About Lake County
Clear Lake: Spectacular, Ancient, Unique
Indigenous Inhabitants of Lake County
Early Visitors, Pioneers, and Settlers
Tourism Erupts across Lake County
Before Wine...there was Water
The First Viticulturists
The Wine Industry Flourishes
“Pure” Politics, and the Wine Industry Stalls
Lake County Turns to Other Fruit (and Nuts)
The 1960's and the Wine Industry Swings Back
Food Lovers’ Lake County
Lake Sport & Spectacle
Lake’s Natural World
Lake County Quilt Trail
Clear Lake: Spectacular, Ancient, Unique
Clear Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in California. It was formed as the result of powerful tectonic movements linked to the northern passage of the Mendocino Triple Junction, the leading edge of the San Andreas fault system. Five million years ago, forces that were uplifting the Coastal Ranges exerted great associated compression, heat, and faulting. In some areas, like Clear Lake, the land was stretched or pulled apart creating big depressions known as “Structural Basins.” Clear Lake is formed by such tectonic activity. The Clear Lake Volcanic Field, which is still active today, began about 2 million years ago.
Geologists are still debating exactly how old the lake is and how it developed, but the initial depression is likely to have formed about 2 million years ago. The Cache Formation lake bed deposits just to the east of the present lake position are up to 3 million years old. Recent core samples (some 600 feet deep) paint a much clearer picture of the last half a million years (right). That this ancient lake has survived for so long−without filling in as most freshwater lakes do−is the result of a unique geological factor. It is thought that the underlying rocks of the lake bed are down-faulting at the same rate that new sediment enters the lake, thus creating a balance which prevents Clear Lake from silting up. The lake is warm enough to swim in from April to October, and is an extremely popular destination for fishermen.
A eutrophic lake Clear Lake is shallow and warm (average depth 26 feet). It is eutrophic, which means it is very nutrient rich. This is good in that it supports a healthy food chain from algae to fish to birds. The lake is home to many big catfish and largemouth bass and is said to be the bass fishing capital of the west. The abundance of fish is also an important factor in attracting the impressive 319 species of birds that are found by birdwatchers in the county. Between 1900 and 1920, in the Rodman Slough and Robinson Lake areas to the northwest, levees were constructed and the land was drained to create new farmland. Today, 50% of the water that flows into the lake still comes through Rodman Slough. In recent years it has been recognized that these former wetlands perform an important filtering function to the nutrient-rich waters that enter the lake. Plans are now in place through efforts of the Lake County Land Trust and others to restore these important wetland filters. Clear Lake is one of the most studied geological basins in California.
Geological History of Clear Lake
The lake is very unusual in that its drainage channel has changed direction a number of times in its development. When the lake was first formed it drained into the Sacramento River basin to the east via Cache Creek. Then as the result of volcanic activity, it changed to drain into the Russian River basin to the northwest via Cold Creek. A giant landslide in the Blue Lakes area about 10,000 years ago, however, caused it to re-flow back towards the Sacramento River again via Cache Creek.
The lake today This shape of the lake has probably remained much the same for the last 10,000 years. Scotts, Middle, Adobe and Kelsey are the main creeks that feed it. circa 460,000 years ago The lake extends south of Big Valley Fault, causing lake sediments to be deposited on the Kelsey Bench. Drains S.E. towards the Sacramento River. circa 420,000 years ago Clear Lake Volcanic Field is active, and the lake shrinks to a narrow channel confined by northern fault lines. Drains N.W. to the Russian River.
circa 125,000 years ago Again, the lake extends south but is contained by the Big Valley Fault, probably as the result of Kelsey Bench becoming uplifted by tectonic activity.
circa 17,500 years ago Faults develop in the Oaks & Highlands arms. Lack of marine fossils suggest the area was more of a marsh; it still drains N.W. to the Russian River.
circa 10,000 years ago A large landslide to the north (near Blue Lakes) blocks the N.W. exit of the lake. The lake rises and cuts a new channel to the S.W. again and also turns the Oaks and Highlands arms into part of the lake as it is today.
Indigenous Inhabitants of Lake County
Native Americans have lived in Lake County for about 12,000 years and may well have witnessed the last major volcanic eruptions here 10,000 years ago. An abundance of water and a plentiful wild food supply attracted many different tribes here. Before European colonization it was thought to be one of the most dense concentrations of Native Americans in California. Hundreds of Pomo, Wappo, Lake Miwok, Wintun/Patwin and Yuki peoples all co-existed here, living in dozens of small independent tribal groups. Many different languages were used and at least 3 of the 7 distinctly different Pomo languages were likely spoken. Mostly hunter-gatherers rather than farmers, the tribal people moved about freely using well-established trails to Napa, the Pacific coast, and beyond for trade. Without metal, they fashioned tools from local obsidian rock (volcanic glass) to hunt elk, deer, and other wildlife. Lake and woodland vegetation supplied ample raw materials to construct fishing boats, multi-family dwellings, communal sweat lodges, and dance houses
Master Basketmakers The Pomo had no pottery; instead they employed a great array of local plants to create baskets for all manner of purposes. Baskets were used for cooking, storage, transport, trapping, fishing, and many ceremonial purposes. Apart from the fishing baskets, it was mostly the women who produced these baskets. Baskets were not only functional, they were beautifully decorated. Over time the Pomo honed this art into what is now one of the most respected basket-making traditions in the world.
