AVAs & Soil
Lake County AVAsLake County is part of the North Coast American Viticulture Area (AVA), which also encompasses Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. Within Lake County, five other AVAs exist – Clear Lake AVA, Benmore Valley AVA, Guenoc AVA, and the recently approved Red Hills AVA and High Valley AVA.
Clear Lake AVA encompasses Clear Lake, which acts as a temperature moderator and is uniformly cooler than other Northern California appellations. Sauvignon Blancs especially thrive in this AVA. The Benmore Valley AVA was named for Benjamin Moore, a local legend who stole cattle from prosperous Mendocino ranchers during the 1800s and drove them to the Mexican border. A mountaintop valley, Benmore tends to be cooler than surrounding regions with no coastal influence or fog.
In 1981, the Guenoc Valley AVA was approved, becoming the first single-proprietor AVA in the United States. The Petite Sirah that comes from the region has won more gold medals and best-of-show awards than any other Petite Sirah in the world.
Unlike the more rugged topography found throughout the county, Red Hills is an area of gently slopping, rolling terrain. Sitting at the foot of Mt. Konocti, its soils are volcanic in origin, producing well-drained earth that is rich in black obsidian and gravel content the color of its namesake.
The High Valley AVA is home to newer, renowed wineries like Brassfield Estate Winery, Shannon Ridge, and High Valley Vineyard. The AVA is made up of both volcanic soils on its hillsides and alluvial soils on its valley floor, thereby making it perfect for a range of wines – from Syrah and Pinot Noir to Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
It’s the SoilLake County has taken third place in winegrape sales for the third year in a row in 2007, just behind neighboring Napa and Sonoma counties. Nearly 100 labels make use of Lake County’s distinct winegrapes and over 200 wines are labeled with Lake County AVAs. The two dominant winegrape varieties of Lake County are Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, which flourish in the high elevations, clear air, and continental climate.
A range of Sauvignon Blancs are produced with luscious berries on Lake County’s more fertile and flatter soils and are harvested at different stages of ripeness, making for either crisp, herbaceous, and mineral-style wines or peach, melon, and tropical fruit-flavored wines. As a result, Lake County has quickly become a leader in the North Coast for both fruit and wine made from this variety.
It’s the red soils, with coarse fragments of black obsidian rock and other rocks and minerals that make Cabernet Sauvignon thrive here. The fruit is very concentrated in flavor, and yields are modest. Knowledgeable drinkers refer to Lake County’s Cabernet Sauvignon as “classic,” and the varietal only improves with age. Other red wines that do well in Lake County include Syrah, Barbera, Grenache, Zinfandel, and Tempranillo.