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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, Calif., 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.

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