It’s a bright sunny morning at Suites on Main in Kelseyville, and the day is full of possibilities. And yes, our goal is still not to leave Main Street. So here’s how we do it. First, start the day with a great cup of coffee. There’s something to be said about consistency, especially when it comes to the morning’s consciousness.
FOOD AND DRINK
It’s a short fifteen-minute drive from our home in Loch Lomond to the small town of Kelseyville. Tall oaks and pine trees stretch high into the sky on the meandering road showing off their bright green brilliant colors against the late afternoon blue sky. Settled at the edge of Mt. Konocti is the country town of Kelseyville. Our only plan once the car is parked at Suites On Main is to not leave town for the weekend.
It’s a hot August evening in Kelseyville. The lingering summer’s heat is settling in. Off in the distance, Mt. Konocti stands tall, long evening shadows reaching toward it. But this isn’t your typical Thursday night in this small town. A barricade crosses Main Street, temporarily closing through traffic between 2nd and 3rd Street. But this closed block is far from empty. At Main and 2nd, a large stage is set for tonight’s Kickin’ it in the Country, a monthly Kelseyville tradition from June to September every summer. Lawn chairs sit in the shady spots on the street where cars typically park. Kids run across the yellow painted lines, reveling in their freedom. Nearer to the stage, a growing crowd sways to Dave Broida and the Blues Farm, tonight’s opening act. But that isn’t for a while, so there’s still plenty of time to grab a bite to eat before the party gets started.
Lake County has some spectacular wineries and great places to take old friends for a taste. Whether you spend an afternoon touring the vineyards at Six Sigma, enjoying the views at Laujor Estate Winery and Wild Diamond Vineyards, or enjoying a picnic at Brassfield Estate, there’s always somewhere to have a great experience. But sometimes, having a few friends over for a tasty home-cooked meal is the most enjoyable way to enjoy wine. We all know that wine’s best when it’s shared, and with Labor Day Weekend coming up, there’s no better time to try something new. Here are six of our favorites from three small, local wineries that are meant to drink with friends on a summer evening.
It’s a balmy mid-summer evening. The sun is still high and the night young in Clearlake. The day’s warmth lingers, and the evening breeze is still a long way off. But, it’s no bother since La Chilanguita primarily offers indoor dining. Step inside and enter a charming family-owned restaurant where friendly faces greet everyone. Then, it’s choose-your-own-seat casual dining.
I’ve always had a dream like this,” Bob Zany begins, a cigar in his hand. “I’ve never performed before fifty-two people in a meeting room in Upper Lake.” He pauses, looking around the room. “I’ve arrived.”
In the heart of Big Valley, nestled among vineyards and orchards, sits one of the largest retired pear processing plants in Lake County. While it no longer processes pears, the facility still serves as a cold storage and winery. A single car is parked on the massive concrete slab just in front of the large storage building that reads Mt. Konocti Growers, Inc. Off in the corner is a more modest building, parking area, and patio, home to Mt. Konocti Winery’s tasting room. This is a working winery, and the familiar aroma of wine fills the air. The left side of the building is filled with offices and cases of stacked wine. To the right lies the tasting room, a former office redecorated and transformed. A display rack holds a modest collection of hand-crafted wine bags, aprons, candles, and, of course, bottles of wine. Old photos and pear labels hang on the walls. A thoughtful wine bar made from two wine barrels and old pear packing boxes sits in the corner. It’s still possible to see the label on the boxes, another reminder of the history of the place. Originally started as the Lake County Fruit Exchange in 1926, there are plenty of stories here. Currently, much of their business is custom crush and wholesale, but they also create some uniquely Lake County wines, all grown from local grapes. Here are five great ones we recommend.
It’s early Saturday evening in Lake County, and there are more things going on than a person can possibly fit into one evening. The solution? Pick a general area in the county; if you plan it right, you can party-hop all night long. It goes without saying that the best parties start with a designated driver. After you’ve figured that out, let the fun begin!
Once you’ve passed the heart of Middletown and are working your way towards the winding roads of St. Helena, you’ll pass by La Parrilla Grill. You might not notice it right away, but it’s there on the right side of the road. If you pass The Geysers Visitor Center, you’ve gone too far. La Parrilla’s part taco stand, part restaurant, and is filled with incredible Mexican food. And Lake County’s full of good Mexican joints. But here, you’ll find unique, homestyle dishes you won’t find anywhere else.
