Lake County, California Wine Growing Regions (AVA’S)

Once again because of the volcanic soil, compliments of the dormant volcano Mount Konocti, Lake County is ideal with the right soil and climate conditions to produce excellent wines.

California produces some of the best wines in the world and Lake County is part of that exciting wine boom the propels California as one of the best producers of wine. Lake County, California has seven recognized appellations, American Viticultural Area (AVA’S) and each with its own unique terroir that produces grapes and wines of compelling quality and character.

View from Terre Vermeille Vineyard in Clearlake Oaks CA

Here in Lake County, California there are 180 growers that cultivate vines in an astounding array of soils, from rocky volcanic highlands to mountain valleys lined with gravelly river courses. Lake County has a total of 9,454 acres of vineyards with the majority that are planted at 1,500 feet and above. These higher elevations enjoy higher ultraviolet light levels, promoting phenolic intensity with balance with some of the youngest soils and some of the purest air quality in California. The UV intensity triggers thicker skins, greater tannins, and intense wines.

So the question is what is an American Viticultural Area (AVA)? It is a designated wine growing region in the United States that is distinguishable by its geography. Lake County has a total of seven AVA’s.

CLEAR LAKE AVA: Vineyard elevations range from 1,300 to 1,500 feet. Higher elevations and Lake County’s pure air allow for greater levels of UV light. The soils in the valleys in the Upper Lake area are dominated by two deep and well-drained alluvial soils, Lupoyoma silt loam and Still loam mixed with coarse underlying layers of sand and gravel. Found on terraces overlooking the valleys, Manzanita loam is a very old, gravelly, red soil. Vineyard elevations range from 1,300 to 1,500 feet. There is a total of 528 acres that make up the Clear Lake AVA. The varietals in the Clear Lake AVA include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.

BEN VALLEY AVA: Vineyard elevations range from 2,400-2,700 feet. The appellation contains mostly alluvial (Manzanita loam) soils with a total of 1,440 acres. While Chardonnay was the grape of choice when the appellation was formed, Benmore Valley is not currently planted with vineyards.

BIG VALLEY DISTRICT AVA: Vineyard elevations range from 1,330 to 1,440 feet in Big Valley AVA. The evolving watershed has eroded into the fertile blocks of clay and loam soils of Big Valley, resulting in swaths of gravel deposits and well-drained soils. There is a total acreage of 3,288 acres (Big Valley and Kelsey Bench). The varietals grown in this region are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viogner, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Merlot.

GUENOC VALLEY AVA: Vineyard elevations range from 700 to 1,500 feet. Guenoc Valley is the only sub-appellation within the region and straddles the county’s southwestern border with Napa Valley. Middletown and Guenoc include both valleys as well as rolling volcanic formations and hills. In Guenoc Valley, Maxwell clay loam is common on valley floors. Near Dry Creek Cutoff south of Middletown proper, mature, deep, well drained and somewhat rocky mountain soils can be found. Jafa primarily forms terraces and fans from varied sources. Guenoc Valley consist of about 504 acres. The varietals grown in this region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir.

HIGH VALLEY AVA: Appropriately named, this area’s high hanging valley ringed with steep volcanic hillsides produces mountain fruit with great color and structure. With elevations rising up to 3,000 feet directly from this hanging valley’s floor at 1,700 feet. Approximately nine miles long and three miles wide, this rare east-west transverse in the Californian coastal range was created by volcanic activity of Round Mountain. The soils found within the High Valley area are derived only from parent material found within the basin. Brick-red volcanic cinders and pumice-like gravel and stones allow for superior drainage. The western edge and middle of High Valley are composed of gravelly loams created from eroded Franciscan shales. The varietals grown in this region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir.

KELSEY BENCH AVA: Volcanic Kelsey Bench and the gravel seams in Big Valley produce intense and balanced Zinfandels and Cabernet Francs. Originally a pyroclastic lava flow, Kelsey Bench is a transition between the volcanic mountains and the alluvial flood plain. It has a largely northeastern exposure. Kelsey Bench vineyards are planted up to 1,600 feet. Kelsey Bench forms an arc of rich, red volcanic soils. There is a total of 3,288 acres (Kelsey Bench and Big Valley). The varietals grown in this region are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viogner, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Merlot.

RED HILLS AVA: The Red Hills are the latest formation of the volcanic and tectonic processes that created many of the famous hillside regions of the North Coast. With vineyards starting at 1,350 feet and reaching up to 2,600 feet above sea level. Volcanic soils produce well-drained vineyards rich in black obsidian, quartz crystals and volcanic gravel content, and strikingly red in color. Three general soil types predominate: Glenview-Bottlerock- Arrowhead, Konocti-Benridge, and Collayomi-Aiken. The varietals grown in this region are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel.

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