Saturday, 13 July 2024


MENDOCINO COUNTY – Authorities in Mendocino County are continuing to investigate the discovery of a body in a state park this weekend.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported that a body was discovered early Saturday morning at Hendy Woods State Park in Boonville.

The body has been identified as that of Salvadore Alfonso Aguilar, 20, of Fort Bragg.

On Saturday, the same day as Aguilar's body was discovered, Mendocino Sheriff's Dispatch received a phone call from one of his relatives, who stated that she had been contacted by another family member who told her that the victim had shot himself and friends took him to a park and dropped him off.

Detectives contacted the family member in Fort Bragg and learned the victim had been dropped off in the park by his girlfriend and two others.

The detectives were able to contact the girlfriend and the two males. After interviews detectives were able to determine that Aguilar had been working in a marijuana garden in a remote part of Fishrock Road, Yorkville.

Aguilar was said to be despondent over a breakup with his girlfriend. He had walked off when the other four subjects heard a gunshot and found him dead.

They carried the victim up to Fishrock Road where they were met and transported Aguilar to the area where he was found.

Detectives are attempting to identify the location of the marijuana garden crime scene and recover a firearm.

The case remains under investigation the victim's family has been notified.

The cause of death will be determined by autopsy.

Cal Fire firefighters look on as a helicopter drops water on a grass fire in the north Lakeport area on Saturday, July 11, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




LAKEPORT – Firefighters quickly contained a fire Saturday evening in the north Lakeport area.

The fire was reported shortly before 6 p.m.

Michael Selmi of Cal Fire's Incident Command Center said the blaze, measuring an acre and a half, was located in the area of Hill Road and Snyder Drive.

An estimated 40 firefighters – from Cal Fire, Lakeport and Northshore Fire – were on scene for the evening blaze, which came close to area homes. In particular, it burned right up next to one home sitting on a small ridge.

Numerous engines – including five from Cal Fire – responded, along with a bulldozer and a hand crew.

A helicopter and three air tankers were dispatched to the fire, with the helicopter making several water drops.

One area resident, Jack Baxter, looked out his kitchen window, saw the fire and went right for his tractor. Baxter took the front loader with a drag box and headed straight up the hill from his house toward the flames.

He drove into the burning grass and used his tractor to cut a fire line on three sides, which may have helped save the nearest home from fire as well as protect other homes in the immediate area.

Neighbors and firefighters credited his fast action for helping stop the fast-moving fire from reaching other homes over the hill toward Walnut and Lakeshore Boulevard.

The fire was contained just before 6:30 p.m., Selmi said.

Selmi said the fire's cause was a bird that flew into a transformer, a cause which he said is pretty common.

Area residents at the scene indicated that, before the fire, they had experienced a power surge at about 5:45 p.m., followed by a brief blackout.

This is the fourth fire this week reported on the north Lakeport area.

Last Wednesday, three fires amounting to about 22 acres burned along the Highway near the Lakeside Heights subdivision, as Lake County News has reported.

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




Jack Baxter brought out his tractor to help fight the fire. Here he stops to talk to firefighters on Saturday, July 11, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.






An onlooker watchers as firefighters work to fight a fire in the north Lakeport area on Saturday, July 11, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

Sugar Pie DeSanto, one of blues' all-time greats. Courtesy photo.

I’m sitting next to the legendary Sugar Pie DeSanto on a (gulp) US Air flight still on the tarmac at the Oakland Airport.

Obscured in the pages of blues history is the fact that she was the only female artist on the 1964 American Folk Blues tour that featured Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Willie Dixon, among others.

She was one of many artists on the Chess Records roster during its heyday. Her duets with Etta James were certifiable, charting hits. Prior to that, Sugar Pie was the opening act for Soul Brother No. 1, The Godfather of Funk, Mr. James Brown.

Sugar Pie kept James on his toes in more ways than one. She set the performance bar very high for James and anyone else who has drawn top billing behind her since. It can safely be said then and now; you have to be great or foolish to dare to perform after her.

