August 25, 2016 by Joe Kukura

The world’s largest competition of US wines brought a haul of awards to Lake County winemakers in 2016. The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the “largest competition of American wines in the world,” awarded numerous medals to Lake County winemakers on its most recent list of winners. With wineries a few hours north of San Francisco, Lake County wine tasting venues have a few new awards to add to their growing list of distinctions.

More than 7,000 wines from all over the United States entered the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, making it the largest and most competitive wine event in the US. But only a select few would win a prestigious best-in-class medal.

Lake County was well represented among those elite best-in-class winners, showing why its distinct high-altitude wines are an emerging favorite among wine connoisseurs.

Let’s take a look at which Lake County wines won best-in-class awards, and where you can find them to sample firsthand, right from the source.

Cabernet Sauvignon ($23 to $26.99)

The top cab in this category went to the Smiling Dogs Ranch 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, produced at its 100 percent solar- and wind-powered vineyard in Kelseyville that was a big hit at this year’s Lake County Wine Adventure. This award-winning varietal is available for tasting or purchase at Smiling Dogs Ranch’s new tasting room on Main Street in downtown Kelseyville. But with just 100 cases produced and a prestigious prize to its credit, this sought-after cabernet won’t stay around for long.

Chardonnay ($22 to $25.99)

Another solar-powered winery in Lake County is recognized for its Gregory Graham Wines 2014 Wedge Block Chardonnay. The Gregory Graham estate vineyard grows its own grapes for its syrahs, grenaches and zinfandels, but sources out the growing for its sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes. It’s tough to argue with these award-winning methods, and this winery has developed advanced screw-cap methods for its white wines to avoid cork taint. You can also find Gregory Graham’s fine wines on the Red Hills-Kelseyville Wine Mini-Tour, and its tasting room in Lower Lake is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Steel Wines Tasting Room

Barbera (Under $20)

The winner in this barbera category is the 2013 Shooting Star Barbera, one of the labels produced by Steele Wines in Kelseyville. The grapes were sourced from the Dom Vineyard overlooking Clear Lake and Shannon Ridge in Lower Lake, but were fermented and bottled in small lots at the Steele Wines facility in American and Hungarian oak barrels. The Steele Wines tasting room is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is home to weekly farmers’ markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Red Dessert Wine (Less Than 3.5 Percent Residual Sugar)

To top everything off with something sweet, the 2010 Red Dessert Wine from Hawk and Horse Vineyards took top honors in the red dessert wine category. Hawk and Horse is known for its cabernet sauvignons, but this dessert varietal is produced in the port style and enhanced with alembic brandy for results that clearly stood out to the judges’ palettes.  Hawk and Horse’s tasting room in Lower Lake serves this award winner in a setting that celebrates its history as an equestrian facility, but the winegrapes themselves are produced using modern, certified biodynamic and organic techniques.

If you need any more proof that Lake County is the emerging new face of California wine country, the judges’ choices in America’s largest wine competition should leave no doubt. But don’t take their word for it—take a wine getaway to Lake County and sample these prestigious winners yourself.