The SOMM Journal

June / July 2017

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Page 93 of 124

{ }  93 Lake County's cool-climate terroir is largely centered around the moderating influ- ence of Clear Lake, California's largest and oldest body of water (68 square miles), sitting at an altitude of 1,329 feet; most of the region's vineyards are planted between 1,500 and 3,000 feet. Since the 1980s Lake County has practically owned California Sauvignon Blanc as a signature grape; but the big news is the powerful yet balanced (high acids/moderate alcohols/concentrated phenols) red wines now being grown primarily from red Bordeaux varieties—perhaps most significantly, in Red Hills (rolling hills of red volcanic soils at the foot of Mount Konocti, at elevations up to 3,000 feet) and High Valley (with its combina - tion of volcanic slopes, alluvial fans and benches at 1,600 to 3,000 feet). When planning our Lake County Somm Camp itinerary, we met with Andy Beckstoffer, the legendary grower who was Founding Director and past President of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association as well as the Rutherford Dust Society. There is a reason why Beckstoffer has made a huge commitment (1,300 planted acres) to Lake County's Red Hills. Says Beckstoffer, "This is the place for Cabernet Sauvignon . . . the volcanic soils, moun - tain temperatures, the sheer quality of sunlight, or what the French call luminosity—all the ingredients are here for unsurpassed quality, which we are already seeing in the wines." Gregory Graham established his own Gregory Graham Wines estate in 2000 follow - ing a Napa Valley experience, primarily as Rombauer Vineyard's head winemaker. Says Graham, "I planted in the Red Hills because there is no site in California as unique, espe- cially for Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Grenache and Syrah. "One key aspect is the oblique sunlight we get on our north-facing slopes, facing Clear Lake. At the elevation of most vineyards planted here (2,000 to 3,000 feet), fog is not a factor. What is a factor is the clarity of our air—for several years now, Lake County's air has been rated the cleanest in the nation. So what we get are warm days without an excessive amount of heat, yet our sunlight is intense and constant. "For every 1,000 feet here, you get three percent more ultraviolet light, which is critical for berry formation and breaking down of pyrazines. For Bordeaux and Rhône grapes especially, higher UV helps trigger thicker grape skins, and increased tannins and phenols, leading to more intensely flavored wines. That intensity is what you consistently find in our wines." Clay Shannon of Shannon Ridge Vineyards with an 1880s Mission "mother vine" found on his estate. Gregory Graham, owner-grower- winemaker of Gregory Graham Wines. Peter Molnar shows off the obsidian rocks inundating his Obsidian Ridge Vineyards.

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