In the summer of 2007, I was able to witness the “kidding on the square” banter between Sugar Pie and rhythm and blues veterans, Ruby Andrews and Cicero Blake. They were debating who was going to open, follow and close their performance at the Chicago Blues Festival. Neither Andrews nor Blake dared to follow the Sugar!

It is just past nine in the morning and we have a long flight day ahead of us. Sugar is booked to close the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival on Friday, July 3, at 9:30 p.m., approximately 36 hours away. Our itinerary calls for us to change plans twice, in Phoenix and Chicago. We are scheduled to layover a total of three plus hours and our travel time to our final destination of Moline, Ill., is close to 10 hours.

The flight leaves the terminal on time and we settle into our seats. As we taxi down the runway at a speed that seems to me to be close to 100 miles per hour, we are suddenly thrown forward with a collective gasp as the pilot slams on the brakes.

“Ladies and gentleman, we have a computer malfunction and will be returning to the terminal to get it repaired before takeoff …”

They couldn’t repair it. Three hours later, we are hustled onto a shuttle to San Francisco. It’s 12:10 p.m. and we are trying to connect with a flight that leaves San Francisco at 1:30 p.m. I express my concern to the driver who seems noncommittal about getting us there on time.

“Oh, I don’t know whether we’ll make it or not. I can’t be speeding. I got two tickets last month and I have to observe the 65 mile per hour speed limit.”

This is not good. If we don’t make the San Francisco connection, the gig is on the line. There are no more connections to Moline that will make it in time.

My distress is soon put to the test as the driver proceeds to do 85 and 90 miles per hour all the way to San Francisco Airport. Shockingly, we arrive in just enough time to go check in, go through security and board. Yes, I did tip the very slick driver!

We have been advised that we will be staying in Chicago overnight after transferring in Las Vegas.

When we get to Las Vegas, Sugar Pie gleefully entertains herself with a couple of rounds with the one-armed jack machines stationed around the Las Vegas airport. She convinces me to drop a dollar in the penny machine. With our carryon luggage under her watch, I slip off to grab an overpriced bite.

We make it out of Las Vegas and land safely in Chicago. Bleary-eyed, we check in to the Hilton about midnight. With a 20-hour day (at least for me) concluded, we check into our rooms to grab four hours sleep for me, five for the Sugar (I have a morning routine that takes me about an hour).

The alarm hits at 4 a.m. I do my thing. I’m supposed to call Sugar Pie at 5 a.m. for her wakeup. My phone rings at 4:55 a.m. It’s the Sugar.

“What time we leavin’? Can we get some coffee?”

“I’ll be there for you at 5:45,” I reply.

We check out of the Hilton in reasonably good shape and head for the airport by foot. It’s only about a five-minute walk. We have to recheck our luggage, get boarding passes and go through security again for the puddle jump to Moline.

We grab coffee and breakfast sandwiches and are headed to sit down at our boarding gate, when we are confronted by a situational orange alert.

“Excuz meh plez. Can you help meh?”

A man with an accent out of somewhere in Africa is panhandling us with a story about having only Chinese money (he shows us a fistful of strange currency) that they won’t take. He claims massive hunger.

Partly because I empathize with his plight, partly because our food is getting cold, I give him a dollar. Three or so minutes later, it occurred to me that all he really had to do was go to the currency exchange. Did I get taken? Maybe. Was it worth the price of admission? I think so.

We finally land in Moline just before 9 am. on July 3. Our Hotel is in Bettendorf, Iowa. The hotel van swoops us up and we are checked in before 10 a.m.

We have time for a quick nap in our respective rooms. The Sugar has a radio interview scheduled for noon. Rehearsal with the band is at 2:30 p.m. The gig is at 9:30 p.m. At 9:15 the mayor of Davenport is presenting her with the key to the city as the Mississippi Valley Blues Society awards her with a Lifetime Achievement Plaque.

End of part I; to be continued next week.

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.

Upcoming cool events:

Sax-O-Rama, Sunday Brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 12, Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake; telephone 707-275-2233.

Tutu Jones, Andrews Jr. Boy Jones, Sherman Robertson, Caravan of Allstars, Russell City Memorial Blues Band, Alvin Draper, Mike Osborne’s tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Consonance, Blues Boy Willie, Preacher Luke Scott , Hayward/Russell City Blues Festival, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, July 12. 777 “B” St. at City Hall Plaza in Hayward. Telephone 510-836-2227.

