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Lake County is rising from the ashes.

AFTER TWO GIANT, DEVASTATING WILDFIRES last year, Lake County, Calif., was due for some good news. Now the good news is coming, and from multiple directions.

First off, the initial cleanup of 1,300 homes destroyed by the Valley Fire and the Rocky Fire in this mountainous, landlocked Northern California county appears to be well along. It will take many years to rebuild, but during my visit to Lake County in early April, a large percentage of the hundreds of burnt buildings already had been demolished. A procession of log trucks lugged massive, charred tree trunks from the 115 square miles of burnt terrain out of the county as I drove in toward Clear Lake.

Vineyards and wineries did not suffer a lot of damage, but Lake County is a small community of 64,000 people, and everyone felt the pain. It's not pretty to drive along Highway 175 south from the lake to Cobb Mountain and then to Middletown. The second half of that drive goes through a virtual Mars-scape, where the red-soil hillsides appear to have been burnt so badly by the Valley Fire that the topsoil incinerated along with every growing thing.

It was depressing to view even as a spectator, so it was also good to know that fundraising efforts to rebuild the county's infrastructure and people's homes are coming along. In March the #LakeCountyRising campaign raised more than $150,000 in a charity wine auction at the Culinary Institute of America in neighboring Napa Valley. This boosted the total amount of donations gathered by three wine industry organizations--the Lake County Winegrape Commission, the Lake County Winery Association and the Lake County Wine Alliance--to nearly $1 million.

At Momentum 2016 in Lakeport, Calif., a one-day conference organized by the Lake County Winegrape Commission, the speakers sought to educate growers and winemakers about supply and demand for their grapes and wine, legislative issues, marketing and even Sauvignon Blanc wine style. Probably the best news at the conference was that prices for Lake County grapes have risen and continue to rise.

Prices for Cabernet Sauvignon have increased by $400 per ton in the past two years, according to grape and bulk wine broker Glenn Proctor of the Ciatti Co., and the grape is now averaging more than $2,100 per ton. Sauvignon Blanc, for which Lake County has long been known, is seeing the same trend, he said.

Not coincidentally, the Winegrape Commission and at least some others appear ready to encourage growers and winemakers to focus on those two grape varieties to help Lake County's "brand" crystallize among the wine trade and consumers. "It's an opportunity for Lake County," Proctor said, "to help the county grow and stand out."

Andy Beckstoffer of Beckstoffer Vineyards farms 1,300 acres in the Red Hills of Lake County but is based in Napa Valley. He argued that Lake County should become not just a wine region but "wine country," as Napa Valley did in the 1980s, to achieve the greatest success. That means confidently raising prices for grapes and wines, and adding amenities for visiting high-end consumers and trade buyers such as top-notch hotels and restaurants.

With the fires of 2015 in the rearview mirror and growing demand for their products, it looks like a great time for the Lake County winegrowing community to move strategically in the direction that Beckstoffer points.

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Title Annotation:EDITOR'S LETTER
Comment:Lake County is rising from the ashes.(EDITOR'S LETTER)
Author:Gordon, Jim
Publication:Wines & Vines
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 1, 2016
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