It’s springtime; the birds are back and busy building nests, the wildflowers are blooming, and the weather’s getting warm. There’s no better time to take a road trip around Lake County. If you’ve got a free day, hop in the car and enjoy some of the county’s most beautiful, unique, and tasty places.
There’s nothing new about celebrating wine and art together. It’s been a uniquely human experience since the beginning of time. And today is no exception. A warm, gentle spring breeze and bright orange-yellow California poppies welcome us as we head towards Six Sigma Ranch and Winery’s wine cave. To the left, winery equipment rests for the time being, while the vines are just beginning the hard work of producing this season’s harvest. Ahead, friends gather in conversation on the broad concrete patio outside the cave’s large open doors. Inside, a table lines one wall, filled with various hors-d’oeuvres, wine, and chocolate. Rows of full barrels fill the back of the cave. Their contents perfume the air, a reminder that this is a working wine cave. And to the right, the recent artwork of Ben vanSteenburgh covers the wall, reaching far into the depths of the cave. It’s the reason for this celebration.
One of the best parts about Lake County is that there’s so much to explore. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s something new to discover. Around each corner of the road, there’s another hidden gem just waiting to be found. This is part two of our road trip. Today we get to enjoy some great views of Mt. Konocti and the Clearlake arm of North America’s oldest lake, then spend some time shopping in two unique towns.
It’s springtime; the birds are back and busy building nests, the wildflowers are blooming, and the weather’s getting warm. There’s no better time to take a road trip around Lake County. If you’ve got a free day, get in the car and enjoy some of the county’s most beautiful, unique, and tasty places. Part one wanders from Middletown, up and over Cobb, until it winds up in the Kelseyville Riviera, edged up against the side of Mt. Konocti. Come take a ride with us.
It’s a clear Lake County winter morning. The morning sun glints down off Susie Q’s Donuts and Espresso, reflecting off the building. It’s a hard place to miss; the bright pink paint draws the eyes immediately. Step inside, and, depending on the time of day, the smell of donuts, bacon, or coffee fills the building. The same pink that covers the outside continues indoors. Dark wood floors and tables contrast the bright walls, and country music comes through the speakers, creating an inviting atmosphere. It’s a place to come, grab a donut or sandwich, and sit down to enjoy them over a cup of coffee.
Just across the road and down the hill from our room at Laujor’s loft lies Boatique Winery. The sign on Red Hills Road’s hard to miss; it rests between two rock pillars and glimmers in the winter sun. Several strips of hardwood have been pressed together to create a laminated frame that holds the profile of a wooden boat. Below, a dark script reads, “Boatique Winery”. We turn off the road, wind our way down the ancient olive tree-lined driveway to the brick-lined parking lot, and enter the brightly-lit tasting room. A fire glows in the large fireplace, and Francesca, Director of Hospitality, finishes pouring the last taste for a couple, who excitedly pick up a few bottles of wine to take home.
The gray clouds clear, leaving Lake County’s iconic blue above the shores of Clear Lake. In the distance, Mt. Konocti reaches up against the crystal-clear sky. A boat takes its time launching at the nearest boat launch. It’s not a busy day on the lake. There’s no rush, and the boat owner knows that. A few people walk by, heading back to work somewhere on Main St, while others take their time over a meal and drink. It’s the lunch hour in Library Park. Outside, a couple of patrons soak in the view from Park Place Restaurant’s outdoor patio while sipping on a glass of wine. Inside, lively music greets us, and happy patrons chatter amongst themselves. The atmosphere is energetic, upbeat, and contagious. The view from the lake isn’t going anywhere, even inside, and the vibes are irresistible.
After a cozy lunch at Adams Springs we make the short drive to Laujor Estate Winery, resting in the Red Hills of Lake County. There’s a reason the Red Hills got their name. The soil is as red as I have ever seen, and it’s famous for its unique terroir. So it’s no surprise that these hills are covered in vineyards. The grey of the January winter storm settles between the rolling vineyards and Mt. Konocti. The rain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and happily, neither are we.
A welcomed winter rain twists and turns around our feet as we make our way up the steps from the greens to the lodge. No, it’s not a lodge, but that’s what best describes the clubhouse. Its exposed wood and log beams give it a feel like a ski resort. Only a few days before, snow blanketed the golf course, welcoming families from all over the mountain to come and play in a winter wonderland. Inside, people warmed their cold fingers with hot cocoa or lunch in front of the club’s open fire pit. See, a lodge, right?
