by Laura Ness
Cache Creek Vineyards, located in eastern Lake County off Hwy 20 near Clearlake Oaks, got its formal start as a winery in 2005, but first and foremost, was a vineyard known for excellent fruit. It all started with the family patriarch, Bill “Poppo” Van Pelt, father of the present-day owner, Don Van Pelt. When “Poppo” first set foot on the land in 1997, he encountered a herd of Tule elk, and vowed to make the land a preserve for them.
Seeking a complementary use of the land, Poppo decided to plant 74 acres of the property to vineyards, and turned to his son Don for assistance. Don planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, but devoted half the acreage to Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The family initially sold the grapes, but after Poppo’s passing, Don sought to honor his father’s legacy by creating their own family winery brand. Fittingly, the winery label bears the image of a magnificent Tule Elk and is named for the creek that runs through the property.
Cache Creek’s win for Best of Lake County at the 2018 North Coast Wine Challenge was, ironically, a faceoff between two of the winery’s own wines: their Petite Sirah Port, known as Elk in Velvet, and their 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cache Creek Reserve Cabernet eventually prevailed as the top winner, with 13 votes to the Port’s eight.
This was a nice vote of confidence for long-time winemaker, Derek Holstein, who has been with the winery since the first vintage in 2005. Derek started out in Napa, working for Trinchero and Christian Brothers, but transitioned to Lake County to work at Guenoc before coming to Cache Creek. Derek’s other clients have included Beckstoffer and Quercus.
Cache Creek has participated in the North Coast Wine Challenge since 2013. “We’ve entered every year,” says Kaitlyn (Van Pelt) Wright, Cache Creek’s General Manager. “We’ve won several Golds and Best of Class, but Best of Lake is a huge honor for us.”
Winning Best of Lake County at such a prestigious competition has definitely helped Cache Creek promote their wines more effectively. “This win showcases the quality of the estate-grown wines we’ve produced from day one,” says Wright. “We’re promoting the award in the Tasting Room, on our website, via emails, and with social media.”
The Cache Creek tasting room is only four years old, so this award has helped them draw more wine lovers to the tasting room.
Interestingly enough, the 2014 was their first Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon produced. It had not even been released when it was entered in the competition, and it is their most expensive wine at $55.
Cache Creek generally enters new releases in the North Coast Wine Challenge. “We always taste our wines to determine if they are ready for release before we enter them into a competition.” says Wright. “While it was still in the barrel, we knew the 14 Reserve Cab was something special. We were blown away when we first tried the bottled wine, and knew it not only was ready for competition, but should do well.” Wright’s instincts proved her correct.
She describes the winning Reserve Cabernet as “a stellar wine, aged in 100% new French oak for 22 months. It truly reflects the quality of grapes grown in Lake County and the wines being produced from our estate vineyards.”
Winemaker Derek Holstein, upon receiving the award, exclaimed, “Wonderful! I’m ecstatic about the award, given the reliability of this competition—a great source for local wine drinkers and a well-respected competition. It is always nice to get great reviews. Thank you for the support, and I recommend enjoying this Cab with a great meal!”
Cache Creek evaluates every competition they enter, which in the past have included the North Coast Wine Challenge (NCWC), the San Francisco Chronicle, North of the Gate, and California State Fair wine competitions.
Asked what makes NCWC different from the others, Wright noted, “It’s a highly respected competition with a strong local audience and qualified judges. We looked at the panels of judges and were impressed by the lineup. NCWC has done a great job of putting together top-quality people.”