A local favorite for good eats and drinks in Kelseyville, the Saw Shop Gallery Bistro should be top of the list of places to try for even a short visit here. The menu covers steak and seafood as well as a taco plate and an exciting list of appetizers. What’s most noteworthy is how delicious and authentic their Thai chicken was for a restaurant not even specializing in this cuisine.
But, whenever you go, make sure it is not a Tuesday night. That’s the night they offer all appetizers for $5 and the place gets packed with all of Lake County’s most frugal cheapskates. It’s known as “Tightwad Tuesday.” If you support small businesses, splurge a little on their steak Diane during one of their other nights instead.
Filet Mignon in Peppercorn Sauce over Truffle Mashed Potatoes
The room is full of local art for sale, which is why it is called a gallery. So, you can showcase your art and get instant feedback! They are only closed on Sunday and Monday nights, which seems like they could be lucrative nights to be open but I guess you gotta take a few nights off some day. Either that or hire more staff.
They also make great use of local ingredients, whenever possible. Lake County quickly became the pear capital of the world thanks to prohibition because ancient vines had to be replanted with something. Pear and walnut orchards thrived here and plenty remain, giving way to delicious dishes like the one below.
Cider Glazed Pork Loin Chop with Apple Cider Gastrique Topped with Local Pears and Gorgonzola over Aged Cheddar Polenta
In most small wine towns, I’ve heard discounts can be available to locals. It’s not really a matter of who you know. It’s more a matter of saying you live down the street or in the county and someone giving you a little benefit. Although I’m living in these towns for a month at a time, I haven’t tried working the locals only discount yet.
Here, in Lake County, I’ve experienced quite the opposite. And I have to admit, this makes more sense. What does a small wine region need more than anything? More visitors! The Steele tasting room in Lake County offered me a 10% discount today and waived my tasting fee just because I was visiting this cool area. Their wines and prices are good so it sure makes it easier to buy a bottle here.
Got several recommendations to try this winery while in Lake County from good people and you know there was good reason. Six Sigma, as you may be able to tell from the name, is a small hand-crafted winery with a relentless pursuit of lusciously delicious wines. But wine is just the end. They start with farm to table dinners using grass fed beef, lamb, and pastured pork from their bountiful ranch.
This place does not have a mediocre wine. They were all well-crafted and beautiful representations of each varietal. But, in case you don’t believe me, here are a few tasting notes:
Sauvignon Blanc – 90% stainless steel and 10% new French oak gives it nice crisp acidity with a blanket of soft vanilla and no harsh grapefruit but a long supple blanket of citrus. Then, the Bootleg Sauvignon Blanc, available for wine club members only, sat on the skins longer (like a red wine) craves food with its big body and unique creamy texture. Good things come from creative techniques that respect the old world practices!
Pinot Noir – it is rare that you find a nutty Pinot Noir but so refreshing. Red cherry and plum blend with mocha and a little bit of earth for this really full Pinot that sips great on its own but pears with just about anything.
Cabernet Sauvignon – bright acidity of cherry berry and chocolate with a hint of floral fragrance makes it smooth and elegant. This is a full yet well rounded wine.
Tempranillo – not my usual favorite varietal but had to write about this one for its wonderful blue fruit of plum and blueberry with a beautifully round body of smoke and tiny sniff of cigar box. This is your go-to wine for smoky salty cheese or slow roasted rich red meats.
Surprisingly, they are all pretty mellow in alcohol. They taste like they have lots of alcohol but they are a bit lower than most others in California, although not low in alcohol by international practices.
If you like drinking delicious wines at birthday parties, taste the wines at Wildhurst in downtown Kelseyville. Not only do they have delightful wines, they will give you 50% off a case of wine during the month of your birthday! So, even if your birthday is not quickly approaching, stop in, taste, figure out what you want to get, and they will email you a coupon when your special month arrives. Boom. Party. Done.
Do not try this at home. You simply have to come and taste for yourself. But if you cannot travel here, I have given my time to drink, I mean taste, their succulent wines for your reading enjoyment and edification:
- Sauvignon Blanc – this grape thrives here because of the heat. Napa’s Sauvignon Blancs suffer in too much fog but Lake County’s climate brings this grape to its potential. No harsh overbearing grapefruit but balanced crisp acidity is the best way to describe these white wonders. It finishes dry with sweet banana, kiwi, and a tiny lemongrass that will bring you back to your favorite Thai dish.
- Riesling – this is a German varietal that is often paired with spicy Thai and Indian cuisines for its sweetness. If you like spicy food, always have a chilled Riesling on hand. Theirs is thick and rich like a dessert wine.
- Merlot – they have two Merlots that cover the continuum of styles. One is light and crisp with bright fruit and a very light body. The next from Plunkett Vineyard has bigger ripe fruit like big dark cherry with chewy tannins and a bit of smoke. This one has body!
- Petite Sirah – supple Petite Sirahs are hard to find but Lake County’s have that rich warm blueberry chocolate flavor with soft loving tannins. This is their best seller.