Side of Blues, Blue Monday, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 13, Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake.

Open Mike Night, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16, Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake.

The Lost Boys, 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 17, Library Park, 200 Park St., Lakeport.

Greg Allman in Concert, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 18. Cache Creek Casino, 14455 Hwy 16, Brooks. Telephone 888-77-CACHE, online at .

Smokey Robinson in Concert, 7:15 p.m. Saturday, July 31. Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa, 8727 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville. Telephone 800-660-LAKE, online at .

The Four Tops in Concert, 9 p.m. Saturday, July 31. Cache Creek Casino Resort, 14455 Hwy 16, Brooks. Telephone 888-77 CACHE, online at .

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at .

LOWER LAKE – A California Highway Patrol sustained major injuries and a Lake County Sheriff's deputy were hurt when they were each hit in separate crashes that occurred early Monday morning.


The identities of the two law enforcement officers were not released.

The CHP reported that the first crash occurred at 12:21 a.m. at the entrance of the DNA Rock quarry north of Diener Drive on Highway 29.

Officer Adam Garcia reported that the CHP officer from the Clear Lake area office was conducting a drunk driving evaluation at the quarry's entrance.

At the same time, the deputy was stopped on southbound Highway 29 preparing to make a left turn into the quarry entrance with his rear emergency lights activated, Garcia said.

As the deputy sat along the highway 58-year-old Edward Choroski of Clearlake struck the rear of the sheriff’s patrol vehicle with his white 1997 Volvo, according to Garcia.

Garcia said the collision pushed the patrol vehicle into the highway's northbound traffic lane.

The CHP officer attempted to give medical aid to the deputy who was standing adjacent to the driver’s side door, Garcia said.

At that point, the Sheriff’s patrol vehicle was struck head-on by a 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan driven by 65-year-old Mary Gomez of Lakeport, according to Garcia.

Garcia said the second collision pushed the sheriff’s patrol vehicle into the CHP officer, throwing him off the roadway and into some nearby bushes.

Kelseyville Fire Protection District ambulance transported the deputy to Sutter Lakeside Hospital, where he was treated for minor to moderate injuries, Garcia said.

Garcia said the CHP officer sustained major non-life threatening injuries and was also taken to Sutter Lakeside for treatment.

Gomez and Choroski were not reported as being injured, Garcia said.

CHP Officer Josh Dye is investigating the collisions.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

CLEARLAKE OAKS – Two people were flown to an area hospital after a collision occurred Saturday evening between a vehicle and a motorcycle.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash occurred at Highway 20 and Harvey at about 6:15 p.m.

A Honda Civic and a motorcycle collided, leaving the roadway blocked, according to the CHP.

The CHP, Lake County Sheriff's Office and Northshore Fire responded to the scene. Tow companies also were called for the vehicles.

The motorcyclist and the passenger in the vehicle were both flown to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, the CHP reported.

Major injuries were reported, but the names of the crash victims and their specific injuries were not available late Saturday.

The roadway was reopened at approximately 7:36 p.m., the CHP reported.

CHP Officer Kory Reynolds is reportedly in charge of the investigation.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The renovation project needs just over $1.3 million in order to be completed. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



LAKEPORT – After a four-month hiatus from hosting performances in order to allow for the latest phase of its renovation project, the Soper-Reese Community Theatre will once again open its doors to the public beginning this coming week.

A Friday afternoon reception allowed community members to visit the building, located at 275 S. Main St., which has several new features after the latest renovation phase, which is being called “phase 2.1,” according to theater manager John Ross.

Most notably, the size of the stage has expanded, with new wheelchair-accessible walkways added on either side that extend out toward the audience. Those ramps were painted on Friday.

Also on Friday, the concrete for a new loading dock was poured.

Alongside of the building, facing Martin Street, is a new patio and courtyard area.

On Saturday, a new curtain will be hung across the stage, said Bert Hutt, the theater's artistic director.