Where to see more The Historic Courthouse Museum has an excellent collection of Pomo baskets, as well as many other interesting artifacts. Historic Courthouse Museum 225 North Main Street, Lakeport, CA 95453 (707) 263-4555. Open Wed–Sat 10 am–4 pm, Sunday noon–4 pm Grace Hudson Museum 431 South Main Street, Ukiah, CA 95482 (707) 467-2836. Open Wed-Sat 10 am–4:30 pm Sunday Noon–4:30 pm
Early Visitors, Pioneers, and Settlers
In the 1830s, other people began to discover the bounties of Lake County. Russian pelt and fur trapping teams arrived from the north, and a Spanish land grant given to Salvador Vallejo in 1844 brought herds of longhorn cattle from the south. In 1847 the first white settlers, Kelsey and Stone, arrived, brutally abused the Natives and paid the ultimate price. The 1849 Gold Rush and the establishment of California in 1850 brought a great wave of new settlers eager to stake a claim in the west. In 1854 the first of a succession of covered wagon trains arrived. Many crossed the plains from Missouri in arduous journeys in covered wagons; others arrived by steamship from the east coast. Some came to mine, but most of the permanent settlers were farmers who raised livestock, grain, and other vegetable crops.
Early settlers soon began putting in fruit orchards and grapevines, recognizing the climate was ideally suited, having a cold dormant season and long hot summers. The settlements grew rapidly. In 1860 there were about 1,000 people registered; by 1870 about 2,500; and by 1880 over 6,000. Wood was needed to supply this rapid expansion and sawmills flourished in the Cobb, Elk, and Pine mountain areas. There were no redwoods, but local pines, firs, and cedar trees provided good lumber. Local geology brought the mining of cinnabar (a mixture of sulphur and quicksilver), the mercury extracted being essential in gold ore processing. It was water, however, from the same ground that really put Lake County on the map, as the discovery of many hot and cold mineral springs with “medicinal” effects drew visitors from all over the world
Tourism Erupts across Lake County
Lake County exploded as a tourist destination from the 1870s onward as word spread of its natural beauty and the beneficial effects of the waters. The large lake, encircled by mountains, reminded many immigrants of Europe. The reliable Mediterranean climate and pure air drew many from the San Francisco Bay Area to fish, sail, and hike in the wide open spaces. The unique local geology produced abundant natural springs that were hot, cold, and carbonated, with a wide array of differing mineral properties. World-class luxurious resorts, hotels, spas, and “sanitariums” appeared with remarkable speed all over the county, with claims to alleviate or cure a catalogue of medical ailments. “If you build it, they will come”–and they did, in the thousands.
Before Wine...there was Water
Lake County was established officially in 1861. It was formed with the lake as its natural center by adjusting the boundaries of Napa, Mendocino, and Colusa counties. It had previously been known as the “Clear Lake Township of Napa County− Hot Springs Section.” This was certainly a prophetic label as many thousands poured in from all over the world to take the waters for their health. One of the fastest growing resorts was Bartlett Springs, which turned from a few cabins in 1872 into a small town with its own shops, hotels, and cabins that could accommodate 5,000 people. The water’s popularity led to a demand for it to be bottled and shipped. Bartlett Water traveled as far as Alaska, Honolulu, and Central America. Bartlett Springs Soda Water was also served on Cunard liners.
The First Viticulturists
Vineyards quickly took root as the local soils and climate offered perfect growing conditions. From the mid-1850s early settlers planted small garden vineyards for their own use. Mission grapes from Spanish days were soon replaced with European varietals favored by the new immigrants. When miners, then tourists, began flocking into the county in the late 1870s, the wine industry was well underway. A lively mix of viticulturists had poured in. Some made wine to sell in bulk to the local market, others hauled grapes to the nearby towns of Calistoga and Ukiah. Lyons Creek vineyard was one of the first 50-acre vineyards with a winery to be put in near Scotts Valley around 1872.
German neighbor Louis Berger planted a 36-acre vineyard and hauled wine over the Hopland grade, receiving 8 cents a gallon for his labors. Louis Kugelman moved to Lake County in 1877 for his health, settled near Lower Lake and set out 40 acres of vines. His thriving business sold wine for 10-15 cents a gallon, both in- and-out-of-county. He expanded and built a 20,000-gallon capacity winery. The California Agricultural Improvement Association, directed by R. K. Nichols, a local real estate agent, planted a 300-acre vineyard near Cache Creek. Previously called the Clear Lake Water Company, they built a dam across the creek (the only outlet of Clear Lake) which sparked a famous act of insurrection. In 1868, after successive heavy rains, the water level had risen to such an extent that many farmers were under water and disease was rampant, causing great distress. All legal appeals to get the level lowered failed. When the local judge incited the citizens to seek “a higher court,” they took heed, and with elaborate military-style orchestration, 300 local men duly destroyed the dam!
Lake County’s Wine Pioneers: 1859-1889
Wine making began in the late 1850s and, like the county, grew rapidly. In 1882 there were over 600 acres under vine, and 1,754 by 1892 (5 times more than Mendocino). Some early winemakers supplied bulk wines to the local miners, while others had much grander ambitions and built large capacity stone wineries and vaults with a view to bottling and then exporting wine. Muscat, Riesling, Zinfandel, and Burgundy grape varieties were most planted. The “Golden Chasselas,” often reported (below), was a popular varietal from Switzerland, Germany, and France–perhaps another reason why Lake County was then called “ The Switzerland of America”!
Serranus C. Hastings (1881) Bought a large ranch in Upper Lake and arranged for a 115-acre vineyard of Zinfandel, Franken Riesling, and Muscat grapes to be planted. By 1886 he had a 150, 000-gallon winery & distillery. In 1889 he reported 120 tons of Zinfandel grapes.
Charles Hammond (1885) Harvard graduate, studied at the famous Inglenook Winery. Bought 600 acres and put in a 30-acre vineyard. Reported 50 tons of Zinfandel in 1889. Known to have also planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Sémillion. In1893 he exhibited wine at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Louis P. Berger (1879) Planted a 35-acre vineyard of mixed varieties. He hauled wine over the Hopland grade.
