KELSEYVILLE, Calif. — Awareness of Lake County as a source of high-quality wine is clearly on the rise, according to the Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Winegrape Commission, which noted a significant number of 90+ ratings for Lake County wines released in 2016.
“This year may be the ‘tipping point,’” said Terry Dereniuk, Executive Director of the Lake County Winery Association. “We’ve never seen this level of attention, from critics as well as consumers. Today, Lake County wines stand on their own, appearing regularly on retailers’ shelves and restaurant wine lists as both sellers and buyers recognize the quality of these outstanding wines.”
“Winemakers in Napa and Sonoma have been buying fruit from Lake County for many years and blending it into their wines.” said Debra Sommerfield, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, which helps growers in the county promote their products to winegrape buyers and others in the wine industry. “Increasingly, wines made from ultra-premium Lake County grapes are bottled and labeled as such, drawing praise from critics like Robert Parker and favorable comparison to other great wine-growing regions.”
The region also is attracting investment, as growers like Andy Beckstoffer and Clay Shannon and winemakers like Jed Steele look to the future.
Beckstoffer, for example, called his vineyard in the Red Hills AVA of Lake County “the most promising site in the New World of wine.” And he has backed that statement with an innovative project designed to showcase the vineyard’s potential. Working with a limited number of carefully selected winemakers, Beckstoffer is providing fruit and individually managing vines according to each winemaker’s preferences. In exchange, the winemakers have made a three-year commitment to creating the best possible single-vineyard wines from that fruit.
“This project not only demonstrates Andy’s commitment to the region but also represents the kind of innovation that is bringing worldwide attention to Lake County,” Sommerfield said.
According to Steele, who has been crafting high-quality and immensely popular wines in Lake County for more than 30 years going back to his time with Kendall-Jackson, improvements in viticulture and winemaking in the region have resulted in the rise to prominence. “We now have highly professional viticulturists planting large acreages in prime sites with varietals that excel in our soil and climate,” Steele said. “I am reminded of working in Napa Valley in 1968 to 1969, when the excitement was just stirring there. And I sense that same excitement and anticipation here in Lake County.” Steele makes wine under four labels, available at steelewines.com.
Signs of both improving quality and increasing awareness of Lake County wines are the high scores awarded by prestigious critics such as Jim Gordon at Wine Enthusiast.
Gordon, a 30-year veteran of the wine industry, reviews wines from Lake County for the Wine Enthusiast Tasting Panel. He explained the ratings this way: “In Wine Enthusiast reviews, 90-93 scores mean excellent quality and highly recommended. 94-97 points mean superb wines that are great achievements in winemaking, and 98-100 means the pinnacle of quality. But to me, any wine deserving of a 90 or higher score passes a certain invisible threshold of excitement. It’s a wine I enthusiastically want to share, by telling my readers and my friends about it.”
In 2016, Wine Enthusiast awarded 90 points or better to more than 30 wines. Here is a sampling:
- 2000 Chacewater Tawny Port (Lake County): 94 points
- 2011 High Valley Petite Sirah (High Valley, Lake County): 93 points, “Editors’ Choice”
- 2013 Obsidian Ridge Estate Grown Syrah (Red Hills, Lake County): 93 points, “Cellar Selection”
- 2012 Steele Stymie Syrah (Lake County): 93 points, “Cellar Selection”
- 2012 Peter Franus Red (Red Hills, Lake County): 94 points, “Editors’ Choice”
The full list (with links to the reviews) can be seen on the Lake County Winery Association web site.
Parker, who is widely acknowledged to be one of the most influential wine critics in the world, also is paying attention to Lake County and recently reviewed several wines from Obsidian Ridge:
- 2013 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Hills, Lake County): 93 points
- 2014 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (Red Hills, Lake County): 92 points
- 2014 Obsidian Ridge Syrah (Red Hills, Lake County): 92 points
In his review of the 2013 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills, Parker noted “impressive intensity, a dense ruby/purple color, loads of licorice, graphite, mineral and black fruits, a medium to full body and moderate tannin.” He called the 2014 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Hills, “a winner, slightly more open and precocious, but with plenty of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, striking minerality (no doubt from the Obsidian rocks) and a full-bodied, luscious, juicy style with a voluptuous texture.”
According to Clay Shannon, President and CEO of Shannon Ridge Family of Wines, high ratings from well-regarded critics are an affirmation of many years of work and consistent focus on quality. “We are starting to enter a time where our mountain-grown vines are reaching maturity and the quality and character of the wine is emerging,” Shannon said. “90 point wines are easier to sell and they quickly gain national attention in the retail wine market.” Shannon Ridge Family of Wines is the largest producer in Lake County and bottles wine under five labels.
About the Lake County Winery Association
The Lake County Winery Association works to promote the wines of Lake County’s high-elevation region. Membership is open to wineries, winegrape growers, and individuals or businesses interested in promoting the Lake County wine industry. For more information about upcoming events, sponsorship, or membership opportunities, call (707) 357-5237, or visit www.lakecountywineries.org.
About the Lake County Winegrape Commission
Now in its 25th year, the Lake County Winegrape Commission (LCWC) has been instrumental in developing the Lake County region’s unwavering commitment to farming high-quality winegrapes. A state agency with oversight by the California Department of Food & Agriculture, LCWC represents approximately 180 winegrape growers farming more than 9,500 acres of vineyards in Lake County and works on behalf of those growers in the areas of marketing, research, and education. For more information, call (707) 279-2633, or visit www.lakecountywinegrape.org.
–Lake County Winery Association
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