The Diamond Ridge Vineyards name derives from the Lake County diamonds found on the property. It was early spring 2000, and I was standing on a volcanic cornice in the middle of the ranch with two irrigation engineers. We were discussing the engineering challenges that we might face when we began trenching in the different soils types, the various types of rock, and the ridge we were perched upon. It was that very moment that we focused on the diamonds found in the rocks below, and the name Diamond Ridge Vineyards sprang to life.
Diamond Ridge is located on the volcanic hillsides north of the town of Clearlake. The eastern shores of Clear Lake are just over the hill, one mile or so. No flat ground here! Elevations range from 1,400 feet at the south end of the ranch to 2,200 feet at the North end. Google reference points would be State Highway 53, which parallels the vineyard on the eastern edge for two miles as to runs north toward the junction of State Highway 20, our northern boundary.
The ranch has a long history, 770 aces in all; it once was part of a much larger cattle operation dating back to the 1850’s. We of course saw something entirely different, believing the combination of igneous soils, altitude, and lake effect would impart very special characteristics in winegrapes. Construction began in 2000 and saw our hillsides planted to a complete collection of red Bordeaux varietals including an extensive Cabernet Sauvignon clonal selection that year.
The soils at Diamond Ridge consist of ancient lake bed combined with volcanic rock, having been pushed up from the depths by eons of volcanism. The higher elevations of the ranch are predominately igneous formations which have combined with the old lake bed. In the center you will find that volcanics dominate the scene. The lower elevations tend toward well drained gravelly clay loams having an orange hue, provided from iron-rich silts washed down from the volcanic hills above. Adding a note of complexity, a glacial moraine containing coarsely ground sedimentary rock was deposited atop one hillside ages ago.
Cooling afternoon breezes help our grapes retain their fruity aromas and prevent sunburn. This results in a low Region III environment conducive to ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, while cool nights retain acidity. Fog-free thin air exposes our fruit to continuous bright sun. This combination of high incident light and moderate temperatures results in remarkable color and vibrant fruit which rarely exhibits vegetal aspects. Excellent drainage, mowed cover crops and the composition of granitic soils impart tremendous mineral energy.
In sum, our site provides a perfect laboratory for experimentation with Bordeaux varieties. Winemakers love to visit us near harvest to observe the flavor differences among clones and the influences of differing soils. Winery clients select clonal recipes, according to their stylized needs, generally comprising two to four selections.
When the time is right, and companion cultivar/terroir matches have been determined, we plan to complete our holdings by planting an additional 150 acres previously reserved for this purpose.
Lake County is one of six counties which comprise the North Coast Appellation, which also includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Marin and Solano Counties. Lake County was formed in 1861 by joining parts of Napa and Mendocino Counties and has long been known as a prime farming area. Vineyards were first planted in the 1870’s, and by the early 1900’s the area was earning a reputation for producing some of the world’s greatest wines. In 1920, Prohibition forced an end to Lake County wine production and most of the vineyards were ripped out to be replanted with walnut and pear orchards.
Re-emergence of the wine industry began in the 1960’s when a few growers rediscovered the area’s grape growing potential and began planting vineyards once again. The County’s plantings have grown from less than 100 acres of vineyards in 1965 to over 8,800 acres today. Recognition of unique attributes of regions within the area has resulted in the recent establishment of several American Viticultural Areas such as High Valley AVA and Red Hills Lake County AVA. Leaders in the national trend, many Lake County vineyards today support certified organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming practices.
That said Lake County has not yet suffered the disease of urban encroachment and consumer mania which has crippled Napa and Sonoma growers. In Sonoma’s case land prices, vineyard land, are competing with Bay Area urban development, and Napa’s rock star fame is driving land prices to $200,000.00 per acre and more.
Lake County is aptly named, reflecting its large number of freshwater lakes. Clear Lake is the largest natural lake wholly contained in the State of California. The County’s other major bodies of water include the Blue Lakes, Lake Pillsbury, and Indian Valley Reservoir.
The US Geologic Survey reports Clear Lake to be one of the very oldest in all of North America, with sedimentation samples that date back nearly 500 million years! Over that time, a lot has happened to create a most unique terroir for fine wine grapes.
Lake County’s geologic history is chaotic, being based on the creation of the Franciscan Assemblage hills, created as a result of the continuing collision of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. Numerous small faults are present around the south end of Clear Lake, as are many old volcanoes, the largest being Mount Konocti, which divides the lake today. The geologic record of Lake County reveals events of great violence such as the eruptions of Mount Konocti and Mount St. Helena, and the collapse of Cow Mountain, which created the hills around the county seat of Lakeport.
Over the past thirty years (NOAA) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has compiled climatology reports for the State of California. These reports provide that prevailing winds in Lake County travel down the lake, from west to east, roughly ninety percent of each year. Ergo the Lake Effect!
Our ranch is uniquely situated at the east end of the lake, one and one-half miles from the water’s edge. As these daily breezes travel down the lake they accumulate moisture, warming the air in winter, and cooling in summer. High to low temperature swings of 40 degrees are an everyday occurrence in summer, however, 50 degree differentials are not uncommon. Experts say that these diurnal swings contribute to happy grapes that make wines of quality. This makes us happy too, but it also means that we keep extra jackets on hand at all times.