Lyons Creek Vyd. (1872) John Lyons, a winemaker, built a winery and planted 50 acres of mixed varieties.
T. H. Buckingham (1875) Wealthy S.F. shoe magnate. Planted a 70-acre vineyard including “Zinfandel, Muscatel, Burger, Golden Chasselas; also some Sauvignon Vert, Le Noir, Emperor, and Flaming Tokay,” noted varieties in 1882.
Louis Kugelman (1877) Moved up from Napa to improve his asthma. He planted 40 acres of vineyards: Zinfandel, Burger, and Golden Chasselas grapes. In 1890 he built a 20,000-gallon capacity winery. The wine was sold locally and also transported in bulk in 100-gallon puncheons to nearby quicksilver mines.
George Wrey (1883) Wealthy British industrialist.Bought 5,000 acres south of Lower Lake, employed fellow Brit Maurice Keatinge to plant a 100- acre vineyard of Golden Chasselas, Gutedel, Riesling, and Zinfandel. Nicolai built him a 20,000-gallon capacity winery. In 1891 Keatinge reported 40,000 gallons of wine being produced from the 100 acres.
David Lobree (1882) Planted a 35-acre vineyard of Burgundy and Chasselas grapes on Dead Horse Flat in Middletown. W. C. Mottier (1875) A noted local winemaker near Harbin in Middletown, dubbed “professor” due to successful experiments with native Californian vines.
Ralph K. Nichols (1882) Took over the ill-fated Clear Lake Water Company site, near Cache Creek. Poetically re-named as the “The California Agriculture and Improvement Association,” a 300-acre vineyard of Burger, Zinfandel, and Chasselas grapes was planted on site from 1882-84. In 1889 they built a wooden winery and blasted enormous wine vaults into the rocky hillsides. The large tunnels were designed to hold 500,000 gallons of wine! The tunnels sadly collapsed. In 1889 they harvested 600 tons of grapes.
Stephen Nicolai (1884) A Prussian master stone-mason (who built the Wrey winery and Lower Lake jail). Planted 10 acres west of Voight and built a stone winery for himself.
Tobias Bilsbach (1884) Fellow Prussian planted a vineyard next to Nicolai and hired him to build a winery. 8 acres of Zinfandel and Chasselas recorded to T.“Billesback” in 1889.
David Voight (1872) One of the earliest wine-makers. Respected grower who planted a 16-acre vineyard on Morgan Valley Road, near Copsey Creek. Claimed 6 tons of fruit per acre. Planted Zinfandel and Riesling.
Thomas Allen (1859) The first official record of wine making in the county. U.S. Agriculture Census in 1860 noted he had 1,200 gallons of wine in storage.
Lillie Langtry (1888) Famous English actress who bought a 4,190-acre ranch in Guenoc Valley. She hired Henri Descelles, a winemaker from Bordeaux, to take charge of the 20-acre vineyard and winery already on the property. In 1890 50 tons of Burgundy grapes were harvested. She declared the resulting Claret, with her face upon the label, to be the “finest in America.”
The Wine Industry Flourishes
In 1883, wealthy Englishman George Wrey bought 5,000 acres just south of Lower Lake. Wrey had coal mines in Scotland, orange groves in Florida, and a sheep ranch in Australia. Attracted by the area’s success with fruit growing, he employed winemaker Maurice Keatinge to plant orchards and a 100-acre vineyard. He planted Zinfandel, Gutedel, Golden Chasselas, and Riesling varietals, amongst others. Wrey also got local stonemason Stephen Nicolai to build a 20,000-gallon capacity winery (shown above). The impressive winery was cleverly located on the hillside so that the wine could be moved by gravity, the crush
facilities being on the top and the fermenting being on the floor below. Wrey had further plans to excavate tunnels for storage and install a bottling plant. A severe drought in Australia and bad frosts in Florida halted these grander plans. The winery supplied bulk wine to Greystone Winery in St. Helena for many years before his son closed it during Prohibition in the 1920s
The first wine boom
The young Lake County wine industry reached its peak in 1892. In that year there were 1,794 acres of vineyards, 48 wine grape growers and 8 wineries officially recorded in the county.
What were they drinking then? Zinfandel, a full-bodied, deep red grape (from Croatia) had become the most popular wine grape in California by the end of the 19th century. Lake County viticulturists readily embraced it, too. In 1891 Zinfandel was easily the most popular variety on record. Another local favorite was “Golden Chasselas” (of Swiss origin). The white wines they would have enjoyed were likely of a Swiss/German, light/fruity wine style. Charles Wetmore, the “Commissioner at Large” for the State Viticultural Commission, when visiting the county in 1880 declared, “Lake County is certainly destined to become famed for its Clarets and light white wines. It is, I believe, the true ‘Rhine’ district of California.” He gives us an interesting contemporary perspective. Sweet dessert wines were also very popular in the late nineteenth century, which accounts for the large amounts of Muscat and Tokay planted by these early winemakers.
Lillie Langtry was a sparkling addition to Lake County’s wine scene (page 78). Guenoc had been purchased by her, sight unseen. It was found for her by General Barnes, an attorney who had also previously secured American citizenship for her in 1887. Upon her first visit, in 1888, she gratefully asked Barnes to “Join me in Paradise.” She came with quite the entourage: a French gardener and a British Butler, “Beverley,” who by all accounts attracted more local fascination than she did, becoming popular for his tall tales of high society. She was delighted to find existing vineyards and a stone winery, built 10 years earlier by previous owner Thomas Musick. Of course, she needed a French winemaker, so Henri Descelles, a “capable man from Bordeaux,” was hired to make wine. In 1889 she produced 50 tons of “Burgundy” grapes from 20 acres of vines. Not one to miss a marketing opportunity (having already loaned her face to sell soaps and cigarettes), a wine label with her portrait upon it was designed. She declared it “the best Claret in America.” Lillie and romantic beau Fred Gebhard had big plans to breed race horses on their adjoining properties, but those plans sadly fell apart–as did their relationship. In 1906 she sold Guenoc, 12 days before the San Francisco earthquake.