Today, the snowstorm has turned into a rainstorm outside the clubhouse. Inside, the same warm fire greets us, beckoning us to come closer, and we do. It’s near closing time, and most patrons have already come and gone except for a few locals sitting at tables. A television screen flashes pictures at the end of the bar. We find a spot near the fire and are soon greeted by our waitress. We order a beer and my usual, a Bloody Mary. I know when I find a good one—not too salty and the horseradish is just right. At the bar stands Eddie Mullins, owner and visionary of all that is Adams Springs. Before too long, he makes his way to our table like he always does to greet us.
Edgar Bonilla and Antonio Sanchez sit at one of the picnic tables stretched under a large tent. Edgar’s just lit a propane heater, and the warmth heats the chill from the morning air. Both bring their own energy to the table; Edgar’s bright, friendly, and warm. Antonio’s reserved, thoughtful, and competent. And they’re comfortable in each other’s company; they’ve worked together for over fifteen years in Napa restaurants. And they’ve come together to make some spectacular food at Los Compas.
Pauline chips in. “We knew we wanted a farm, and we drove all over. This was our last stop, and we knew this property was perfect. It’s on a busier road, and it’s flat.” She pauses for a second and watches Franklin chewing on something in the doorway. “I don’t know what my dog’s eating. Oh, it’s just a piece of wood.” She moves on. “So we ordered our blackberry and raspberry starts for the next season. When a semi showed up, I thought, ‘Wow, a lot of people in the area must be ordering.’ But it was all for us. How many plants was it?”
“7,500,” Mike replies.
Chalerm Thai Bistro’s a hidden treasure in Lakeport. Odds are, if you don’t live in town, you haven’t heard of it. It’s not downtown or next to the freeway. Instead, it resides off Lakeshore Boulevard north of the main business district, sitting next to a closed liquor market. For years, it’s also served as our family’s go-to for quality Thai food.
The waning sun’s orange glow casts long shadows against the barn wall at Peace and Plenty Farm. It’s fall in Lake County; autumn leaves are just turning, gardens readying themselves for rest. In the parking area, friends gather together, already savoring Lake County’s last farm to fork dinner of the season before making their way to the tables. Melinda Price, co-owner and farmer for Peace and Plenty Saffron Farm, greets the crowd with her kind voice. “Hello, everyone!” she smiles. “We have a big crowd tonight, the biggest we’ve ever had.” A splash of applause comes from the tables. “Now we have a hungry terrier wandering around. Please, don’t feed her any chicken bones.”
It’s an unusually cool summer afternoon in Big Valley. Outside the Finley Country Market, rose bushes and lavender pop out of planters, framing the red, farmhouse-looking store. Several picnic tables, shaded by umbrellas, stretch across the courtyard. Finley Country Market’s been around twenty-five years and serves as a hub for the small community. They’ve got a good barbecue, offering grilled chicken, burgers, or tri-tip sandwiches depending on the day of the week. And they’re popular; it’s not uncommon for the market to receive twenty-five or thirty pre-orders on Fridays for their tri-tip sandwiches.
And each Friday, another wonderful thing happens at the market. There, on the counter next to the register, sit Karen Shippley’s gluten-free muffins. Depending on Karen’s mood, you may find blueberry muffins, carrot cake or German chocolate cupcakes, all luscious and completely gluten-free.
“Where are you planning to go for dinner?” I was asked several times the day I visited Richmond Park Bar and Grill. “Oh, Richmond Park,” I’d reply. “I’m going to do a write-up on them.” And this is the part that amazed me. I got the same response three times. “Don’t order the Richmond Park Burger. You never be able to finish it.”
Fults Family Vineyards sits on Clayton Creek just a few miles south of Lower Lake on the corner of Spruce Grove Road and Highway 29. Enter the tree-lined driveway, and you wind up a rise, past the Fults’ home to their tasting room overlooking a large pond. Kendall, co-owner of Fults Family Vineyards (FFV), keeps it relaxed and welcoming. It’s the kind of place where no matter your wine knowledge or preference, you’ll have a good time. I’ve never been to a winery with a television on one wall always playing sports, or a par 3 hole where you can hit some golf balls while you sip on a glass. It all fits together perfectly at FFV. Come in on the weekend, and you’ll probably run into Kendall sitting behind the tasting room bar, waiting with some good wine and a good story.