Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery
Lake County AVA
Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery has also been devoted to sustainable farming practices since its inception - part of their vision of creating a wildlife haven.
When Don Van Pelt took over the running of his family’s Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery (Pronounced cash) some fifteen years ago, he did it with the intention of carrying on his father’s legacy and dream of creating a wine entity that would rival some of the finest wineries in Northern California.
Originally, the fledgling winery carefully planted a total of 75 acres on their expansive 590-acres of land, comprised of several varietals, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon to name a few. The idea was to grow and sell their high-quality fruit to other wineries in the surrounding Napa and Lake Counties, while also creating a thriving environment for the herd of Tule elk and other animals that roamed the property.
After receiving more than stellar responses to their fruit, the Van Pelt family decided to try their hand at making wine themselves. In 2005, the winery’s first release became a reality, a total of but 500 cases.
“I felt it was up to the rest of our family to carry forward and honor my father’s memory,” recalled Van Pelt during a recent interview. “It was 2004, he had just died, and we hadn’t even released our first wines. It seemed like a large responsibility to carry, but it was his wish and it was up to my family to see it through.”
The ensuing years have been very kind to Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery and to the Van Pelt Family in particular.
Today’s Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery has grown into a 4,000-case operation that produces seven different varietals plus an assortment of blends and dessert wines.
The name Cache Creek derives from an actual creek that parallels the winery property and makes its way through Lake County before winding up in neighboring Yolo County. The acreage is part of the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area, an expansive area of some 60,000 acres that includes a good part of the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California.
Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery has also been devoted to sustainable farming practices since its inception - part of their vision of creating a wildlife haven. In 2017 their hard work paid off and the winery was designated as part of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
“We’ve planted a variety of grasses on around 35 acres for the Tule elk and other animals to feed on and to attract beneficial insect predators,” added Don Van Pelt. “It’s all about making my Dad’s dream come true.”
Sometime in the future Don Van Pelt indicated his intention of enlarging the venue space at Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery to make his ranch more of a destination site for winery events and related occasions. “It’s actually quite beautiful around here, and there’s a definite commune with nature. We also want to build on our varietals and, by enhancing the property, we figure to be able to do that.”
The wines of Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery fulfill a definite need in the incredibly competitive world that is today’s wine industry. Wines that are 100% Estate Grown and carefully crafted to mirror the land and their surroundings will never go out of style.
We salute Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery for their exciting portfolio of varietal choices. We know our Gold Wine Club members will enjoy the experience of tasting these remarkable wines. Cheers!
Map of the area
The Lake County wine region, north of Napa County in Northern California, has made huge strides in establishing itself as a major wine producing region. Now home to around 25 wineries and seven designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA). While the area started in the wine business back in the late 1800s, the advent of the Prohibition era in the 1920s, saw almost all the vines replaced with other crops such as pears and walnuts. It was not until the 1960s that the growers got back to planting grapes.
In 1965 only about 100 acres were under vine, while today that total is over 8,000 acres. The late return to wine means that most of the vineyards are planted with premium varietals and employ the latest technology for getting the most out of the crop. The region is home to Clear Lake, the State’s largest inland body of water which influences the growing climate.
Our featured winery, Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery is one of such wineries located in this remote AVA. Not only do they fall into the category of wineries benefiting from the newer wave of vineyards in the region, but they also had the luxury of designing and planting their vineyards how they saw fit in order to get the most out of their property. Of the 590 acres that comprise the Cache Creek Ranch, 74 are currently under vine. The area has come into its own of late after supplying a number of Napa Valley (and other areas) wineries with fruit for many years.
Each of the seven AVAs in the area (Benmore Valley, Clear Lake, Guenoc Valley, High Valley and Red Hills Lake County, Big Valley District and Kelsey Bench) takes advantage of the cool winters and quality volcanic soils to produce a variety of excellent varietals. You will find small vineyards growing intensely flavored Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc and more.
Wine Wizard: Test your Wine IQ!
• Do all wines undergo malolactic fermentation?
The vast majority of red wines undergo malolactic fermentation and a handful of white ones too, mostly Chardonnay. Malolactic fermentation is a process in winemaking in which tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to a softer lactic acid. Malolactic fermentation tends to create a rounder, fuller mouthfeel and in Chardonnay a buttery feel on the palate. Malolactic fermentation generally enhances the body of the wine and produces a softer palate experience. Many winemakers prefer to have the malolactic fermentation occur when the wine is in the barrel during the aging period. It can also be referred to as a secondary fermentation.