“Pure” Politics, and the Wine Industry Stalls
Pictured above is the Main Street in Upper Lake in the early 1880s. Quite remarkably, it still looks like this, a typical example of main streets right across the county then. Imagine: you get off the stage (or park your horse), you stroll into the Blue Wing Saloon for a pick- me-up (it’s been a long ride), you then happily retire, right next door, to the comforts of the Tallman Inn. Sound good? Apparently not to the Anti-Saloon League or the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.), who decided it just would not do at all. So with Bible in one hand and ax in the other, they set about changing things. The “Progressive Era” of U.S. politics had begun! What an amazing cultural and political melting pot the whole fifty year period between 1870-1920 must have been, particularly out in California’s “wild west,” where they were all just getting acquainted. Lake County had its own political squabbles: where the county seat should be, for example, which took no fewer than 3 votes, plus a recount, to decide. In 1870, Lakeport (not Lower Lake) was chosen. In 1867, in the midst of all this, the Courthouse mysteriously burnt down. The new “pure” political activists cited that there were more saloons than churches or schools in main streets across America, and believed these were destroying family life.
Campaigning became intense from the late 19th Century onwards. Many prominent speakers came to Lake County, which by then had four very active Women’s Temperance “Unions.” At first individual counties could decide for themselves whether to be “Wet” and allow liquor licenses or “Dry” and not. In 1874 the County held a “Local Option Election” on the issue. In Kelseyville and Middletown the vote was close. The townsfolk of Kelseyville had a habit of buying up saloons to close them−so not surprising. Lower Lake, however, was tied, which was surprising as the wine industry was really taking off near there. In the run up to Prohibition there were ever more propositions on the ballot. The Prop 2 referred to on the car (shown below) is from the 1914 or 1916 state elections. Vineyard owners went from concerned to devastated when in 1919 the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture of alcohol was adopted, the only one to have a delayed start date. Prohibition officially began in 1920 and lasted until its repeal in 1933. The Lake County wine industry was forced to go dormant
Lake County Turns to Other Fruit (and Nuts)
The wine industry now nipped in the bud, Lake County revisited fruits that were popular in the pioneer days. Apples, pears, all kinds of stone fruits, almonds, and walnuts had all grown very well back then. In 1885 California exhibited fruit from across the state at The World’s Fair in New Orleans. Lake County attracted world-wide attention with a 2 lb. apple and a Bartlett pear weighing over 1 lb. The soon-to-be internationally famous pear industry had begun. In 1885 Thomas Porteus planted four acres of Bartletts in Big Valley. In the Scotts Valley and Kelseyville areas others also planted pear orchards. The biggest challenge for early pear growers was how to get pears to market with mountain roads and no railway (often promised but never seen). In 1887 J. B. Laughlin and L. P. Clendenin built the first pear drying yard. Other early pioneer families, such as the Annettes and the Hendersons, with hundreds of acres followed suit. By 1922 Lake County was the dried pear capital of the world.
Pears were halved, cored, and then dried for several days in the Lake County sunshine. Nearly all local pears were processed this way until 1923. Europe had been the main market for these dried pears, but suddenly that market fell away due to European troubles. Pear growers turned to growing fruit for both the fresh and domestic canned pear markets. Fresh shipments were initially sent to local and western markets and later the advent of refrigerated cars permitted shipments to eastern markets from railheads in Mendocino County. In the 1940s and 1950s Lake County had more than 10 packing houses, and pears were also sent to more than 20 California canners for processing. Today, while the industry is smaller in acreage, Lake County continues to be recognized as the premium California district for fresh pears. In 1909 John B. Hendricks, with the help of Oscar Poe, began a 50-acre walnut orchard of “Frankettes” and “Poes” in Scotts Valley, the largest in the county then. These men, along with Roy Summers and Walter Reichert, helped expand the walnut acreage county-wide and they grafted most of the large walnut trees still seen across the county. Post-Prohibition, the County’s vineyards were largely taken out and replaced by pears and walnuts. It is ironic that today the exact reverse is true.
The 1960s and the Wine Industry Swings Back
It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that California began to take off as a wine region. Robert Mondavi built his Napa winery in 1965. The famous Stephen Spurrier (some say spur-i-ous) “judgment of Paris” blind taste-off, which pronounced California wines more “form-i-dable” than French ones, happened in 1976. That publicity helped put California (back) on the map of world-class wine producers. Given this backdrop, one must admire the vision and pluck of the early Lake County growers who put in vineyards in the mid-1960s. When Walt and Madelene Lyon moved home to the Big Valley ranch where Madelene was born, a friend suggested the land might be perfect for wine grapes. In 1966 they decided to try it. Their first Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings were given to them by Nathan Fay, who owned vineyards right next to Stag’s Leap (the Lyons made their own cuttings). A little later Walt and fellow local grower Reid Dorn needed to sell their grapes. They heard Napa wineries were short of grapes, so they headed out to the Napa Valley together. The first place they tried was Robert Mondavi, who snapped up their grapes, with a handshake, on the spot! The supply of Lake’s grapes to Napa had begun. The other early wine grape adventurer was Myron Holdenried. He had inherited good pioneering genes; his ancestors were amongst the earliest European settlers in 1856. His great-grandfather, Lewis Henderson,was one of the first pear farmers in the county. Myron also started his vineyards in 1966, planting 30 acres of Zinfandel on a former cattle pasture. He and his wife Marilyn grew that to 150 acres of many different varietals. They started the successful Wildhurst winery, in 1991. By 1970 the acreage of Lake County vineyards was up to 520 acres–and wine grapes were back. The Lower Lake Winery, built in 1977 by the Stuermer family, was the county’s first post-Prohibition winery. They produced Cabernet and White Cabernet from local grapes.
