. The protein, the starch, the veggies and the sauce. It’s the layered ingredients with the multiple sauces; the synergy of them all combined creates something wholly new.”