Just got back from Lake County, California, where Clay and Margarita Shannon played hosts to five of us during a brief visit to their wineries in Lower Clear Lake. Harvest was well underway and crush had also commenced. The area was in the midst of an atypical Indian summer – warmer and longer than most. It appears that 2010 will go down as one of the later harvests on record.
Lake County is located just north of Napa Valley along the Mayacamas Mountains and is home to five designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA): Clear Lake AVA, Red Hills AVA, High Valley AVA, Benmore Valley AVA and Guenoc Valley AVA. These appellations are ideal for wine grapes and for years much of the local juice had been added to Sonoma and Napa Valley wine and used for North Coast AVA blends. Lake County’s reputation for high quality and good value compares favorably with the more famous, expensive and sometimes pretentious Napa Valley to the south. With wine drinkers seeking quality and value for their dollar these days, the region is finally garnering a degree of recognition from the wine press and general interest from the consumer.
This trend is just the tip of the iceberg or, more aptly, the base of the volcano. The area is rife with volcanic sub-soil, and Franciscan shale; leftovers from extinct Round Mountain and dormant Mount Konocti. Higher elevation and the large expanse of Clear Lake also contribute to the diverse micro-climate which includes warm days and cool nights. This effect expresses itself in the fresh, ripe and balanced wines that typify the best of the region.
Clay Shannon owns vineyards in Clear Lake, Red Hills and High Valley. He also dabbles in the production of first-rate lamb.
The principal grape varieties grown locally are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah for reds and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, for whites. There are parcels of Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah, Roussanne, Viognier and even some experimentation with Malbec.
ABCFWS staff on hand included Tampa metro-area Wine Consultants Elise Cordell, Shannon Moody, and Peter Berke plus Gainesville WC Pete Shipley. Together, we spent the weekend touring the vineyards and tasting the wines that comprise the Vigilance Vineyards, Shannon Ridge and Cross Springs brands. Other highlights included hand-picking Sauvignon Blanc, sampling grape must from the crush, and talking shop with winemakers Gregory Graham, Mark Burch and Mike Wood. We even participated in a sheep round-up (more on these activities in future posts).
BTW, two terrific wines sampled during our stay have recently arrived at our stores: Shannon Ridge Ranch Collection Chardonnay and Vigilance Vineyards Cimarron (a red blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Tempranillo). Both these wines are delicious and excellent examples of what this exciting wine region has to offer. Cheers!
Wine Supervisor SW Florida