In 1979 a 26-member growers’ association called Lake County Cellars built Konocti Winery in Kelseyville. The group hired André Tchelistcheff to consult and made some very well- received wines before disbanding. In 1963 the Magoon family acquired Guenoc Ranch, with a passion to realize Lillie Langtry’s 1890s dream of producing world-class wine from the property. In the early 1970s they planted a dozen classic French varietals and, in 1982, built a beautiful 100,000-case winery. In 1979 Jess Jackson converted an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport into vineyards. For several years he sold his grapes to wineries such as Fetzer. When a shift in the market in 1981 left Jackson’s grapes unsold, he did the “only thing we could do–make wine.” In 1982 Kendall-Jackson released their first ”Chateau du Lac” label. Jackson recruited Jed Steele to be his winemaker. Jed’s passion for wine making was a key part of their phenomenal growth. Jed left that empire at the “million cases a year mark” to start up his own highly successful label, Steele Wines, and later the aptly named Shooting Star.
The Fetzer Vineyards, based in Mendocino County, were the first to place a Lake County appellation on bottles in the early 1970s. In 1982 they made 95,000 cases of wine from Lake grapes and 90% of it carried the appellation. Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Muscat Canelli, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc were the main varietals they purchased. Ron Bartolucci was director of vineyard operations for Fetzer, (and helped them start organic farming), so he knew Lake County well before starting his own vineyards here in 1973. He now has four ranches, and both Ron and his daughter Deanna organically farm their vineyards. In 1984 there were 3,000 acres of vineyards in the county; today there are over 9,400. The number of new wineries has increased 12-fold; there are currently over 40 and increasing. Lake County is deciding to hang onto its prized fruit–to create its own exceptional quality wines. These owners’ and winemakers’ stories are told here.
Lady of the Lake Sparkling Pear Wine
The Lake County pear industry was once world-renowned and, at its height, spawned some truly charming fruit-crate graphics. When the industry declined in the 1980s, a bright idea was hatched by the Mt. Konocti families (see Owners), to turn local pears into a ‘Pear Champagne.’ This successful venture was matched with the equally clever idea to adopt the original 1926 pear crate label (above) as the the Lady of the Lake label – a fitting homage to the industry. Lady of the Lake is made in exactly the same way as classic French Champagne. The freshly-picked pears are sent to be juiced at a crush facility in
Sebastapol, a nearby apple growing region, with stronger presses than those used for grapes. The juice then returns to Mt. Konocti for the traditional ‘méthode champenoise’ process of riddling and disgorgement. Santé!
Owners / history The producers of this Lake County speciality are the Gayaldo, Carpenter and Oldham Families. These 3 Lake County pear farming families were all part of the original Mt. Konocti Growers Cooperative. In the 1980s, when pear farming was in its heyday, the cooperative had over 68 members.
Elevation/ ava Pears in Lake County are usually farmed on the valley floor at about 1,400 feet. Many pear orchards are located in the Big Valley wine AVA.
Wine making process The freshly picked pears are sent to be juiced at a crush facility in Sebastapol, a traditional apple growing region with stronger presses. The juice is returned to Mt. Konocti for the traditional ‘méthode champenoise’ processing of riddling and disgorgement.
Varietals grown This product is a blend of popular Lake County pear varietals – Bartlet (80%) and Bosc (20%) – a special cuvée that has been perfected over the years.
Wines produced 2,000 cases currently, more planned.
Food Lovers’ Lake County
The deeply agricultural nature of this county is evident everywhere. Each season has something spectacular from the pear orchards in blossom in spring, to the glorious fall vine colors, or the walnut trees turning bright yellow just before winter. The high quality of local organic fruit, nuts, vegetables, goat cheese, honey, and grass-fed animals is a magnet for foodies. Lake County Wine Studio offers regular food & wine pairing events, as do many wineries at special wine events. Wonderful farm-to-table dinners and harvest parties are hosted by many wineries in the Summer & Fall.
Dancing Poly Farm & Cooking School
Bess Giannakakis and Blaise Bahara have transformed a lovely old Big Valley barn, nestled among vineyards and olive trees, into a commercially licensed kitchen. This exciting venue is going to be “the hub of many wonderful gastronomic events.” They also run an organic farm next to the school, where they grow a wealth of fruits, vegetables and herbs. This supplies fresh produce for the school, and for the two Farmers’ Markets they attend nearby. Cooking classes are held from spring into late fall, and will cover topics such as: Knife Skills, Mediterranean Style, Canning, Homemade Pasta & 3 Sauces, Low & Slow: the Art of True BBQ, and French Sauces. Bess has been a professional chef and restaurateur for over 30 years, and has a passion to share her knowledge and love of good food. Dancing Poly also provides a catering service for private events. For more details visit dancingpoly.com
For the growing numbers of people who want to shop locally, and eat fresh seasonal produce, the county has some excellent and well-supported Farmers’ Markets. They are held in the summer months at a number of locations: Library Park, Lakeport (Tues 10:30 am–2 pm May-Sept), and Steele Winery, Kelseyville (Sat 8:30–noon May-Oct). There are plans for markets to open in other Lake County locations. For more information see: www.lakecountyfarmersfinest.org and lakecountybewell.org
Artisanal Olive Oil
Lake County’s Mediterranean climate, long-proven ideal for pears, walnuts and winegrapes, has a new contender for the limelight–olives. The county’s artisanal olive producers are winning gold medals from major competitions (with world-wide entries). The range of olive varieties grown in the county almost equals that of winegrapes, with an array of exotic Italian, Greek and Spanish names. Emilio De la Cruz, the Master Miller at Chacewater Mill, can easily take his share of the glory, as he expertly mills many of the county’s winning oils. The Chacewater Winery is a great place to sample his many creations such as the Meyer Lemon Olive Oil.
