Thankfully, the rain was dwindling down for our 85 mile drive to Upper Lake, an area of wine country that I had never even heard of. However, even I knew when we passed the big neon Pink Elephant Saloon sign twice in one hour that we were going around in circles. After a not-very subtle dirty look from me, Joan finally called the Tallman Hotel, our next stop, and was given idiot-proof directions.

When we finally saw the gorgeous blue Clear Lake, (California’s largest freshwater lake) and began passing one scenic vineyard after another I was shocked to see that there really is a relatively “undiscovered wine country” a measly 2 hr. drive from S.F.(”Undiscovered” by most tourists but not the trade— Lake County has actually been number three in the country for winegrape sales over the past two years.) As we strolled down Kelseyville’s Main street, (our fave small town with an excellent bakery) it felt wonderfully retro— like John-Boy Walton lived there.

The Tallman Hotel, circa 1870, originally served as a hotel, livery stable and saloon designed to serve passengers traveling to Clear Lake and the nearby hot springs resorts. It barely managed to survive through major fires, prohibition, and the Depression, but in 2003 long-time fans of the area, Lynne and Bernie Butcher, purchased the hotel and the old Blue Wing Saloon next door, determined to restore the building to its former glory. Using period photographs to guide them, they took great care to retain, re-condition and re-use original materials and to maintain the essential “soul” of the old hotel building. With the restoration of the livery stable on the corner by Sheldon Steinberg (to house his antique plumbing fixture business,) this block of Upper Lake gives the visitor the feel of life 100 years ago – with all the modern amenities.

The Tallman offers 17 rustic/chic rooms, including garden suites with outdoor soaking tubs (we loved the upscale Molton Brown bath products) and afortunately our stay coincided with one of their monthly “Concerts With Conversation”, which included a social hour, a prix-fixe dinner and an informal concert with the guest musician. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing singer-songwriter John Mattern perform original pieces on a variety of instruments.

During the day, there is TONS to do in the area: antiquing, art galleries, casinos, boating, horseback riding, guided hikes thru nature preserves, and FISHING…Clear Lake ain’t known as the “Bass Capital of the West” for nothing!