Lake County is probably not the first place that springs to mind when we think of California wine. In fact, many Californians aren’t even sure where it is! Overshadowed by its southern neighbor, Napa, Lake County is actually one of Napa’s best-kept secrets: many wineries source those fantastic Cabernet grapes from vineyards in Lake County CA. Shocking but true! Red volcanic soil, chunks of obsidian, and Lake County “diamonds” reflect the unique terroir that yields gorgeous Cabs, Sauvignon Blancs, and more.
What’s also true is that since many ambitious young winemakers are priced out of Napa, they’re turning to Lake County to be able to experiment with a range of heat-loving varieties and innovative winemaking methods. And what does this mean for you, the Winetraveler? Now is the best time to explore Lake County!
How to Get to Lake County
Lake County is north and veers west of Napa county, nestled against Sonoma and Mendocino. It’s home to California’s largest lake, appropriately named Clear Lake, as well as the volcanic Mount Konocti. Because it’s mountainous, it takes a bit of determination to get to! The closest airport is Sacramento, which about two hours away, or San Francisco at about 2 ½ hours and the drive from there is the more beautiful of the two options. You can get updates on current flight deals here.
From San Francisco, there are several ways to get to Lake County: drive up through Marin and Santa Rosa, drive up through the heart of Napa, or drive through Chiles and Pope Valleys. No matter how you get to Lake County, give yourself plenty of time because sight seeing and wine tasting along the way will surely tack on an extra hour or two.
Where to Stay in Lake County CA
Since Lake County is a bit of a drive, make a long weekend out of it and settle in somewhere. Here are some prime options around Clear Lake that are uniquely Lake County.
Peace and Plenty Farm
Owners Melinda and Simon began Peace and Plenty Farm in 2017 to grow award-winning saffron, heirloom walnuts, and garlic using only organic practices. Peace and Plenty’s Airbnb Studio Cottage is the perfect haven after a day of wine tasting or hiking around Lake County. Make use of the kitchenette to prepare light meals from local produce to enjoy with your wine tasting haul. Bonus: you can bring your dog!
Stonehouse Cellars Bed and Barrel
If you really love wine like we do, what could be better than staying at a winery? At Stonehouse Cellars, you can enjoy a fabulous organic breakfast, taste through the property’s wines, stroll around the gorgeous landscape, and get the best sleep of your life all in one spot. Win-win!
Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast
Admit it: you’ve always wanted to stay in a caboose. Here’s your chance! Located on the north end of Lake County in Upper Lake, Featherbed Railroad has nine different cabooses, all thematically decked out in vivid detail – and some even have jacuzzis! Guests can up the proverbial ante by requesting a wine and chocolate welcome.
If traditional is more your style, check out the stately Tallman Hotel instead. Also in Upper Lake, Tallman is a beautifully appointed old west hotel that boasts top-level and unstuffy service. There is a wide range of room choices, and guests can also enjoy common areas like the veranda or garden.
Lake County California Wineries
Southern end Wineries
Beaver Creek Winery
After suffering major vine loss after the 2015 Valley Fire, Beaver Creek owner and winemaker Martin Pohl was determined to thrive once again. His persistence has paid off and he crafts unique biodynamic wines that are a delight to taste. Keep an eye out for live music events as well!
Langtry Estate and Vineyard
Langtry was established in 1888 by British actress and socialite Lillie Langtry, who made red wine only. Despite many changes over the years – Prohibition, anyone? – Langtry continues to thrive and produce stellar wines. And the views alone are worth the visit!
Hawk and Horse Vineyards
Demeter certified, Hawk and Horse adhere to organic and biodynamic viticulture, crafting award-winning Cabernets. Tours and tastings are available by appointment only so be sure to book in advance.
Six Sigma Ranch
In 2000, the Ahlmann family purchased the property for what is now Six Sigma Ranch because they recognized the extraordinary potential of the land and climate. Today, Six Sigma produces world class wines, including Tempranillo that could stand up to the best of Spain. And because Six Sigma really is a working ranch, grab a steak to go with it!
Kelseyville to Lower Lake Wineries
If you’re looking for variety, Steele should be your first stop. Offering everything from Barbera to Zinfandel, winemaker Jed Steele is not one to shy away from tried-and-true. Arrive on Saturdays before tasting room hours to shop the farmer’s market first and pair your wines with your freshly-sourced produce.
Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill
That ol’ heart of yours thrives on red wine and olive oil, so do it a favor by checking out Chacewater. Offering a range of organically produced wines, grab your favorite to enjoy under the sun with some olives and other nibbles.
Fore Family Vineyards
With a tasting room in the heart of quaint Kelseyville, Fore Family should be your pick-me-up after antique shopping. Their Rhone-focused wines provide something for every palate, but the Grenache Blanc is a stand-out on those hot summer days.
Northern Lake County Wineries
Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery
Ok, we admit, we have no idea how Cache Creek produces such a stellar sparkling wine, but their Cuvee Celebration is one of our favorites! Standout Cabernets and Chardonnays make this a must-visit, where you can grab a glass of your favorite and settle in for a ferocious round of Connect Four.
Brassfield Estate Winery
Nestled high up overlooking Clearlake Oaks is the opulent Brassfield Estate, a Mediterranean-inspired palazzo. Winemaker Matt Hughes crafts a broad spectrum of fabulous wines, from Viognier to Malbec. Call ahead for a cheese pairing!
Lake County Wine Studio
Want to taste it all, but don’t want to drive? Lake County Wine Studio has you covered! Carrying over 40 local producers, you can taste through the work of winemakers who don’t yet have their own tasting rooms. This is truly where you can discover why there’s so much buzz around Lake County wines.
Recommended Restaurants in Lake County CA
Saw Shop Bistro
One of the most innovative restaurants in Lake County, Saw Shop Bistro focuses on local, seasonal ingredients. Enjoy a glass of Lake County wines at the bar or tuck into a seasonal salad on the porch. Gorgeous works by local artists adorn the walls, making Saw Shop a multisensory experience.
Fresh & Bangin’ Eatery
With locations in both Lakeport and Lucerne, Fresh & Bangin’ has Lake County covered! Think burgers with a twist: yucca fries, kimchi steak sandwich, seared ahi burger – Fresh & Bangin’ takes the concept of a burger joint to a whole new level.
I don’t know about you, but I love the simplicity of a pizza or a salad done right. Juicy’s does, and then some. One of the best caesar salads I’ve ever had was at Juicy’s, which I got to wash down with a local Albarino on the roof deck. A must for easy family dining.
Blue Wing Saloon
Located in the Tallman Hotel, Blue Wing Saloon offers tasty saloon fare with local ingredients. Hold out for Sunday Suppers, though – for $25, you can enjoy a three-course example of the chef’s talents off the menu. No one ever knows in advance what it will be, but it’s always fantastic.
Plan Your Getaway to Lake County
Convinced? We’ve only managed to scratch the surface of what Lake County offers. Plan wisely, though, and aim to explore in spring or in autumn. Summers can be extremely hot, and winters can be wet. While that’s great for grapes, people tend not to appreciate it as much. Spring just bursts with verdant splendor, while autumn is still very warm with cool, mellow evenings. But whenever you visit, give yourself time to really dig in and see everything you can. As a recent arrival, I can say I am totally sold.