Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Clearlake, the Forgotten Gem

Road Trippin’
with  Steve McCarthy

So, Clearlake. A forgotten gem. Last month, I gave you a preview of what became a great drive. Here’s some details.

The lake itself is the largest fresh water lake in California. Tahoe is half in Nevada, and the Salton Sea is, well, salt water. There has never been an Interstate nor a railroad in Lake County. Lake County was the pre-prohibition Wine Country of NoCal. They have wineries there again and pretty damn good ones at that! They have DIAMONDS there! Well, it’s a kind of crystal, harder than most crystals, softer than real diamonds. The area also has a funky vibe to it, a cross between ranches, slightly tattered resort motor inns, aging hippies, more than a few “tweakers”, and a lot of Great Driving Roads.
We’ll start our specifics in San Rafael, above Frisco. Shoot over to the Marin French Cheese Company and maybe up the road to the Nicasio Cheese place for some munchies to have along the way. You won’t regret it. We then scoot through Petaluma, which deserves more than a glance. It has great Victorian houses and a vibrant Old Town. From there, through Santa Rosa and up over Hwy. 29 to Calistoga. Stop at the Petrified Forest along the way. Interesting stuff there, and a bit of California History.
From here, it’s through Calistoga, one of our favorite towns and just outside of town is the Chateau Montelena Winery. This is one of the world’s best. Do a CAREFUL tasting (let your navigator have most of the fun) because the road up and over the volcano (!!) is tight and twisty and takes full concentration. Once over the top, you’ll hit Middletown (‘cause it’s halfway between Calistoga and Clearlake) and detour to the Guenoc/Langtry Winery. This is one of the oldest in Lake County. Some exceptional wines here too.

Then, it’s through Clearlake (on our trip there we stayed at the very nice Best Western and got upgraded to a freakin’ SUITE!) and to the Featherbed Inn. This would be our future choice of lodgings. The “rooms” are old cabooses (cabeese?) and each has a theme (dibs on the “Casablanca” one) and HOT TUBS! There seem to be some good eateries along the main road for dinner, take your pick!

For the next day, tour the lake. Take a lap, as it were. There are several neat little towns like Nice, Lucerne, Upper Lake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville. Each has it’s charms and plenty of Antique Shoppes to search for Clearlake Diamonds in. Most of ‘em have ‘em, they ain’t expensive and kinda cool. There are a lot of wineries around, we highly recommend Steele near Kelseyville. GREAT Zinfandel! Again, all along the way are great little diners, try one for lunch! I'm reliably informed by one of my agents, that the Saw Shop Gallery-Bistro is a very nice place. A step up (or 12) from the usual diner. Or, better yet, remember that cheese and stuff you bought? Hope you brought it with you! A picnic lunch at the McVicar Wildlife Sanctuary is just the ticket. Peaceful, great views, good cheese, good wine, good eats…

The last real stop is the best winery on the route. Ceago. WOW, is all I can say. Wander the grounds, smell the lavender, taste the wine. This place is amazing. Right on the lake, you’d swear you were in Tuscany. It’s also a short hop back to your caboose. Now, before you get all heated up, I will tell you that these wineries are NOT $2 Chuck! These are generally over $20/bottle, some a lot more. They ARE good. They ARE worth buying, and most are meant for laying away for a few more years. Ceago has begun (or maybe picked up on) a trend towards Cabernets with a heavier mix of “Franc” grapes. Franc is like Merlot, usually meant to blend with Cabernet to add complexity. With the over saturation of Merlots on the market (and frankly, most Merlots are bland. They are meant for people who really don’t like good wines, but want to seem like they do) some wineries are turning to Franc wines as a new direction. The time to get these is NOW. Before they become “known” and every bulk wine maker out there starts throwing indifferent slop at you. The Ceago Cabernet Franc is a spectacular wine!
This whole area is worth some exploring. And, it’s close enough to the North Coast for a more extended trip. Lots of great roads, not a lot of traffic, great scenery, and great wines. Give Lake County a look. You won’t regret it.