The recent phase also included laying the foundation and doing the electrical work for the dressing room area that will extend out from behind the theater.

The Soper-Reese Renovation Project needs to raise a total of $1.3 million to complete it work.

The theater's first renovation phase cost $600,000, and phase 2.1 cost $220,000, said Ross.

In the next phase, they'll complete the dressing rooms, which Ross said will require $100,000. That phase also will include updates to the facade and the lobby, which will cost $350,000.

The theater's renovation has received $250,000 in federal Housing and Urban Development funds, $200,000 from the Lakeport Redevelopment Agency and funds from the county, including a recent allocation of $15,000, said Ross.

As the theater's fundraising committee goes about raising the rest of the money needed to finish the project, Ross said they're looking at all potential sources – including the community and grants.

Ross said the theater had stopped hosting events during the past four months to allow construction.

However events are starting up this next week and the theater will once again host a regular schedule of events.

Its first public event will be this Sunday, July 12, when the theater will host the memorial service for the late Joan Holman, an artist, writer, photographer and grand dame of local theater, who died June 5 at age 93.

“She has been a big supporter of the arts in Lake County,” said Hutt.

Later in the week, Lake County Community Radio, KPFZ 88.1 FM, will hold its inaugural Lake County Singer Songwriter Festival on Sundayy, July 19, at the Soper-Reese Theater in Lakeport. The event is a benefit for the nonprofit community radio station.

There are big hopes for the Soper-Reese, which will be one of the county's largest dedicated theater spaces.

In addition to hosting major events and performances, Hutt – who attended a community theater managers conference in Tacoma, Wash., earlier in the week – hopes to have a theater company based at the theater.


Visit the theater online at .

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



The inside of the theater, pictured from the lighting book. New wheelchair accessible ramps line both walls. A new stage curtain will be hung on Saturday, July 11, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




The second phase of construction included laying the foundation and doing wiring for the dressing room area, being built at the back of the theater. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

NORTH COAST – A local credit union has received $2 million as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which will allow it to expand key lending services on the North Coast.

Mendo Lake Credit Union was one of 59 community development financial institutions (CDFIs) across the country that was awarded almost $90 million in funding through a competitive grant process, according to Congressman Mike Thompson's office.

“In this tough economy, ensuring that families and small businesses have access to the capital they need to stay afloat is extremely important,” said Thompson. “Credit unions provide important services to the underserved in our community, and this funding will allow the Mendo Lake Credit Union to continue their important work.”

Mendo Lake was one of only two credit unions in California, and nine across the United States, considered for the funds, said Richard Cooper, Mendo Lake Credit Union's president and chief executive officer.

The grant is “very exciting for us,” said Cooper, who explained that ARRA doubled funding for the US Treasury's CDFI program from $50 million to $98 million.

The CDFI fund's mission is to expand financial services to underserved populations in the United States and promote economic revitalization and community development through investment in and assistance to CDFIs, according to its Web site, . The fund was created in 1994.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Mendo Lake Credit Union's chartering.

The nonprofit financial institution is insured by the federal National Credit Union Administration, and is owned and controlled by members. It serves more than 13,000 community members in Lake and Mendocino counties. Mendo Lake has 33 employees in three offices – six in Lakeport, five Fort Bragg and 12 in Ukiah.

Cooper said the funds will provide an important boost. He explained that Mendo Lake Credit Union is the No. 1 auto loan lender in Lake County. It also works with many small businesses – including many “mom and pops” – and offers free checking services to businesses and individuals.

The funding will allow the credit union to expand its operations back into real estate lending, he said, explaining that the credit union has had first-time homebuyer and manufactured housing loan programs for many years, and has been successful in getting people into their own homes.

“We had actually been out of the real estate market for a good 12 or 14 months due to the current situation,” he said.

Cooper said Mendo Lake does a lot of financial literacy and community work, and reaches out to people who don't trust traditional banks and have used high-interest check cashing and payday lending programs instead– including immigrants, tribal communities and some low-income residents. The goal is to bring them into the mainstream.

Unlike a for-profit bank, credit unions do not generate gains for shareholders. “We have to grow our capital as we grow our organization,” said Cooper. “It would take us years and years to save $2 million out of current earnings.”