• Does Champagne go through malolactic fermentation?
This is not an easy question to answer. Most winemakers prefer malolactic fermentation as a secondary fermentation, hoping to introduce notes of pastries and butter to the wines. Some winemakers choose to avoid malolactic fermentation altogether due to the by-products that are generated during the process that modify the organoleptic profile of the wine. The majority of winemakers adopt a pragmatic view, considering it necessary for some wines but not for others. Told you this wasn’t an easy question to answer.
• What is the most popular wine in the world?
If you said Italy’s (and California’s) Pinot Grigio, you would be correct. The Pinot Grigio is dry and easy drinking and has garnered huge numbers of fans during its rise to the top of the charts. The ever-popular Chardonnay comes in second place and is the most planted varietal in the entire world. It might be hard to believe but Pinot Noir leads the reds contingent followed by the catch-all selection of Rosé wines that are grown and made all over the world. The treasured Cabernet Sauvignon comes in fifth in popularity, a fact that many red drinkers would readily dispute.
Derek Holstein - Winemaker
Cache Creek’s first and only winemaker Derek Holstein is a veteran winemaking practitioner whose roots in Lake County are a testament to his ability and constancy. Holstein spent 12 years as winemaker at Lake County’s most famous and lauded establishment, the exceptional Guenoc Estate Vineyards Winery. Prior to that, Holstein’s resume includes a number of well known posts including four years as winemaker for the huge Trinchero Family Estates (think Sutter Home for starters and 39 additional brands) and assistant winemaker jobs at Domaine Chandon and Christian Brothers Winery. He is also the proprietor of Renaissance Rhapsody, Inc. a consulting and custom wine making operation.
In his own words, “Mine is a challenge of vision and communication. Each unique harvest once again gifts our human hands with the glorious fruit of the vine. Time spent walking hill and valley vineyards tunes my heart and mind for what lies ahead. I merely read the signs, seeking to bring balance and cohesion. Each year, I hope. May the gifts of that harvest, through loving care and collaboration create a thing of beauty.”
That, we believe, says it all.
Bill Val Pelt - His Continuing Legacy
It might seem a bit unusual to feature someone in our Spotlight Section who has passed away some fifteen years ago but in the case of Bill Van Pelt, the founder of Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery, you will understand by reading further.
Bill, or ‘Poppo’ to everyone who knew him, purchased a large 590-acre property in the eastern foothills of the Mayacamas Range in southern Lake County in 1997. Lake County boarders northern Napa County and its prize assortment of Napa Valley wineries. To say the land and property was remote would be an understatement, a huge underestimation. Numerous forms of wildlife inhabited the locale including otters, beaver, wild turkeys, dear and others, but a herd of Tule elk is the area’s main visceral colonizers - and the main source of inspiration for Bill Van Pelt.
On his first visit to the property, Poppo Van Pelt was greeted by this herd and instantly fell in love with the amazing animals. Tule elk, by the way, are only found in California. Their name is derived from the tule, a species of sedge native to freshwater marshes on which the Tule elk feeds. There are around 5700 of the species left, a sufficient number for them to not be considered as endangered. They are also the smallest of the wapiti in North America with weights ranging from around 400 (female) and 500 (male) pounds.
Back to our story. Poppo Van Pelt visited the Tule elk on his ranch on a daily basis and took pains to ensure his herd had anything and everything it needed; a measure that began before the vines were even planted on the property.
In 2000, when Van Pelt and his son Don decided to dedicate a portion of their land to vineyards, they took into consideration the elk and their needs for migration and water access. The drainage system put in place for the vineyards was designed to direct any excess water and rainfall into various waterholes that dot the property; providing the flourishing wildlife with plenty of water. For Van Pelt, the accommodation was nothing more than a friend doing another friend a particular service.
Over the years a true relationship developed between the animals and Van Pelt that would last until Van Pelt’s untimely death in 2004.
“My Dad would be happy with what has been achieved here,” commented Don Van Pelt. “It was always his dream to offer his wonderful elk a truly marvelous place where they could thrive. At his memorial in 2004, the elk actually made an appearance to say goodbye to him. It was a truly heartwarming moment for us all. I know he was looking down with a big smile on his face.”
The Cache Creek story began like many others in the wine industry, by growing stellar grapes which then developed into producing their own outstanding wines. But for Poppo Van Pelt, his story is unique in the wine world and serves as a memento of great relationships that are possible with sustaining efforts from both parties. It could serve as a lesson to us all.