Lake County's Aromatic Whites

California’s pristine Lake County is a feast for the eyes as well as the nose. Home to Clear Lake and Mt. Konocti, it is also home to an array of aromatic wines.

Published: 6/24/2014

California’s pristine Lake County is a feast for the eyes as well as the nose. Home to Clear Lake and Mt. Konocti, it is also home to an array of aromatic wines. Of these, Lake County is most widely known for its exquisite, full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc, but others are now gaining recognition. “As the fruit reaches full maturity, our warm days and cool nights contribute to aroma development, while maintaining both acidity and the terpenes and precursors to various aromatic compounds found in the wines,” explains Winemaker David Rosenthal, who has been growing winegrapes in the region for more than 30 years.

Nose in glass, Lake County’s aromatic whites tend to exhibit intense floral aromas of honeysuckle, apricot, and jasmine. But it’s wise not to generalize. As Mark Burch, winemaker for Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill says, “In looking at a flavor profile that represents Lake County, you cannot define that one dimensionally, which is defining one of its greatest qualities: versatility.”

Sauvignon Blanc

Elegant Sauvignon Blanc lends itself particularly well to Lake County’s short and intense growing season. “One thing to remember about Lake County is its diversity of both soil and microclimate,” Mark says. “Most of this region’s Sauvignon Blanc is grown on the valley floor, where soils are generally heavier and rich in nutrients and vigor. Sauvignon Blanc is a vigorous variety and this makes for a good match. Our growers allow the vine to express its inherent propensities and then use viticulture practices to express their desired results.”

The flavors of Sauvignon Blanc can be easily influenced through canopy management. A heavy canopy with minimal leaf pulling and harvesting at low brix levels yields traditional flavors of grassy, herbal, and citrus. Aggressive leaf pulling with sun-exposed clusters and harvesting at higher brix encourages riper, melon, and tropical flavors. At Six Sigma Ranch, the latter is preferred. “Our whites tend to work best on the riper side, as they still retain acidity even at higher brix levels,” says Matt Hughes, the winemaker for Six Sigma Ranch. “We are producing a richer style of Sauvignon Blanc packed with tropical fruit and citrus overtones. Our wines still have the crisp, clean profile one would expect, but the weight of the wine is a welcome bonus.”

Langtry Estate’s Winemaker Eric Stine notes that Lake County Sauvignon Blanc is known for more full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc— quite different from regions like New Zealand. “Our warm, inland daytime temperatures and cool nights during the growing season ensure that we will reach phonological maturity,” he explains. “I feel our aromas have a more tropical fruit profile as well. There is still plenty of grapefruit, but we regularly see mango, quince, and peach— flavors and aromas that are not abundant from other areas. The classic Lake County Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent food wine,” he adds. “It’s not overly pungent and it adds complexity to the food pairing.”


This cool climate white (a lot easier for Americans to fall in love with than pronounce), has found a promising home in Lake County’s highest reaches. Gewürztraminer is highly perfumed and bold in flavor. In fact, its name is derived from the German word gewürz, meaning “spiced.” Winemaker Simon Whetzel, who crafts a profile of distinctive varietals for Brassfield Estate Winery & Vineyard, is convinced that the grape has found a sweet spot in the estate’s High Serenity Vineyard on the west side of Lake County’s High Valley Appellation. “The elevation and transverse orientation of the western portion of the High Valley AVA produces white wines that have stunning aromatics and great natural acidity,” Simon explains. “This quality is enhanced by the profound diurnal temperature swings and the mineral-driven soils. This part of the AVA is considerably cooler than other parts of Lake County and seems best suited for Alsatian varietals such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.” The latest vintage, the 2012 Brassfield Estate Gewürztraminer, is described as silky textured, with aromas of jasmine, orange blossoms, and ginger spice. The wine has refreshing, mouthwatering acidity and a creaminess in the mid-palate.


Last spring, David Rosenthal launched his new winery, R Vineyards, with two releases, one of which is a seductive Viognier. “Viognier from Lake County has aromatics of white peach and honeysuckle with an unforgettable texture and crisp acidity, making it a perfect food wine,” David says. “One of the rewards of working with it is the inherent aromatics. As winemaker, I want to retain those alluring and distinct qualities while allowing the rich complexity of the varietal to balance with the acidity and the intense aromas.” A second reward is Viognier’s irresistibly food-friendly nature. It is a pleasure to sample or sip or to enjoy a glass with a dinner meal. This varietal is the signature white wine for R Vineyards. “It is an exotic expression of the grape,” David says. “Jasmine, honeysuckle, and mango aromas lead to lush and opulent flavors of peaches, apricots, mango, and white pepper. The creamy finish has a spicy note with a hint of vanilla.”

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2014 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.

Great Aromatic Whites
2011 Cache Creek Chardonnay
2012 Chacewater Orange Muscat
2011 Langtry Sauvignon Blanc
2013 R Vineyards Viognier
2012 Shannon Ridge High Elevation Chardonnay
2013 Six Sigma Sauvignon Blanc
2012 Steele Viognier
2012 Vigilance Sauvignon Blanc