I’ll post a photo but just warning you it will just make your mouth water and wish you were near Middletown. Where’s Middletown? Pretty much smack dab in the middle of California. It is also the home of the Boar’s Breath restaurant where you can get a delightful black cherry martini and the most succulently tender and juicy pork chop covered in a rich sauce with buttermilk mashed potatoes. Their Petaluma Farms organic half chicken in a roasted chicken stock jus with buttermilk mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables was succulently tender, juicy, and full of flavor. I think it is also one of the healthier things I’ve had in the last few weeks 😉
They also have a wonderful selection of wines by the glass, showing off the delicious wine styles of the county’s volcanic soil and high elevation vines. It is only open for dinner but just a short leisurely drive from Kelseyville so travel on one of the beautiful days here, where above the fog layer, it sunny almost every day. There are plenty of wineries nearby for you to make an afternoon of it.
The only thing that separates the elegantly designed Ceago tasting room from Clear Lake is a gorgeous lavender farm.
It allows them to produce many different products for you to benefit from this natural cure all. Kitchen burns and mosquito bites go away using natural lavender oil. Spritz it all over you for a delightful smelling insect repellent. Rub on hands and feet for arthritis as a natural anti-inflammatory.
Google even more cures for this miracle on your own time. But, while you’re testing all these products be sure to try the wines. The Chardonnay had a wonderful balance of lemon curd and creme brulee without overwhelming body. It was a nice crisp lakeside sipper. Their Merlot was my favorite for its regal cherry fruit and elegant tannins with balanced acids.
Keeping Lake County clean, Shannon Ridge fertilizes their vineyards naturally with sheep. The sheep eat the grass and weeds, provide wool products, and keep the families fed naturally with healthy grass fed lamb. If you’ve never had grass-fed lamb, make sure you buy from a small producer like Shannon Ridge and it wouldn’t hurt to try the wines while you’re there. Their motto says it better than I can:
It seems like laughing lambs are better than happy cows. Their Chardonnay has a delightful body of acidity and big vanilla. Lake County is known for Cabernet Sauvignon because the soil and weather provides wholesome earthiness and crispness to shine through without tight acidity. Theirs are very balanced. Also, their Petite Sirah had a hint of blueberry and soft tannins, which is unusual for this grape and might also be a product of the terroir.
Just north of Napa, Calistoga, and all the other Bay Area tourist trappings is Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in California and one of the oldest lakes on the North American continent (about 480,000 years old). At its lowest elevation, it is still 1400 feet, bringing the vineyards in its four surrounding AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) closer to the sun and away from the fog. On your way, you pass beautiful sun kissed mountains and plentiful orchards that lead to a placid smooth lake. The people that populate this land are equally rural and authentic, easy to approach and proud to show newcomers around or help with suggestions.
Because they are not the corporate junkies you find in other more populated wine regions that charge too much for wine, you may have trouble finding and navigating Lake County wineries. Believe it or not, some wineries here are so old school they don’t have websites. Others have websites that do not even contain their tasting room location or hours. And some don’t have tasting rooms at all yet. But those might have the small hand-crafted wines you seek if you can look beyond the many unpaved roads, uninspired buildings, and
Before checking your smarty pants phone for where to taste, check out my upcoming blog postings. It will not only cover these idiosyncrasies, it will include tasting notes so you can save time and skip right to the wines that fit your palate or style. Besides, your phone may not even get coverage here, forcing you to embrace the old school pathfinder in you and be free of electronic devices for a while.
Livermore Valley shows off the potential of its climate and soil in the wines at Murrieta’s Well. From the long list of grapes in The Whip white blend, you could assume they can grow just about anything in Livermore: Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Orange Muscat, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Semmilon, and Muscat Canelli. It’s got the feel of thick rich honey with the body of apricot or peach nectar and a long finish. Its screw cap and versatile palate make it great for anything you’d want on a picnic.
The Spur blends an assortment of rich red grapes: Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. You can taste the best of each grape in a glass of this wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon brings black cherry while the Petite Sirah brings juicy blueberry. A hint of cocoa and spice from the Malbec is a good match for the earthy flavors of all of them. Balanced tannins and acidity come from astute winemaking and blending while the long finish is what you remember.
If you make it to the winery, ask about their Chorizo Spice Rub from onsite chef Matt Greco. It is just as spicy as it is smoky, making possibilities endless.
The newest tasting room in Healdsburg’s Plaza can’t miss for many reasons. One is the winemaker got his experience at Crushpad making all different varietals from different regions into the stylistic preferences of his many clients. Another is their story of three friends breaking out on their own to start a small company, using their vastly different yet compatible skills.
Then, there’s the wine. BANSHEE rose reaches that slender balance between tangy and slightly tart with rich body and texture. Their Sauvignon Blanc leads with mellow melon characteristics and follows with just enough acidity for a crisp finish. Their unique Chardonnay has a crisp lemon and pepper quality with tropical fruit that make you wish you had a salami and cheese picnic. Their first Pinot Noir has a warm luscious bounty of dark cherry berry with spice and smoky vanilla while the second marine layer has more bright fruit and dry earth. So, they have one for each Pinot palate. Finally the Cabernet Sauvignon has lots of dark cherry with a little pepper and nice crisp acidity. All are well crafted wines.