“Lake County” for me will always mean Blue Lakes and the best wine. As a child, I camped every summer with my extended family at the Blue Lakes Campground. My two younger sisters, our cousins and I became junior rangers every summer; climbing over the rough terrain, learning the native plants and animals. There were six of us kids altogether.
I remember how stocked up we were with juice boxes for the kids and ouzo and Chardonnay for our parents. The adults would drink Chardonnay before dancing around the campfire. There was nothing scary about those alcohol-induced, hedonic camping trips. They simply “were”.
We grew up over those warm summers laughing and learning to appreciate the beauty of the area. Cotton candy clouds were slowly passing overhead and freshwater lakes in which to wade and swim. The air seemed cleaner and fresher; the beauty of Lake County seduced us year after year.
The wine industry dominates Lake County today with over 35 wineries and over 9,000 acres of vineyards planted and that acreage increases every year.
Lake County has deep roots in making some of the best wine, punctuated by the long, dry era of Prohibition. Temperance was made into law with the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 until legality was thrown back into the domain of the state by the Twenty-First Amendment on December 5th, 1933. Although the entire country felt the sting of Prohibition, California’s wine industry was absolutely eviscerated. Over 96% of the California wineries that flourished pre-prohibition were closed with only a few hanging on to rebloom after 1933.
One group specifically, the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, managed to escape the scourge of Prohibition by making sacramental wine during those long, dry thirteen years. One of their Order, Brother Timothy, set up a wine lab in the Mayacamas Mountains which cross through Lake County.
In 1932 the Christian Brothers eventually became one of the leading brands in California’s wine industry. In fact, it was jugs of Christian Brothers’ wine that I remember gracing my parents’ picnic tables then. At least that’s how I remember it.
Today the Lake County AVA stretches out from the waterskiing hotspot of Clear Lake at its heart and includes the volcanic soils of the Red Hills and High Valley AVAs to sandstone on the hillsides and alluvial soils of the streams and valleys. The warm summer temperatures of my childhood memory drop off dramatically as the season turns because of the higher altitude of the area. The unique air quality, clean, fresh water and the soils of the area culminate in fantastically high-quality grapes coming out of Lake County.
The six of us are all grown now and living in different states with kids of our own. But when we get together and share a Craveyon CloudWines' bottle from Lake County we can taste the sunshine!