Before my recent visit, when I thought of California’s Livermore Valley I thought of the Livermore Laboratory, famed for creating and protecting the nation’s nukes. Not exactly romantic wine country, right?
Boy, was I wrong. I was blown away—not by the nukes, but by the Livermore Valley’s tremendous wines, hospitable winemakers and incredible history. So rethink that visit to Napa and get yourself to the Livermore Valley now.
No. 1: The Livermore Valley is only 35 miles east of San Francisco, making it an easy day trip from the city. (It’s 60 miles from San Francisco to Napa).
No. 2: With the exception of two storied wineries, Wente Vineyards and Concannon Vineyard, the Livermore Valley is home to small, boutique wineries. That means you’ll have a more intimate experience and a higher likelihood of visiting with the winemaker than you do at the bigger places farther north. And of course, it means you’ll be able to get your hands on killer wines that aren’t widely available elsewhere. If, like me, you’re a member of the Developed Tribe, here are some recommendations: McGrail Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($42), Page Mill Winery 2013 Petite Syrah ($39) and Murietta’s Well 2013 The Spur ($22).
But Wait, There’s (Liver) More
No. 3: The Livermore Valley is less touristy than many other wine regions of California, so prices for both tastings and wine are generally far more reasonable than, oh say, Napa Valley.
No. 4: Because of how and where the Livermore Valley is situated, the wine grapes are of the highest quality. Here’s the equation on the terrior: temperate climate + maritime influences from the San Francisco Bay + the valley’s elevation + the well-drained gravel soils = grapes with complexity and balance. Perfect for delicious wines!
No. 5: The Wente Winemakers Studio is a seriously great place to learn about wine. I’ve been in more than my share of tasting rooms, but never have I been so electrified as I was by the accessible education offered at Wente Vineyards. I took classes on how to be a better taster, whether wineglass styles really matter (they do), pairing wine and food and identifying wines’ aromas. It was a unique experience and worth the trip alone.
Don’t Tell Us: You Still Like Napa
Need a little more convincing to leave Napa to the tasting hordes and give Livermore a try? Consider the region’s venerable viticulture history. I thought it was the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting that brought international attention to US wines, particularly those from California. Yet again, I was wrong. In 1889, Livermore Valley’s Cresta Blanca Winery won the Grand Prix at the international Paris Exposition, becoming the first California wine to win a competition in France.
And here’s a little more history for you: In 1936, Wente Vineyards released the nation’s first bottling of Chardonnay. In 1961, Concannon released the nation’s first bottling of Petite Syrah. And if that’s not enough, Concannon is the granddaddy of California Cabernet Sauvignon—clones that came from its rootstock have been used in 80 percent of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon.
Surprised? I was too. But here’s one thing that’s not surprising: As soon as I can, I’ll be heading back to this unique and highly satisfying California wine region. See you there!