It’s late October in Lake County, California. The leaves have turned and the grapes have been harvested, what remains are brown rows of vines crossing against a backdrop of bright yellow trees and in the air the unmistakable smell of unpicked grapes fermenting on vines. I’m at my dad’s farm in Kelseyville, a small town in Lake County located six miles southeast of the city of Lakeport. His farm is on the outskirts of town and is surrounded by green rugged peaks and the scraggly outline of pear trees.
I meet him in the morning outside the barn. He pours coffee in ceramic mugs and together we sit in silence while birds chirp and leaves rustle, our dreaming periodically interrupted by the roar of pickups rumbling down the small road that traces the farm’s edge. After coffee, we get to work. In the back garden, we plant seasonal vegetables and flowers—kale, cabbage, onions, garlic and zinnias. It’s warmer than usual for this time of year. The dew of morning clouds has given way to a lingering summer sun that cracks the soil with spider veins. By noon we’re hungry and head to town for lunch. We grab a sandwich at Studebakers and walk across the street to Kelsey Creek Brewing, a modest nano-brewery with peanut shells covering the floor and bar stools occupied by bearded men drinking pints of one of the several rotating beers on tap. All of them wear baseball caps and seem to know each other, cracking jokes between swigs. I order a glass of their Jade Monkey IPA infused with a taste of orange, so light it danced, crisp and carbonated.
Today the bartender’s son sits at a table playing a game of cards with his grandma. They look up from their game as a man and a woman—red faced and laughing—make a loud entrance through the front door. They fumble. Their legs spindling around bar stools. There are four tasting rooms within a one block radius of Main Street and many more just beyond town. This couple has been to one. At least one.
Although it’s still too far for most Bay Area weekend travelers, Lake County is experiencing a kind of renaissance. Since my dad moved to Kelseyville in 2005 countless wineries, restaurants and hotels have opened throughout the county. Napa Valley wineries, attracted to the quality of grapes grown here, have begun buying up Lake County vineyards and blending the grapes with their wines. The wineries that remain are highly acclaimed, void of pretension and packed with charm. Lake County is different from the busy streets of Napa Valley, it’s slower. It’s locals who fill the wineries and admire the sweeping views of Clear Lake and its rocky hillsides, not tourists. It’s a wine country few people know about.
The grandson and grandma resume their card game and my dad and I leave Kelsey’s for the farm. I spend the rest of the afternoon outside reading magazines and toying with a farm kitten that jumps into my lap then jumps out and hides in the barn only to return moments later to jump in my lap again. As the sun starts to set, the sky matches the leaves, rusty orange and muted. My dad turns on the grill, plays Paco de Lucía on the stereo and opens a bottle of wine. Our friends from down the road join us around a picnic table outside the barn for dinner—grilled delicata squash, skewered with zucchini and roasted poblano peppers, served with a strip steak and our favorite Lake County wine, Gregory Graham Zinfandel. The orange sky turns red then navy then black and slowly it fills with stars.
Top Six Activities in Lake County
Grab a cold beer and a bowl of peanuts at this nano-brewery, located in historic, downtown Kelseyville.
2. Blue Lake
Pack your bathing suit and some snacks and take a drive down to Blue Lake. Spend your afternoon out on the water. Rent a boat or go for a swim.
Mount Konocti is beautiful no matter when you visit. Hike to the top for some beautiful 360 views of Lake County.
4. Blue Wing
The Blue Wing offers delicious California fare in a historic downtown saloon. Enjoy a drink at the bar or sit outside and listen to some live music.
Lake County hosts an exceptional list of great wineries with beautiful grounds and amazing views to boot!
Bike through majestic hillsides, by wineries or around the lake.
By Alejadra Castelero. Edited by Megan Coss.