Many of Lake County’s first settlers bred livestock, and the ranching tradition is alive and well. The large expanses of open lands lend themselves to the growing demand for chemical-free, grass-fed meats. Six Sigma Winery & Ranch supplies grass-fed beef (left) and lamb as well as pastured pork. Many of the animals graze amongst the vines. Shannon Ranch also has grass-fed lamb. As well as the many farm stands and Farmers’ Markets there are also some organizations who supply boxes of organic seasonal fruits and vegetables to your door or at drop-off points throughout the county.
Local Farms selling seasonal produce:
Dancing Poly Farm 2550 Soda Bay Road,
Lakeport, CA 707-413-0054
Frontier Farm Co. 18525 S. State Hwy. 29
Middletown, CA 707-355-1001
Hanson Ranch 3360 Merritt Road,
Leonardis Organics 1010 Argonaut Road,
Lakeport, CA 707-483-4004
Love Farms 1545 Scotts Valley Road,
Lakeport, CA 707-227-8647
McKay’s Ranch 3125 Scotts Valley Road,
Lakeport, CA 707-263-7613
Renker Farms 2297 Argonaut Road,
Lakeport, CA 707-279-4409
Seely’s Farm Stand (Limited hours, call first)
Upper Lake, CA 707-275-0525
Lake Sport & Spectacle
For many in Lake County a good day out often involves spending time at the lake. With 100 miles of shoreline, and numerous docks and launching spots to choose from, every kind of water sport can easily be enjoyed. Throughout the year, starting with the opening of bass tournament season in January, there are many events that draw a big crowd. Not all events involve boats: there is an annual amphibious vehicle rally, where cars take to the lake, and a Sea Plane “Splash-In,” where planes do the same
Clear Lake is truly a world-class destination for fishermen. People from all over the US, and the world, are drawn to the sheer size and quantity of fish in the lake. There are at least 40-50 different catch-and-release tournaments each year. The Clear Lake Bass Team Tournament, organized by the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, brings over 100 fishing teams into the county to compete. No wonder–an average weight of 5 lbs. per fish is needed to win here– compared to 2 lbs. on most other lakes! Winners of the 28th event, Kelly and Kyle Maughs (right), caught over 65 lbs. of bass in 2 days. Crappie and Catfish are also excellent to fish. The Clearlake Oaks/Glenhaven Catfish Derby attracts well over 1,000 participants each year.
Wood & Glory
The Northern California Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society will host their 20th “Wood & Glory” event on Clear Lake this year. It is indeed a glorious event as 50-60 of these classic wooden boats–more floating works of art–elegantly glide to numerous fun events held over a 4- day sojourn in the county. The boats come from all over the West Coast to compete and parade. The public can also vote for a “People’s Choice” award. A final dinner at Boatique Winery is a very fitting last lap.
Sprint Boat Grand Prix
35 years ago, Clear Lake was “speed boat heaven,” say organizers Rolf Kriken and Jack Long who have spear-headed the recent revival of this event, in close collaboration with city and county officials. The first 2-day event, in June 2017, saw a crowd of over 1,000 people come to watch these boats take off from Library Park (right). The 14 different events are sorted by class. The vintage racing class offers an exciting look at sprint boat history. Some of the modern boats can reach speeds of over 150 miles an hour–the lake’s long course really lets the boats show what they can do!
Lake’s Natural World
Lake County is a haven for outdoor pursuits, as there are 600,000 acres of public lands and well over a 100 miles of hiking trails to explore in the county, state, and national parks and forests. There is a network of trails and community pathways for hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and paddlers of all abilities. Mountain biking and horseback riding are
also popular local activities. Mendocino National Forest and South Cow Mountain offer authorized off-roading possibilities.Many of the state parks such as Clearlake State Park have camping facilities. There are also many private campgrounds for star-gazing and sleeping under the stars.
Lake County Quilt Trail
A truly delightful feature of local wine touring is the Lake County Quilt Trail, the first in California. 100 of these beautiful, brightly colored quilt squares adorn old barns and other notable landmarks across the county. Marilyn Holdenried, who organizes the county’s annual Pear Festival, saw the quilt trail idea on a visit to Tennessee and thought it would be perfect for Lake County. She was so right–the idea has been warmly embraced by this small farming community. The volunteer team who make them (right) have difficulty keeping up with demand! Not only a joy to see, this soulful folk art tradition is a wonderful expression of local pride and spirit.
The Book " Lake County Wine Guide" by Gaye Allen published by Meadowlark Publishing
Playful otters show up around lake
Lake County has an abundance of wild animals and they are commonly seen throughout the county. There have been a number of mountain lion and bobcat sightings in recent weeks and even a rare sighting of a white deer. A number of lakeside residents are also reporting seeing a lot of otters on their docks. There are even a pair of otters residing in the vicinity of Library Park in Lakeport.
Otters have been in the lake for thousands of years. According to wildlife biologists, the otters in Clear Lake are river otters and probably migrated to Clear Lake by way of Cache Creek. The creek empties into the Yolo Bypass, which holds a large population of otters. Otters are very territorial and as ! the population in an area grows, a few otters are forced to leave and establish new territory. Otters can now be found in Clear Lake and Indian Valley Reservoir as well as at Upper Blue Lake and Lake Pillsbury.
