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Walnut Creek Magazine

Lake County Discovery

May 08, 2017 07:01PM ● By Fran Miller


Fine wine, fine food, outdoor adventures, and a luxe hotel await


To those for whom ‘the lake’ means Tahoe, and ‘wine country’ means Napa, Lake County is a revelation. The vintners, olive oil pressers, cheese makers, artisans, and hoteliers who live and work in the area go about their business unassumingly, waiting patiently for the rest of the world to discover the beauty and bounty that surrounds. And if it takes awhile for the tourists to catch-on, that’s okay. A lack of traffic, and verdant, unspoiled valleys and pastures are all part of Lake County’s charm. To vacation there now is to be part of the discovery; start your exploration at the beautiful and historic Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, and claim that you experienced Lake County as it once was - before the crowds arrived.

Located just north of Clear Lake, and about a 2.5-hour drive from the East Bay, the Tallman Hotel can be found on Upper Lake’s historic, two-block Main Street, where much is the same as when the hotel first opened in the 1870s by Rufus Tallman. Lovingly restored by proprietors Lynne and Bernie Butcher who spared no expense in fulfilling the hotel’s full glory, the Tallman features 17 sumptuous rooms throughout its six buildings, all with custom-designed wallpapers, fabrics, and furnishings. Each room is more resplendent than the next; book one of the four Veranda rooms in the Historic Hotel building and enjoy 14-foot high ceilings and beautifully restored antique plumbing fixtures. The lower Garden Rooms feature indulgent Japanese soaking tubs on private patios; upper rooms feature private balconies overlooking the garden. Families will love the Farmhouse and Bungalow suites with separate bedrooms and sofa beds. A beautiful continental buffet breakfast, served in the lobby’s elegant dining room with its hand painted murals of local flora and fauna, is included in your stay and is the perfect start for your day of Lake County exploration.

View from Laujor Estates patio

The Butchers and their Tallman Hotel general manager Susan Mesick, each champions for Lake County tourism, are your go-to sources for all things local and can help you plan an itinerary based on your interests. Consider an Eyes of the Wild custom pontoon boat tour of Clear Lake that departs from county seat Lakeport. These tours are the best way to discover the many varieties of beautiful birds indigenous to Lake County: osprey, herons, grebes, pelicans, cormorants and bald eagles.  Clear Lake is California’s largest natural lake, and the best way to experience its beauty is from the water. The views are simply stunning. If wine is your pleasure, lucky you. Lake County, long known for supplying superior grapes to Napa and Sonoma vintners, is home to seven AVA’s. In recent years, small, family-owned, estate wineries have taken their rightful place along the perimeter of the lake, welcoming tasters with warmth and cordiality. Acclimate yourself at Lake County Wine Studio with an overview of the area's offerings. Just across the street from the Tallman, this cozy tasting room/art gallery offers a vast selection of Lake County wines. Make note of your favorites, and then head to those tasting rooms. Tour Kelseyville’s Chacewater and sip not only their award-winning varietals, but their on-site fresh pressed olive oils as well. Head over to Boatique Winery, also in Kelseyville, and taste while touring proprietor Robert Mount’s collection of restored, rare, antique wooden boats. Set at 2266 feet above sea level amidst alpine and oak forests, Boatique's 47 acres of rolling vineyards lie in the shadow of majestic Mt. Konocti. Bring a picnic to Laujor Estate in the Red Hills Appellation, and dine and taste while overlooking the scenic vineyard valley. UC Davis trained winemaker and proprietor Cheryl Lucido is one of only three female winemakers in Lake County; she is known for her custom and complex blends.

Further adventures can be found at Yerba Santa Goat Dairy in Scotts Valley, where Javier Salmon and his brother Daniel have practiced the art of cheese making for decades. Schedule a tour and tasting, pet a baby goat, and see firsthand how they make their Peruvian style, flavored Bodega brand goat cheeses – a favorite at San Francisco’s Ferry Building weekend Farmer’s Market. Take a tour through the area’s famed walnut and pear farms on a horse drawn wagon with Live Oak Belgians. Susan and Kenn McCarty and their gorgeous horses can be booked for parties large and small. Or hit the Quilt Trail - the first in the state – a series of 100, 4 and 8 foot, vibrantly colored quilt ‘blocks’ adorning local barns, sheds, tasting rooms, and other historic buildings.  

After your day of activity, head back to the Tallman for dinner at the hotel-adjacent Blue Wing Saloon. Connected by a peaceful, Sycamore-arbored garden, the Blue Wing boasts a full bar featuring a variety of Lake County wines, and a California-casual menu of gourmet offerings including Oysters Tallman, Meyer Lemon Artichoke Dip, Roasted Beet Salad, Rack of Lamb, Grilled Salmon, Spring Vegetable Risotto, among many other delectable items. The Blue Wing is also well known in the area as ‘the’ spot for live music. Hosting a variety of exceptional local groups and acts who turn the hotel’s expansive veranda into a stage, the Blue Wing features the summertime Blue Wing Blues Festival, and live music Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, and during Sunday brunch. Additionally, the well-received Concerts with Conversations series featuring local musicians who intersperse song with their life stories.

A Tallman Japanese soaking tub

While Lake County definitely begs to be explored, the exceptional hospitality offered at the Tallman Hotel might have you questioning the need to leave the place at all. Whether you stay put in the Tallman’s lap of casual luxury, or venture forth to fully acquaint yourself with all that Lake County offers, there’s no denying that this nearby local gem of bucolic beauty beckons as never before. Go there now, and beat the inevitable crowds that will soon follow. You'll want to experience Lake County as it is now - the way it's always been.

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