Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery
Lake County AVA
People enjoyed the wine and urged us to make more
The story of Cache (pronounced cash) Creek Vineyards and Winery is probably one of the most unusual stories to evolve from the modern California wine industry. It is, in a phrase, heart rendering and warm and smacks of a Hollywood script.
It is 1997, and Bill Van Pelt, or Poppo as he is called by practically everyone, has just purchased a large (590 acre) property in the eastern foothills of southern Lake County. The property is remote and wildlife abounds along the creek that is part of the property. On Poppo Van Pelt’s first visit to the site, he is greeted by a herd of Tule Elk, the area’s main colonizers, at least from the animal kingdom.
Van Pelt is fascinated by the animals and begins a friendship that knows little bonds. He revisits the place almost daily to spend time with his new found friends. As a point of interest, the Tule Elk is the smallest (375 to 450 pounds) member of the elk family, and is found only in California. It derives its name from the tule plant that is the mainstay of the elk’s diet. From a high number of around 500,000 in the 17th Century, today’s herd numbers only 4,000 having survived the rigors of hunters.
But, back to the story. Poppo Van Pelt and his brother next decide to plant some vineyards in certain sections of the property that would support the vines. Realizing the fact that his neighbors to the south in Napa Valley produced world class fruit, Bill Van Pelt decided to do the same. In the back of his mind, the Tule elk population on his property would benefit from such a decision.
The vineyards were planted in 2000 and the fruit was first sold to local wineries. At one point, some extra juice was left over and Van Pelt and his son Don decided to make some wine. “The reception we received was much better than we expected,” Don Van Pelt offered. “People enjoyed the wine and urged us to make more. It seemed a relatively easy decision for us.”
The first release of Cache Creek Vineyards came in 2005, sadly after the passing of Poppo Van Pelt a year earlier. A total of around 500 cases were produced and met with instant success. As of this year, some 2,500 cases of Cache Creek Vineyards and Winery will be bottled with a long range forecast that calls for around 15,000 cases to be produced annually by the year 2025. “It was sad that my father never lived to see our wines reach fruition,” Van Pelt added. “But we have continued his legacy and his dedication to the tule elk herd.”
The Cache Creek Vineyards label features the tule elk as does the actual property the winery occupies. A tasting room and warehouse complex have been completed and there is a long-term plan to build a state-of-the-art winemaking facility in Clearlake Oaks, the actual name of the area. A number of improvements that include a sanctuary for the elk and the planting of various grasses have already been completed. A number of ponds dot the property making the entire place a virtual preserve for the animals and other native wildlife.
“My Dad would be happy with what has been achieved here,” Don Van Pelt proudly stated. “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 all of us. I know he was looking down with a big smile on his face.”
We are happy to introduce Cache Creek Vineyards to our Gold Series monthly wine club Members in the spirit of its founder Bill Van Pelt.
Derek Holstein - Winemaker
Winemaker Derek Holstein is widely praised for his efforts around Lake County. He spent over a decade (12 years) at Lake County’s best known winery Guenoc Estate Vineyards Winery, where his wines won major praise and awards. He also works with Beckstoffer Vineyards and lesser known Girls in the Vineyard, Harris Tesla Vineyards and Quercus Vineyards.
His winemaking philosophy involves the move from farm to table and Holstein sees himself as something akin to an orchestra conductor directing the various workers that eventually produce his wines. He is also something of a versifier as witnessed in an excerpt from his winemaking philosophy.
He states, “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.”
Don Val Pelt - A Devoted Leader
For Don Val Pelt, 53, his family’s venture into the wine business is bittersweet at best. “When my father died in 2004, we hadn’t even released our first wines,” he recalled recently. “It had been my father’s dream to build a wine business so I felt it was up to the rest of us to carry forward and honor his memory.”
Don Van Pelt and his family were originally in the quarry and aggregate business, and still carry on that enterprise today. He admits that during certain times of the year he must devote all his time to the wine side of the Van Pelt Family’s endeavors. “Harvest time is essential to our success,” he admitted. “So I find myself spending 80 -90 percent of my time in the vineyards and making sure the fruit is crushed correctly. It is fortunate I have an outstanding winemaker to fall back on.”
Van Pelt is particularly proud of winemaker Derek Holstein (see Winemaker) and his contributions to the Cache Creek Vineyards’ success. “Derek has an excellent nature and that insures a high level of cooperation with the people with whom he works. He explains his methods and is very easy to talk to. He will pass on his years of experience to others. I haven’t heard of many winemakers that are willing to do that. He is a unique and a valued member of our team.” Van Pelt has seen his winery grow to its present level of around 2,500 cases. He has also overseen the planting of new vines that has brought the Cache Creek Vineyards total to 75 acres. He is also a keen observer of what works and what doesn’t.
“At first we were unsure of the quality levels our grapes could achieve,” he related. “We sold them and watched the results. When our customers suggested improvements, we researched and eventually made some subtle changes in the field. It all came together and today we produce only top quality fruit.”
The winery is entirely a family affair, something that suits Don Van Pelt to the proverbial ‘t’. His sister, Alison Murray helped design the label that proudly salutes the Tule elk that inhabit the family’s property. Murray, who lives in New Jersey, is also helping market Cache Creek Vineyards on the East Coast.
Van Pelt’s son Kyle, 25, divides his time between the winery and the family’s aggregate business. Van Pelt’s daughter, Kaitlyn, 22, has recently enrolled in Fresno State with a mind toward the school’s enology program.
Don Van Pelt is pleasantly surprised to see the public acceptance of Cache Creeks Vineyards releases.
“The wine business is very complicated,” he explained, “and takes a great deal of teamwork to be successful. We are fortunate to have Vineyard Consultant David Weiss of Bella Vista Farming to work with our ranch’s foreman, Francisco “Pancho” Medina. Together they have managed to elevate the status of our fruit and that directly benefits the wines we produce.
Don Van Pelt is fortunate in that he has been able to fulfill his late father’s dream of making Cache Creek Vineyards into a successful, sustaining winery. We are pleased to offer the Cache Creek wines to our Gold Series Wine Club members and friends.