This is the second time Mendo Lake Credit Union has received a sizable federal grant.

In 2005 the institution was awarded $1.3 million, said Cooper. That funding helped provide the credit union with the capital needed to grow from $50 million in holdings in 2005 to $75 million in 2007-08.

As a size comparison, he pointed out that Savings Bank of Mendocino – which he said shares a good relationship with the credit union – has $800 million in assets.

The 2008 funding cycle was the first time that Mendo Lake could reapply for more funds. Cooper said it's a “pretty arduous process,” with a six-inch notebook worth of paper as part of the federal application and reporting requirements.

He said the government was looking at organizations and institutions, like Mendo Lake, that offer core services to underserved, urban and rural poor populations.

The current economy has created challenges for the people Mendo Lake serves, particularly with auto loans, said Cooper. Delinquency was once very low and part of a strongly performing portfolio.

Now, delinquency has increased 100 percent, with it becoming a common occurrence to see people coming into the credit union with their car keys and a sad look on their face, Cooper said.

Cooper said the credit union has listened to peoples' needs and tried to work with them. That includes negotiating interest rates and modifying payment plans with a couple hundred of its car loan customers in order to help keep them in cars so they can search for jobs or keep the employment they already have.

“We have worked very hard and I'm so proud of the loyalty and the good intentions of so many of our credit union members,” he said.

In addition to its regular business functions, Cooper said Mendo Lake seeks to be a good corporate citizen through community involvement and support of nonprofits and education.

Their work locally includes offering scholarships for local at-risk students at Mendocino College. Cooper sits on the Mendocino College Foundation's board.

Cooper said Mendo Lake can do a lot with the federal funding.

“It provides that little extra that we need to maintain a really small bottom line,” he said.

For more information visit Mendo Lake Credit Union online, .

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

BOONVILLE – Authorities in Mendocino County are investigating the death of a man whose body was discovered in a state park on Saturday.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office reported that at 8 a.m. Saturday Boonville resident Deputy Keith Squires was contacted at his residence by a citizen.

The man stated that he had stopped to walk his dog on a trail adjacent to the Hendy Woods State Park and discovered a body lying alongside the trail.

Deputy Squires and the citizen went to location where he found a Hispanic male adult with a single gunshot wound.

Mendocino County detectives were called to the location where a murder investigation was initiated.

The man's body was found off a trail across from the entrance to Hendy Woods State Park. Officials said the body was located approximately 50 feet from the road along the trail.

It appeared the deceased had been dropped at the location as there was no evidence that this was where he was killed.

The man, whose age is estimated at between 20 and 25, was dressed in blue jeans, a t-shirt and a green camouflage jacket.

The sheriff's office reported that the cause of death appears to be a gunshot wound but this is to be confirmed by an autopsy.

The deceased's identity is not known.

Anyone with any information about the killing or the identity of the deceased is encouraged to call Mendocino County Sheriff Detective Eric Riboli at 707-463-4107 or the tip line at 707-467-9159.

Susan Feiler, owner of the Lake County Wine Studio, pour a local wine for a guest. Photo by Emily Silva.



UPPER LAKE – If you are looking for a way to taste a variety of Lake County’s wines but can’t make a trip around the lake, Lake County Wine Studio should be your next wine destination.

Lake County Wine Studio is located across the street from the Blue Wing Saloon at 9505 Main St., Upper Lake.

The business showcases more than 20 wineries from around Clear Lake. Hours are Thursday through Sunday, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays.

Susan Feiler, the wine studio's owner, said she sees the business in a marketing role for the county's wines.

She wants to offer a tasting room experience to guests and locals who are seeking out the fine wines of Lake County and feature the boutique wineries and winemakers that do not have their own public tasting venue.

As well, she hopes to eventually represent and promote all Lake County wineries and artisan winemakers with at least one representative wine they produce in order to introduce their wine and present their story to wine aficionados and neophytes.

“I am also realizing my goal of presenting the talented artists of Lake County and their various mediums by showcasing an artist each month,” she said.

