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Drinking good wine is always well-advised. Traveling to where good wine is made is time well-spent. Take Lake County wine country. Unlike Napa, its neighbor an hour to the south, it has an unabashed lack of pretension. It exudes modesty. Lake County’s claim to fame for decades was its wide agricultural expanse, a breathtaking, clear lake, and its ability to grow pears. Still, it did not go unnoticed by some farmers that Lake County soil was created by the same volcanic activity that made the Napa Valley rich. There are less than a half-dozen wineries, and even the largest are very humble affairs. It is refreshing that there is no hard sell and plenty of bargains. The first vineyards may have been planted in the 1870s, but its renaissance is taking place today. Thanks to affordable land prices and a big welcome mat from the county government, some major investments are being made here in state-of-the-art vineyards by wine juggernauts like Kendall-Jackson, Beringer, Chalone, Fetzer, and Napa Valley grower Andy Beckstoffer. The established wineries Guenoc, Steele, and Wildhurst are getting away from producing only sauvignon blanc, as they had in the past. Now they are growing premium zinfandel, syrah, pinot noir, and merlot cabernet franc in the red volcanic soil laced with obsidian around Mount Konocti, at more than 2,000 feet elevation. The change here is palpable, and with two new appellations — Red Hills of Lake County and High Valley — that are pending federal approval, you can expect that more consumers will start to take notice. • Buena Vista Sauvignon Blanc 2002 ($10): The Sonoma-based winery sources its sauvignon grapes from Lake County. The aromas are definitely citrus and zest, and the flavors give way to peach, melon, and lemon. Expect a creamier, more complex wine that has a pleasing dryness and smoother mouthfeel than you usually expect from this varietal. • Eco Vin Eco Zin Lake County 2001 ($15): Full-bodied with massive, jammy, ripe cherry, plum, raspberry, and strawberry fruit and a spicy finish. Whopping alcohol content at 15.1 percent. • Guenoc Lake County Sauvignon Blanc 2001 ($13.50): Citrus aromas, hint of lime and pineapple and peach. • Shooting Star Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County 2001 ($12): Full-bodied, with cherry and cassis, mint, and a suggestion of white pepper. • Steele Cabernet Franc Lake County 2001 ($14): The nose is mocha and bacon, and that gives way to cedar and blueberry. The lively acidity gives way to a wonderful middle palate of bright fruit. • Stephen Vincent Winery Sauvignon Blanc Lake County, Maxwell Vineyards 2002 ($8): Brought to you by a negociant who specializes in discovering quality wine already in barrel. He bottles the final blend and offers it to the consumer at a great price. Light melon aromas and subtle lemon zest, hint of lime, and a long mineral finish. • Wildhurst Vineyards Clear Lake Zinfandel 1999 ($12): Light-bodied for a zinfandel, this is fruit-forward with bright strawberry and raspberry fruit, and a spicy finish. • Wildhurst Lake County Muscat Canelli 2003 ($11): Medium-bodied and well-rounded, with orange blossoms and candied orange flavors. Elisabeth Frater is “Wine Counsel,” a wine law attorney based in Napa, Calif. “Wine Counsel” can be reached at [email protected].

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