Otters are the largest member of the Mustelidae family, which includes mink, skunks, weasels and badgers. They live about 15 years in the wild. An adult otter weighs up to 25 pounds and can be as much as 4 feet long. The head is small and round, the eyes and ears are also small, and they have webbed feet. Their body is perfect for swimming. The mother takes complete responsibility for raising the young. The adult male is called a boar, the female a sow, and the young are called pups.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BARBARA BRIDGES
Otters spend most of their life either in or around water. Their dense fur protects them from cold water and when they dive their heart rate slows to less than 20 beats per minute, which allows them to conserve oxygen and stay submerged for up to eight minutes. They are incredibly fast swimmers and have little trouble catching fish. At Clear Lake one of their primary foods is the crawdad.
The docks in the Lakeport area are often loaded with crawdad shells. What happens is that the otters dive and bring up crawdads and then climb up on a dock to eat them.
At one time trappers just about decimated the otter population because of their luxurious fur, but they have been making a comeback in ! recent years.
Otters are playful critters and are enormously curious. Fishermen often report seeing otters swimming around their boats. A few years ago a bass fisherman said an otter climbed into his boat and went to sleep on the rear platform. The otter stayed there for about 15 minutes before waking up and diving over the side.
Clear Lake is home to another animal that closely resembles the otter and is often mistaken for one. That animal is the mink.
The mink has the same features as the otter but is much smaller. It’s often found al! ong the rocky shores at Buckingham and in Soda Bay. There is e! ven a mink living in the rocks at Library Park in Lakeport.
A mink is one of the fiercest animals in the wild pound per pound. It preys on ducks and small animals such as rabbits and mice. They are cannibals and if agitated a mother has been known to eat her young. In the days when trapping mink was popu-lar, a mink would eat another mink that was caught in a trap.
At one time the mink was prized for its fur. There are even commercial mink ranches where they are raised solely for their pelts.
I trapped mink as a youngster growing up in Northern Minnesota. In those days a prime mink pelt would bring up to $40, which was a princely sum.
I bought my school clothes by trapping mink, muskrat and beaver.
Along ! with the many species of birds, the otter and mink are two other examples of the diversity of wildlife found at Clear Lake.
Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee,
Quail in plentiful supply in county
A ready source of water is critical for quail to survive. They will gather around a spring or creek and spend a good part of the day there. When there is a drought, as we have had the past five years, the quail population decreases significantly. Like all wildlife, quail have a short life expectancy. Less than 25 percent of the quail hatched will live a year. Disease, lack of food and predation by hawks, eagles and other predators takes a tremendous toll of the birds.
The Mendocino National Forest is a prime area for both California and mountain quail. The Lake Pillsbury area holds mostly California quail but there are a few coveys of mountain quail scattered through the area. The prime locations for the mountain quail are at the higher elevations such as Hull and Snow mountains. Parts of the Mendocino National Forest are still
closed because of the recent wildfires. Hunters can go the Mendocino National Forest website for the latest updates on which areas are closed and which are open.
Quail also can be found at Indian Valley Reservoir and in the Cache Creek Wildlife area.
The hunting season runs through Jan. 27 and the daily limit is 10 with a possession limit of 30. In addition to a hunting license you must also have an upland game stamp. This will be the last year that lead shot can be used on quail. Starting next year only non-lead shot will be permitted.
Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee, 9/26/18
Clear Lake has more fish per acre than any other lake in California. The good news is the sports fish population, including bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish, continues to increase.
What this means is that the lake is extremely healthy. A good example of the lake’s health are the results of the new-gen bass tournament held Saturday. The winning team of Mike Rothstein and Adam Martin weighed in 29.54 pounds for five fish. Rothstein said they caught more than 40 bass during the one day tournament, many of them in the 4-pound class. Just about every team weighed in a five-fish limit and most of the fishermen reported catching 25-50 fish.
Clear Lake originally was home to 14 species of native fish, nine of which are now extinct. Some of the species of non-game fish that were abundant a few years ago are now in sharp decline. For example, the once-abundant Sacramento black fish and Clear Lake hitch have experienced dramatic declines compared to historic levels.
Most of the game fish in the lake now are nonnative. These fish include largemouth bass, white, channel and brown bullhead catfish, green sunfish, bluegill and black and white crappie. During the past 30 years these fish have also undergone a change. For example, in 1991 more than two third's of the anglers at Clear Lake had a catch that consisted primarily of largemouth bass while bluegill made up 15 percent of the catch. By 1994 those percentages were 85 percent bass and 2 percent bluegill. Today most of the fish being caught are largemouth bass
followed by crappie.
Creel surveys conducted in 1969 showed that crappie dominated the catch with 39.9 percent followed by bluegill (22.8 percent) and catfish (13.1 percent). Bass only made up .5 percent of
the catch. In 1994 crappie made for less than 1 percent of the catch.
What all this means is that Clear Lake has undergone some dramatic changes during the last 50 years.
In 1994-95 the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) did creel surveys and it was estimated that Clear Lake hosted 26,864 fishermen per year or 73.6 anglers per day. These fishermen spent an average of $65 per day on their sport. Since then the number of fishermen and their average spending has gone up sharply.
The DFW management plan also showed how professional bass tournaments have dominated the scene in recent years. On a typical year the DFW s about 40 event tournaments per year and more than 100 bass club permits.
The management plan also addressed the impact bass tournaments have on recreational fishing. According to the biologists, in California the mortality rate of tournament caught bass is 2 percent during the tournament, with a delayed mortality approximately 15 percent. Delayed mortality is when the bass die approximately two days after being released.
While there has been no study of tournament mortality on bass in Clear Lake, it’s probably close to the state average. The plan states tournaments have little or no impact on the sport fishery, the reason being that 600 or so bass caught during a typical tournament is just a tiny fraction of the number of bass in the lake.
Another subject addressed in the plan is whether holding all the tournaments in one location — be it Lakeport or Clearlake — will stockpile fish in these areas and cause an absence of fish in other areas. The plan says there is no evidence that releasing tournament- caught fish in one area has any impact on the remainder of the lake.