Wines are rotated on a regular basis so all wineries get their turn to be tasted. That offers visitors a good sense of the county's wine diversity.

“The list rotates and features five reds and five whites as well as a dessert wine,” said Feiler.

Feiler welcomes guests with her sunny personality and has a true passion for wine, especially the amazing wines Lake County has to offer. As she pours, the excitement shows on her face.

“You are going to love this wine,” she says as she pours a taste of Cabernet Sauvignon. Upon tasting, I agree with her.

When asked her philosophy on wine, Feiler explains, “Wine is a consumable work of art created by the conditions in which the grapes are grown and the talents of the winemakers. Enjoy your wine purchases in your lifetime. Create your special occasions and good memories with friends and family to celebrate your lives, the day, the triumphs and successes – for lesser reasons than scaling Mt. Everest or reaching your 50th wedding anniversary.”

On Fridays, the studio offers a revolving fondue menu. The first Friday of the month, the studio offers tasting of that month’s feature winery and patrons can view the new art to grace the walls. This offers the perfect way to start a weekend.

Monotony is not commonplace for the tasting menu. The revolution of the fondue and wine will leave anyone’s taste buds asking for a return visit. The ambiance, music, artwork as well as Feiler’s conversation will make it a regular stop on your weekend rounds, if not a monthly event to see the new art and taste the new feature winery.

For more information, call Lake County Wine Studio at 707-275-8030.



The Lake County Wine Studio features pairings of great food and wine. Photo by Emily Silva.



THE GEYSERS – The Geysers and Cobb area experienced two more earthquakes close to or above 3.0 magnitude on Sunday.

The US Geological Survey reported that a 3.0-magnitude quake occurred at 4:31 a.m. It was centered two miles north of The Geysers, five miles west of Cobb and seven miles west northwest of Anderson Springs.That quake was later downgraded to 2.9.

The quake occurred at a depth of 1.7 miles, and was reportedly felt nearly 700 miles away in Claremont, according to the US Geological Survey's shake reports.

That quake was followed 18 minutes later by a 3.1-magnitude quake.

Occurring at 4:49 a.m., the second quake was measured at a depth of two miles, the US Geological Survey reported.

Its epicenter appeared to be in the same spot as the first quakes – two miles north of The Geysers, five miles west of Cobb and seven miles west northwest of Anderson Springs, based on monitoring reports.

Shake reports on the second quake came from Middletown, Concord and San Francisco.

Over the last several weeks The Geysers area has seen a spike in quakes measuring 3.0 and above, as Lake County News has reported.

Two earthquakes occurred July 6, measuring 3.7 and 3.8 on the Richter Scale, which followed two quakes above 3.0 the previous week.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Manzanita Restaurant at Twin Pine Casino, 22223 Highway 29 at Rancheria Road, Middletown, telephone 800-564-4872. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. If the restaurant is full food can be served to you in the Grapevine Bar and Lounge.

When researching the Guenoc American Viticultural Area column I spoke to several people of the Middletown Rancheria and they all seemed to end the conversation with “You should come try our restaurant” I don’t get around Middletown very often but decided to make the trip to see what they were talking about.

The Middletown Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians operates Twin Pine Casino just south of Middletown on Highway 29. I’m not a gambler so I’ve never been inside the old casino but I have to say that the new one is very impressive.

The first surprise I had as I approached the casino was when I noticed there was a whole lot of improvement to it. The old military barracks-like tent is no longer in use, and there is a major hotel and casino standing next to it with a brand new parking lot. Wow, I really haven’t been here for a while!

Walking into the casino was quite the surprise. The décor is amazing! There are giant wooden beams, remarkable rock work and more brick than the Italian catacombs. The Edgar Allen Poe story “The Cask of Amontillado” popped into my recollection as I looked around. The quote, “For the love of god, Montresor!” kept repeating over and over again in my mind. It was all designed to accent the natural surroundings outside and was quite impressive.

