Proposed Long Valley AVA

Though European settlers first came to Long Valley in the 1850s, and the first historical record of vineyards in the area dates to the 1880s, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the area began to see commercial grape growing in earnest. Until that time, the area was known more for its beef and dairy than wine. That all changed as winemakers began to realize the potential in the area. In 1976, David James planted a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard (now part of Stonehouse Cellars) with cuttings propagated from the Fay Vineyard (Napa), and the area began to attract attention. This, among other things, led to the establishment of California’s most northern, and perhaps most remote, grapevine nursery which supplied cuttings and plants to vineyards all over the state.

The reason for the interest has mostly to do with the elevation and the soils. At an average of around 1,200 feet above sea level (which is below the level of nearby Clear Lake), the area is the lowest of all Lake County AVAs, save Guenoc Valley. The climate of this area is slightly warmer than the Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench AVAs but cooler than Red Hills, High Valley, and Guenoc Valley. The soils of the area are well-drained, which generally means poor growing conditions for most crops, but is good quality for growing grapes. The wines here can be more complex and more elegant than in other more fertile areas. In general, the red varieties here are less tannic here, and whites can vary in style depending on where they are planted in the valley.

Winemaker's Perspective

Derek Holstein, Winemaker, Cache Creek Vineyards

Derek Holstein I’ve made wines from Cache Creek Vineyards for approximately 14 years.  Cache Creek Vineyards is located on a fairly well-drained bench in the canyon south of the Long and Spring Valleys. Cache Creek flows through it with a volume of water that swells and diminishes depending upon the dam opening upstream.

Carp and various other fish school visibly in the Creek – especially in the summer when the water is clear.  Cache Creek Vineyards grows Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  New varieties that are currently being planted to further test the potential of the area are Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

Long Valley, has a fair amount of diversity partly because of the nature of being in a canyon. The steeper sloped bench land of Cache Creek tends to grow more vigorous canopies on the vines with flavors that are more herbaceous and flavorful. The tannins produced from these grapes are slightly bolder and the wines are more focused.

The lower bench land which is closer to the Creek is flatter and grows grapes that are leaner and dryer in tannin. The soil is lighter in color and the vines grow a smaller canopy so the grapes have more exposure to the sun.

For people who seek out varietal differences relative to their vinicultural origin and the potential that these areas provide, Long Valley provides a wonderful opportunity.