1. North on US-101 N via the ramp to Eureka 10.6 mi
2.  Take the Atherton Ave exit toward San Marin Dr 0.2 mi
3. Turn left onto Atherton Ave 0.2 mi
4.  Continue onto San Marin Dr 2.7 mi
5. Turn right onto Novato Blvd 6.3 mi
6. Turn left onto Point Reyes Petaluma Rd 0.4 mi
7. Turn right
Destination will be on the right 230 ft
21.2 mi – about 29 mins

Marin French Cheese
7510 Point Reyes Petaluma Road
Petaluma, CA 94952

9. Head northeast toward Point Reyes Petaluma Rd 230 ft
10. Turn left onto Point Reyes Petaluma Rd 4.8 mi
11. Continue onto D St/D street Extension
Continue to follow D St 4.4 mi
12. Turn left onto Lakeville St 0.1 mi
13.  Take the 1st right onto E Washington St 0.8 mi
14. Take the ramp onto US-101 N 20.0 mi
15. Take the River Rd exit toward Guerneville 0.2 mi
16. Turn right onto Mark West Springs Rd 5.3 mi
17. Continue onto Porter Creek Rd 4.7 mi
18. Turn left onto Petrified Forest Rd 4.4 mi
19. Turn left onto CA-128 W/Foothill Blvd 0.8 mi
20. Turn right onto Tubbs Ln
21. Destination will be on the left 1.1 mi
46.7 mi – about 1 hour 2 mins
Chateau Montelena Winery
1429 Tubbs Ln
Calistoga, CA 94515

22. Head northeast on Tubbs Ln toward CA-29 S 0.2 mi
23. Turn left onto CA-29 N 15.5 mi
24. Turn right onto Butts Canyon Rd
Destination will be on the left 5.7 mi
21.4 mi – about 30 mins
Guenoc & Langtry Vineyards
21000 Butts Canyon Rd
Middletown, CA 95461

25. Head west on Butts Canyon Rd toward Oat Hill Rd 5.7 mi
26. Turn right onto CA-29 N 13.9 mi
27. Continue onto CA-53 N 7.4 mi
28. Turn left onto CA-20 W 18.3 mi
29. Slight left onto Nice-Lucerne Cutoff Rd 328 ft
30. Continue onto Lakeshore Blvd
Destination will be on the right 0.2 mi
45.6 mi – about 1 hour 0 mins
Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast Resort
2870 Lakeshore Blvd
Nice, CA 95464

31. Head west on Lakeshore Blvd toward Collier Ave 0.2 mi
32. Take the 1st right onto Collier Ave 0.2 mi
33. Slight right to stay on Collier Ave 338 ft
34. Take the 1st left onto CA-20 W 0.7 mi
35. At the traffic circle, continue straight to stay on CA-20 W 3.4 mi
36. Turn right onto Main St 0.2 mi
37. Take the 1st left onto 1st St 446 ft
38. Turn left onto Mendenhall Ave 0.2 mi
39. Turn right onto CA-20 W 0.5 mi
40. Turn left onto CA-29 S 13.7 mi
41. Turn left onto Thomas Dr
Destination will be on the right 279 ft
19.2 mi – about 25 mins
Steele Wines Inc
4350 Thomas Dr
Kelseyville, CA 95451

42. Head north on Thomas Dr toward Argonaut Rd 0.4 mi
43. Continue onto Big Valley Rd 0.4 mi
44. Slight right onto Stone Dr 0.8 mi
45. Turn right onto Soda Bay Rd 2.7 mi
46. Turn left to stay on Soda Bay Rd 2.9 mi
47. Head east on Soda Bay Rd toward Bergesen Dr 6.7 mi
48. Turn left onto Point Lakeview Rd 4.7 mi
49. Turn left onto Walnut Ln
Destination will be on the left 0.1 mi
11.5 mi – about 20 mins
McVicar Wildlife Sanctuary
Lower Lake, CA 95457

50. Head southwest on Walnut Ln toward Point Lakeview Rd 0.1 mi
51. Turn left onto Point Lakeview Rd 2.2 mi
52. Turn left onto CA-29 S 1.9 mi
53. Turn left onto CA-53 N 7.4 mi
54. Turn left onto CA-20 W
Destination will be on the left 16.0 mi
27.6 mi – about 38 mins
5115 California 20
Nice, CA 95464

55. Head northwest on CA-20 W toward Bartlett Springs Rd 2.3 mi
56. Slight left onto Nice-Lucerne Cutoff Rd 328 ft
57. Continue onto Lakeshore Blvd
Destination will be on the right 0.2 mi
2.6 mi – about 5 mins
Featherbed Railroad Bed & Breakfast Resort
2870 Lakeshore Blvd
Nice, CA 95464