The restaurant is located towards the back of the casino. A word of warning to anyone who hasn’t been in a casino before: smoking is permitted in the casino area so if you have sensitive lungs you may need to hold your breath a while to get to the restaurant. I’m personally pretty sensitive to allergens like smoke, and my throat was burning for an hour after leaving the building. Luckily the restaurant is sealed off from the casino with an obviously excellent ventilation system so the smoke won’t affect your meal

I arrived at 4 p.m. and the restaurant didn’t open until 5 p.m., so I went to the Grapevine Bar and Lounge to have a drink until it opened. The bartender Michelle can only be described as gorgeous and as hopefully my next wife. She is charming and attentive without being fawning.

As I sat at the bar I noticed that I could partially see into the kitchen. One kitchen staff member I have met before recognized me and waved, and all I could think was, “Oh no! I’ve been exposed by the very people who I will be reviewing.” Then I see several of the kitchen staff looking out at me, whispering and pointing. I thought then, “I’m definitely outed now,” but I had come all this way and I was still hungry.

When 5 p.m. came around I went into the restaurant and was seated immediately. I looked at the menu and saw that it had a little bit of everything on it, a nice well-rounded selection. Then my waitress Kim asked if I would like to hear the specials.

As she rattled them off they included a soft-shelled crab tempura on an Asian slaw appetizer ... I can’t pass up soft-shelled crab, ever. And for the entrée, they were featuring a seared ahi tuna. That’s another one I can’t pass up. Wine is available by the glass and I let the little sommelier in my head ask for the Langtry Sauvignon Blanc to go with what I ordered.

From the time I entered the restaurant to the time I received my wine and appetizer was 15 minutes, much faster than I was expecting. The plate was full of slaw and a whole soft-shelled crab with a Panko tempura crust, the crab being cut in half to make it a little easier to work with. The sweet sauce that came with the crab complemented it very well and the slaw was mildly dressed.

If you are a small person this could be a full meal all by itself, but luckily for me I’m not a small person, and I wolfed it all down. The crab was so crisp that when I cut off a claw the snap that occurred in the action shot the crab claw across the table and I quietly acted as if nothing happened.

At exactly 30 minutes after entering the restaurant my entrée arrived. I looked at it and immediately thought, “I can’t eat this. This is a work of art. If I eat this I will be destroying a thing of beauty.”

Seriously, this looked like something that you would find in a Michelin-starred restaurant. The ahi tuna was leaning on a tower of rice covered in a light sauce, and I could see nori and at least two different types of tobiko (flying fish eggs) and a couple of types of cabbage. There were colors and flavors everywhere.

I always enjoy dishes that match the protein with the garnish and sides in some karmic way, like rabbit and carrots, duck and rice, venison and everything in my garden, so the fact that the tuna was combined with fish eggs and seaweeds made me love the dish all the more.

“Well,” I thought, “A person's gotta eat,” so after a few moments of admiration I tore into the dish.

The exterior of the tuna was lightly seared and the interior was still rare, just the way it should be. I felt dirty eating it (but dirty in the good way), like I was getting a thrill out of destroying the artistic picture it was and reveling in its obliteration.

After dinner I went back to the bar (I had professional questions to ask; this has nothing to do with going back and staring at Michelle again with big Precious Moments figurine eyes). I asked her to find out the executive chef’s name and she came back with his card.

His name is Jeremy Peckham and he lives here in Lake County part-time and Hawaii part-time. Dinner was well worth the trip and I decided I would definitely return; you don’t get a meal of this caliber at many places around the county.

I think this really proves that Lake County is DEFINITELY becoming a food AND wine destination. I was so impressed with my experience that I returned a couple weeks later with my wife.

We walked through the entire casino and she agreed that the amount and structure of brickwork in the Grapevine Bar was very evocative of Poe. Michelle was there so I introduced my current wife to her eventual successor … no, no, not awkward at all, it’s all just part of my unique charm. Truthfully, my wife is very indulgent of my sense of humor.

After a couple of drinks we went to the restaurant. We each had a great meal. My wife ordered the spinach and artichoke dip for her appetizer, and I had the crab cakes, both of which were quite good.

The smoked rib-eye with peppers and béchamel sauce I ordered was so rich and thick that I couldn’t finish it. My wife had the double jack chicken sandwich with steak fries, and she made several comments about the portions being very generous.

