Once the pavement ends, it’s like entering another world, peaceful, calm, filled with light and laughter. Massive valley oaks arch overhead, shading the fire pit and picnic area. Bamboo wind chimes clink in the soft breeze. Martin Pohl, owner of Beaver Creek, steps out to greet us. “Hello! Hello!” he smiles as he walks towards us, his flip flops clicking with each step. “Welcome!”
You’ve probably driven past Cache Creek Vineyards more times than you can count. Whether leaving or just coming into Lake County, it’s hard to miss the giant wine barrel resting just off of Highway 20 on the way to Williams. If you look closely, you’ll see the fountain to the right of the tasting room, sparkling near the overarching oak trees. Further back, an amphitheater sits. And if you look closely enough, you may catch a glimpse of the herd of Tule Elk roaming the property. Sometimes life needs a short detour, and Cache Creek Winery is well worth a side trip on your way to or from the city.
I first need to warn you about the view. It slaps you in the face as soon as you turn past the corrugated tin Laujor Sign and head down the hill to the tasting room. It is. Be careful to focus on the road and not Konocti and the sweep of mountaintops across the horizon as you drive into the parking lot. Vines surround the tasting room, but don’t worry; going inside won’t ruin the view. Pull open the glass doors and step up to the tasting counter. A massive picture window runs the length of the back wall so that with every sip of wine you can enjoy the exquisite beauty of Lake County.
It’s a warm summer afternoon, but under the covered work area behind the tasting room it’s shady, and the afternoon breeze pushes air through, cooling it further. Paul Manuel, owner of Chacewater, sits at a picnic table, face shield stretching around his head. “I’m sorry about having to taste out here,” he says immediately. “Two weeks ago, we had to shift our tasting room outside. And this is our work area.” He pauses. “I don’t know how much longer we’re going to have to do this.” It’s not so bad. The sitting area is casual, comfortable, and welcoming. In front of a stack of wine barrels stands a short tasting bar. Several picnic tables stretch across the patio, a couple sitting at one. The breeze is pleasant, and the shade feels cool. Classic rock plays in the background, and the couple sings along to the chorus. Just on the other side of the shaded area, olive trees stretch in rows, guiding the eyes further outward towards the mountainous horizon. Bright sun glints off the still-small olives, ripening in speckles of chartreuse and white. Come late fall, they will darken to shades of purples, vibrant greens, and chocolate browns.
You may think you’re lost by the time you get to Old Long Valley Road, particularly if you’re coming into Lake County from Williams. Highway 20 winds and twists back upon itself for thirty-five miles as it leaves the valley and works its way into the mountains of Lake County. But if you’re coming from the other direction, it’s only a ten-minute drive from Clearlake Oaks, a small town with a great bakery and good Mexican food.As soon as the car tuns off the highway, the road gets rough. A sign sticks out of the brush, slightly lopsided. “Low Water Crossing 3 3/10 miles ahead,” it states. “Not Maintained During Winter Months.” But don’t worry. Stonehouse Cellars is only a mile away, and there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the view. The road turns into a single lane and winds between the now golden-hued grass that spreads across the steeply sloped mountainsides. A dry creek bed matches the curves of the road. Off in the distance, past the patches of oak trees, mountains shadow into mountains, until they disappear grey-black in the distance. As the road swings into Stonehouse Cellars, a pond appears, surrounded by cattails. On its banks stands a cabin, former stagecoach stop and retreat of Country musician Tennessee Ernie Ford. It’s been completely remodeled and is now available to rent as part of Stonehouse’s Bed and Barrel lodging service. A large willow tree arches over the pond, and a small paddleboat nests in a crack of the foliage. A full-length porch stretches in front of the house, welcoming and inviting. It’s ready for an afternoon with a good book. But the tasting room is up the hill to the right, past the large Stonehouse Cellars sign. There, on a ridgeline, stands a modern structure, straight-lined, pushing vertically upward, contrasting the swell and swoop of the mountains that reach out beyond it. Open the large glass door, and the heat of the summer afternoon dissipates. It’s quiet inside, and the tall ceilings stretch the sound, muffling and extending it. Chairs and couches fill the middle of the room, and a table and shuffleboard stand near the doors leading to the patio. It’s empty country; there’s no other house in sight.
“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.”
The early April sun just warms the crisp air and flecks across Clear Lake. Clouds puff across the sky, touching Mt. Konocti and sliding their way across Mt. Hannah. Orchards, pastures, and horse corrals with white fences edge Highland Springs Road as it winds its way towards the Mayacamas Mountains. There, nestled between vineyards, stands the small tasting room of Olof Cellars. Cindi Olof, co-owner of the winery, stands inside, a mask and gloves on, filling up a case of wine. Right now, Olof is offering a special—a case of their wine for $100. “It’s an incredible deal,” Cindi says, adjusting her mask. “That’s $8 a bottle for a $35 a bottle of wine.” She pauses for a second, thinking. “Or $125 a bottle in Napa.”
To get to Six Sigma Ranch, you have to want to get there. It’s not the kind of place to swing by for a quick taste. No, once you turn off Spruce Grove Road, bump over the cattle grate, and see the sheep grazing in the vineyards, you enter a place that exists in a different timeline than the rest of the world.
Sunlight shines through the large front windows of Fore Family Winery’s tasting room. In back stretches a long wooden bar faced with rounds of manzanita, behind which Jim and Diane Fore pour glasses to their customers. A tan-brown concrete wall stretches the length of the tasting room. On it hang multiple photographs. A flock of pelicans spreads out along the shoreline of Clearlake, trees in bright yellow puffing upwards, Mt. Konocti arching behind them. Grebes, posed in perfect synchronicity, mirror each other in an intricate ritual.
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 grape vines. We step out of the car to look at them. Each vine curls around itself like a twisted fist, shooting off […]
This past weekend Fults Family Vineyards (FFV) announced the winner of their 2019 Wildfire wine Label contest. Twenty artists had submitted work, and for the past two months, customers have voted on their favorites. “It was close,” Kendall Fults said, “Only ten votes separated first, second and third.” Remy McCosker took first place in the […]
There is a persistent rumor floating around Lake County that Fore Family Vineyards is a group of four families who make wine. Let me dissuade you from that idea immediately. Fore is actually the last name of the owners, Jim and Diane Fore, and, if you noticed, is spelled differently than the number. They, along […]
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 […]
Olof Cellars isn’t hard to find. Just head out Highland Springs Road past the airport, and within a couple miles you’ll be there. The vineyards wind over an easing slope that runs down toward Big Valley. Konocti hangs high in the background like a cap over the rapidly ripening grapes. A white fence lines the […]