Cookbook author Mindy Toomay's blog about eating for health, cooking with spirit, and celebrating life in northern California. Here she dishes up food rants and raves, recipes, and plenty of kitchen wisdom.

By your own efforts, waken yourself, watch yourself, and live joyfully.
-- The Dhammapada

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?
-- Peter Mayle


Loving Lake County

Clear Lake, in northern California, is big, beautiful, and ancient. It's the largest lake in California (not counting Tahoe, which straddles the state line between CA and Nevada) and some experts believe it's the oldest lake in North America. Needless to say, it's a very important watershed ecosystem and a magnet for millions upon millions of birds.

The soil around the lake is volcanic and rocky, with lots of red dirt, and the big valleys are extraordinarily fertile. Pears have been Lake County's claim to fame in recent decades, but it once was, and is becoming again, a booming vineyard region. Since it's situated just north of Napa County and just east of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, this isn't surprising.

One of the new pioneers of Lake County wine is Jim Fetzer. The Fetzer wine you buy these days isn't made by the Fetzer family -- they sold off the brand several years ago. Reportedly, each of the children of the clan walked away with tens of millions of dollars. Jim, the youngest and most visionary, ventured east from the family's homestead in Hopland, bought a few hundred acres of land on the northeast shoreline between the villages of Nice and Lucerne, and began to manifest his dream. To his great credit, he used "green" building methods and mostly recycled materials to create a stunning hacienda-style facility that puts a fabulous new face on Lake County wine.

Today you can visit the Ceago Vinegarden bio-dynamic demonstration farm and organic vineyards and take home some really great California wines. (Bio-dynamic farming goes several steps beyond organic, taking into account the phases of the moon and some pretty interesting spiritual aspects. To learn more about it, visit the ceago website.) If you arrive by boat, you can moor at the pier that juts far out into the lake. Soon you'll be able to stay overnight, get a spa treatment, and eat at a restaurant that is sure to have a local, seasonal, and organic emphasis.

On a recent visit, we bought organic cheese and crackers at the on-site deli (still in its infancy) and carried it out to the beautiful veranda, along with a bottle of the 2005 Sauvignon Blance. Lake County is famous for its SB grapes and this wine has beautiful floral and fruity notes, but a crisp and dry finish. Perfect for a sunny afternoon as we sat listening to the piped-in Afro-Latin music and gazing at the spring-green mountains and the gentle waves on the lake.

The super-spouse and I came away inspired, as we always do after being in the presence of such incredible natural and human-made beauty. We were knocked out by Jim Fetzer's vision and dedication to promoting sustainable living.

Planning a trip to Napa or Sonoma or Mendocino sometime soon? Be sure to include a visit to Lake County in your plans. Ceago is 2.5 hours north of San Francisco (about 30 minutes east of Ukiah on Hwy 20). If you make a weekend of it, you can include a few other Lake County wineries in your travels. Tulip Hill is just across the road from Ceago, and on the other side of the lake, in downtown Kelseyville, the Wildhurst tasting room is well worth a visit. They consistently produce award-winning wines. Steele Wines is also situated in Kelseyville, and if you're traveling up from Napa on Hwy 29, you can take a side road and visit Guenoc, on land once owned by famed frontier actress and singer, Miss Lilly Langtree.

It makes a great getaway for Bay Area folks and may just inspire you to sink some roots in Lake County, as we did. Our little lakeview house is a haven from the hustle and bustle of the big city. My inner country girl comes out to play when I'm there and I get really happy digging in the dirt and sailing on the big water in our little hand-made boat (thanks, Ted).

This kind of joy isn't optional if you really want to live the good life. Get out of town!


At 9:22 AM, Anonymous JRM said...

You are right. Fetzer is indeed closing thier doors to the public at Hopland, CA. Check out this tinyurl to the article about the fate of Fetzer. Article

I was told that they are going to focus on direct marketing of thier wines. It is just too bad. I hope that someone would buy the place and continue to showcase the beauty of the region. I would enjoy to helping with making it a viable venture.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Mindy T. said...

Thanks for the update, jrm, and the article. I'm sad to see them go...


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