She likes to have dessert when we go out, so she only ate about half her meal and asked for it to be boxed up so she would have enough room. Since rhubarb is in season right now she ordered the strawberry rhubarb crisp a la mode. It was sweet and tart at the same time, and a very comforting way to end her meal.

Prices are more reasonable than you would expect for a meal of this caliber, so I have another good reason to return to Middletown regularly.

In addition to the new casino, hotel, bar and restaurant, I learned that they will also soon have a wine tasting room that will feature Lake County wines, so Twin Pine Casino is becoming a very complete destination to visit.

To the people of the Middletown Rancheria: You have a wholly impressive facility that you can be very proud of, and as Montresor said to Fortunato, “... I drink to your long life.” But I say it to you with much more goodwill than he did.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.

LAKE COUNTY – Extremely dry conditions have contributed to several fires around the county over the last week.

In the south county, Lake County Fire Protection Battalion Chief Willie Sapeta said they've seen just a few small fires in the district during the week, including a 50 by 50 foot area that burned on Thursday, and a few slightly smaller fires on Spruce.

The biggest fire recently occurred on Friday, July 3, and damaged the Kool and Cash building at 40th and Phillips Avenue, resulting in about $100,000 in damage, said Sapeta.

“We've been really fortunate so far,” he said. “We're holding our breath.”

Also on July 3, a fire off of Bridge Arbor North Road in Upper burned 10 acres in an orchard, according to Chief Jim Robbins of the Northshore Fire Protection District.

A fire lookout spotted the fire, said Robbins, noting that Lakeport Fire, Cal Fire and the US Forest Service also responded.

Robbins said he hasn't been able to find a cause for the fire, which occurred during the middle of the day. “Fires just don't start out in the middle of orchards by themselves,” he said.

That same day, Northshore Fire responded to a two-structure fire on E. Highway 20 and Oak Grove in Clearlake Oaks, said Robbins.

A large oak tree came down across power lines, sparking the fire, which scorched a fence and led to damage to the front of one house and to the garage of another. Robbins estimated damage at $80,000 for repairs to both homes.

Another small, two-acre grass fire was reported in Nice off of Spring Street before 5 a.m. Monday, said Robbins.

While neighbors claimed to have heard firecrackers prior to the fire being reported, Robbins said there was no evidence of fireworks, and the fire's cause is unknown.

Also on Monday, a six-acre fire was reported on Bartlett Springs Road. Robbins said the fire appeared to have come from a nearby campground before burning up a hill. That fire was handled by the US Forest Service and Cal Fire.

Kelseyville Fire reported a small, quarter-acre fire on Wednesday off of Clark Drive. The cause of the fire, located near homes, is under investigation.

Firefighters were able to quickly suppress a 22-acre fire in north Lakeport on Wednesday, as Lake County News has reported. Northshore and Lakeport Fire, as well as Cal Fire and the US Forest Service responded. The cause of the fire hasn't yet been reported.

On Thursday, a fire was sparked on Hutchins Road and Burpee Drive in Nice when a squirrel got into high tension lines. “It blew him up and the insulator,” said Robbins.

The explosion caught the ground on fire, burning just under an acre, said Robbins.

Conditions are so dry lately that fires can easily spark, and afternoon winds an add to the problem, he said.

No fires appeared to have resulted from illegal fireworks over the July 4 weekend, according to local fire chiefs.

“We went out and chased a bunch but never caught any,” said Sapeta.

Lakeport Fire Protection Chief Ken Wells noted that the holiday weekend was pretty quiet.

Lakeport Fire teamed up with Lakeport Police to confiscate illegal fireworks and make some arrests, including one felony case in which a man from San Francisco was found with a handheld flare launcher, Wells said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Upcoming Calendar

07.13.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.13.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Lake County Library Bookmobile special stop
07.16.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.17.2024 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Free veterans dinner
07.20.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.23.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.27.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.30.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
08.03.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
08.06.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park

Mini Calendar



Award winning journalism on the shores of Clear Lake. 



Enter your email here to make sure you get the daily headlines.

You'll receive one daily headline email and breaking news alerts.
No spam.