The first Lake County vineyards were planted in the 1870s. By 1900 Lake County wines were winning awards in international competition, and the region was earning a reputation for producing some of the world's greatest wines. However, in 1920 Prohibition forced an end to Lake County wine production. Most of the vineyards were eventually ripped out and planted with other crops such as pears and walnuts.
Lake County's re-emergence in the wine industry began in the 1960s when a few growers discovered the area's wine grape potential and began planting new vineyards. From less than 100 acres in 1965, vineyard acreage has grown to over 8,800 acres today and is expected to double in the next few years.
Lake County's ideal climate and altitude support sustainable winegrape production, giving growers here a leg up. Not only is winegrape quality excellent, few pests can tolerate the climate. Winegrapes are grown from lake level (1370 feet) up to about 2600 feet. This elevation provides cooler winter conditions and later growing season start than in other California grape-growing regions. Summer growing conditions are suitably warm ripen the varieties Lake County is famous for, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Napa vineyards attribute their quality to the volcanic soils laid down by Mt. St.Helena. Lake County shares this unique soil profile with its famous neighbor, as the two regions owe their soil base to the same volcanic activity. The mineral content, durability and high porosity of igneous rock combine to create an ideal environment for the growing of wine grapes, and the alluvial topsoil is just thin enough, yet packed with nutrients, to produce intensely flavored fruit.
Most of the growers in Lake County count their acres in dozens, not hundreds. These are farmers who know their vineyards block by block, and most have been farming this area for generations. The relative youth of the vineyard business here also means Lake County is planted almost entirely to premium varietals, by experienced professionals, taking every advantage of the very latest in technology and research.
Today the county has over 25 wineries. Several out-of-county wineries, including Beringer, Kendall-Jackson, Louis Martini and Sutter Home, own Lake County vineyards. Unique geographical factors such as the microclimates, soil types, high elevations, and Clear Lake all contribute to the growing of outstanding grapes.
(Descriptions courtesy of Wildhurst Vineyards and Lake County Winery Association)