What was interesting was the high percentage of fishermen who called themselves tournament anglers. According to the report, 77 percent of fishermen who visit the lake are tournament anglers. That still holds true today. Many of the tournament anglers arrive here three or four days prior to the tournament and pre-fish to locate the bass.
The bottom line is that Clear Lake is healthy and continues to be one of the top fisheries in the nation.
-Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee, 7/3/19https://www.record-bee.com/
Pelicans - Magnificent to Behold
One of the treasures of Clear Lake is its abundant bird life. There are literally hundreds of different species of birds occupying the lake. One of the more noticeable and popular is the American White Pelican. During the summer and fall months dozens of white pelicans can be seen cruising the lake and looking for baitfish.
Years ago only a few of these great birds would annually visit Clear Lake, but in in the past 10 years the population of white pelicans has skyrocketed because of the explosion of threadfin shad and other baitfish in the lake.
White pelicans are large birds and can weigh up to 20 pounds. They have a 9 1/2-foot wingspan. In spite of their huge size they sit high on the water because their bones are full of air and they have large air sacs in their body. Because of this, they cannot dive underwater. Their primary food is fish and crustaceans. An adult pelican can consume up to 5 pounds of fish per day and live to be 25 years.
Pelicans have a yellowish pouch connected to the bottom of their bill that stretches up to six inches. Their bodies are solid white with black wing tips. During the mating season the male develops a large growth on the upper part of his beak. The bill is also bright orange during the mating season. Their feet are orange and are webbed. Their legs are extremely short. A pelican has a hard time walking on land.
Unlike other species of pelicans, which dive for their food from great heights, the white pelican scoops small fish up into its pouch while swimming. The pelican dips its beak, which allows the water to drain out of the pouch. The pouch can hold up to three gallons of water. It then tips its bill upward and swallows the fish.
How they actually catch their fish is what makes the birds so fascinating. A flock of a dozen or more pelicans surround a school of baitfish and flap their wings on the surface of the water, driving the fish into the shallow water where the birds scoop up the fish. You could see this take place just about every morning during a recent stretch at Library Park in Lakeport.
The flight of the pelican is pure choreography in motion. The bird’s large wing surface area allows it to make a few flaps and then glide for
several hundred yards. When in a flock they usually fly in a single file or a v-shaped format. Their flight is often described as follow the leader because if the lead bird makes a dip all the other birds make the same dip.
White pelicans don’t nest at Clear Lake and it’s rare to see a chick on the lake. They normally nest in the northern states. The female lays two eggs and the nesting period ranges from 63-70 days. When the young are hatched they are naked and helpless and are unable to walk. Normally only one
of the chicks survives because the strongest of the chicks will harass or kill the weaker one.
Pelicans can be seen throughout the lake but two of the better areas are the sandbar just outside of Clear Lake State Park and the sandbar at the mouth of Adobe Creek. Pelicans also occasionally visit Indian Valley Reservoir and Lake Pillsbury.
Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee,
Spring Wild Turkey Season has Arrived
Lake County is loaded with big birds as season opens Saturday
The spring wild turkey hunting season gets underway Saturday throughout California. Whereas deer hunting and waterfowl hunting have been in a steady decline for a number of years, turkey hunting continues to grow in popularity. One reason is availability of the big birds. Wild turkeys are now found in all but a few counties across the state. The population in Lake County has grown so fast that they are becoming a nuisance in many areas The season runs through May 5 with a two-week extended season for archers and junior hunters. Hunting hours are one half hour before sunrise until 5 p.m. The bag limit is one bearded turkey per day and a total of three for the season. This year, non-lead shot will be required for turkey hunting. Shotguns, archery and pellet guns that are .177 caliber or larger can be used. Leaded pellets in pellet guns are legal because they are not classified as firearms.
Lake and Mendocino counties are considered the hub of wild turkey hunting in the state. Wild turkeys can be seen in just about every corner of both counties. In fact, they are commonly seen within the city limits of Lakeport and Clearlake. Despite what many people believe, wild turkeys have only been in the county for approximately 40 years.
They are a fascinating bird. Some scientists claim wild turkeys aren’t native to California, but fossil remains of wild turkeys dating back more than 15,000 years have been found. However, they disappeared from the state thousands of years ago. The first wild turkeys were introduced into the state back in 1857 although they didn’t become established until
the 1970s. Lake County didn’t have any wild turkeys until the early 1980s. The spring wild turkey hunting season opens Saturday throughout California. Lake County is loaded with the wild birds. The two species of wild turkeys in California are the Rio Grande and the Merriam. Both exist in the county. The Rio Grande is the most common bird and is found at the lower elevations.The birds seen along the roads in the county are Rio Grandes. The Merriam is a mountain bird and the only ones in the county are found on Hull Mountain near Lake Pillsbury. Wild turkeys belong to the Galliformes class of fowl and include grouse, pheasants and quail. Weighing up to 25 pounds, the turkey is the largest game bird in North America. Wild male turkeys are called gobblers or toms. A juvenile male is called a jake.
The adult female is called a hen and an immature female is called a jenny.
The male can be identified by his bright red head, beard and spurs although a few hens also have boast beards. They are polygamous, meaning the tom will breed with any willing hen and does not assist in raising the young.
The breeding season starts in early March and runs through April and sometimes into May. The adult tom breeds with as many hens as he can entice. He attracts the hensby gobbling and strutting. Each flock normally contain eight to 10 hens, two or three jakes and at least one adult tom. The toms will fight during the breeding season and have been known to kill other toms by spurring them. They have even been known to attack humans during the breeding season.
With rare exceptions, a tom has what is called a beard that protrudes from its breast. The beard is actually a set of stiff feathers and grows continually throughout the bird’s life.
Article by Terry Knight, courtesy of Lake County Record-Bee, 3/27/19