The Savvy Lake

‘It’s so crisp and cool and clear, I just love it’, said pensioner Diane Tibbs while her husband Brad nodded in agreement as they both tipped back their glasses to finish them off.

‘Easily half of what I buy, especially after April, is Sauvignon Blanc’, said Marika Klaver, a 30-year-old corporate interior designer, who went on to explain that the balance of her wine consumption is split between Pinot Grigio and Merlot, a red that she adds to the mix as autumn rolls around.

On 5 May, these consumers, and more than 300 others, made their way to Lake County, California, to attend the 2018 International Sauvignon Blanc Experience. Even so, most drinkers of California wine may not have heard of Lake County, nor the Sauvignon Blanc conference that the region hosts in an attempt to remedy that fact.

Despite its level of obscurity, Lake County remains one of California’s most interesting and valuable wine regions. Located just over the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges, 40 miles (65 km) to the north of the Napa Valley, the Lake County wine region currently hosts more than 10,000 acres of vineyards and almost 40 wineries.

If the disparity between the number of planted acres and number of wineries strikes you as unusual, then you may not be aware of a fact about which Lake County remains profoundly ambivalent. No one knows the exact amounts (or if they do, they aren’t telling) but somewhere between 10% and 15% of Lake County fruit ends up in wines that are labelled with Napa Valley appellations and another estimated 20% to 25% goes into high-end, appellation-designated wines from elsewhere around the state. Under current California law, up to 15% of the wine in any bottle can come from outside the appellation printed on the label.

On the one hand, growing high-quality grapes deemed good enough to supplement $150 bottles of Napa Cabernet would represent a feather in most wine regions’ caps. On the other hand, Lake County quite reasonably seeks to legitimise itself as a growing region in its own right – a terroir worthy of recognition and patronage.

Hence the weekend trade conference and consumer tasting of Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that Lake County hopes to make synonymous with the region.

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This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of Vigilance Vineyards by Nathan DeHart, courtesy of the Lake County Winegrape Commission.