Livermore Valley Wine Country


Livermore Valley Wine Country

Discover another California Wine visitor’s haven. Only minutes from San Francisco, San Jose, Walnut Creek and Oakland lays the somewhat hidden Livermore Valley and some fine wines. You will be glad you took a short drive to Livermore where you’ll enjoy irresistible wine country hospitality. The winemakers, friends and family who founded some 50 beautiful wineries, are waiting for you to come taste some award-winning wines. Enjoy a visiting the friendly tasting rooms with experience and enthusiasm folks who make it a point to make guests quickly feel like old friends. The Livermore Valley is one of the oldest wine regions in California. Robert Livermore planted the first commercial grapes in the 1840s. This area has a delightful mixture of large and small wineries waiting for you to explore. Many are only open on weekends, but will make appointments for tasting during the week.

In addition to wine tasting, the Livermore Valley also offers great restaurants, challenging golf courses, unique accommodations, hiking, and shopping. Enjoy a California Wine Tour and begin exploring Livermore. Plan your own Livermore Wine Tour. The Livermore Wine Country is located in San Francisco’s East Bay Area approximately 30 miles east of San Francisco. It includes wineries in Livermore, Pleasanton, Sunol, and Castro Valley. If you are wine tasting in Livermore on a Sunday, you might want to enjoy a scenic train ride from the historic train depot in Sunol through the Palomares Canyon and back.

Livermore Valley Wine Country welcomes visitors with lovely expanse of vineyards, wineries, just what you are looking for on our journey on this portion of California’s Wine Trails. Picturesque canyons, ridges, the lush vines and inviting tasting rooms increasingly define the quality of life in this little valley. To the delight of Livermore residents and visitors alike, the region is enjoying a wine renaissance harking back to the golden years of early California wine history.

Livermore Valley could count more than 50 wineries before Prohibition. It contributed significantly to the state’s enology and viticulture with the development of Chardonnay clones, overhead irrigation, and mechanical harvesting. Livermore Valley wineries were also the first to bottle varietal labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah.

Sauvignon Blanc, which was first planted from cuttings from Château d’Yquem in 1869, put Livermore Valley on the international wine map in 1889, when it captured America’s first gold medal at the Paris Exposition.

Livermore Valley played a pivotal role in shaping California’s wine industry.

Spanish missionaries planted the first wine grapes in the Livermore Valley in the 1760s. In the 1840s, California pioneers looking for outstanding vineyard sites began planting grapes in the region. Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines in the 1840s. Other pioneer winemakers such as C. H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore also recognized the area’s winegrowing potential and founded their wineries as far back as the early 1880s.

Livermore Valley captured America’s first international gold medal for wine in at the Paris Exposition in 1889, putting California on the world wine map. Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle varietal wines labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Syrah. Nearly 80% of California’s Chardonnay vines can trace their genetic roots to a Livermore Valley clone.

Livermore’s rich winemaking tradition, climate, soil and geography have attracted new winemakers and vineyard owners all working alongside fifth generation winegrowers to create what has been called “Livermore Valley wine renaissance”. In addition to the myriad happenings at individual wineries, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association sponsors several consumer events each year, showcasing the talent, energy and fine wines of the region.

Livermore Valley boasts one of the original U.S. appellations granted by the BATF way back in October, 1982. This designation was largely based on the unique, gravel-based soils and the marine winds that are drawn into the valley every afternoon from San Francisco Bay. The Livermore Valley has an east-west orientation, making it unique among Northern California winegrowing regions. It is 15 miles long (east to west), 10 miles wide (north to south), and surrounded by coastal range mountains and foothills.

The Livermore Valley is blessed with coastal fog and marine breezes. These cool the warm valley’s air. The result, warm days and cool nights wonderful conditions for producing fully ripened, balanced fruit.

Wine has been cultivated in Livermore since the 19th century, with the Cresta Blanca Winery (founded 1882) being one of the earliest, and well-respected, with its first vintage (1884) winning Grand Prix at the 1889 Paris Exposition, becoming the first California wine to win a competition in France. Vineyards were shuttered during Prohibition, however, with the exception of two wineries, Concannon and Wente.

In the early 1960s, Livermore had as much area under vine as Napa Valley did at that time. However, it remained relatively unknown, while Napa rose to worldwide prominence. Wente Vineyards has long been the largest producer in the Livermore Valley, making around 700,000 cases of wine annually with wholesale, tasting room and export sales. It was first established in the valley in 1883 and is now the oldest family owned continuously operated winery in the United States. The other large producer, Concannon Vineyard, was established at a similar date and is now owned by the Wine Group, Their wines, along with an Irish whiskey, are in distribution along with a tasting room for direct sales. The rest are mostly new and considerably smaller. These wineries include Nottingham Cellars, Murrieta's Well, The Winemakers' Studio, Steven Kent Winery & La Rochelle, Wood Family Vineyards, McGrail Vineyards, Cuda Ridge Winery, Retzlaff Winery, Fenestra Winery, Occasio Winery, Stony Ridge/Crooked Vine Cellars, Longevity Wines, Rodrigue Molyneux Winery, 3 Steves Winery, Big White House/John Evan, Charles R Vineyards, Garre' Winery, Ehrenberg Cellars, The Singing Winemaker, Chouinard Vineyards, Elliston Vineyards, Las Positas Vineyards, Dante Robere Vineyards, Les Chenes Estate, Ruby Hill Winery, Rubino Estates, Bodegas Aguirre, Mitchell Katz Winery, Auburn James Winery and Thomas Coyne Winery, Page Mill Winery. For more Livermore wineries select Livermore under wineries or region.

The relatively obscure Petite Sirah grape produced Livermore's best historically known red wine, although the warm climate also makes for interesting dessert wines. The original plantings of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc were cuttings taken from Château d'Yquem, and those grapes tend to produce fine wine in the Livermore area. There is also a successful effort among the wineries in Livermore to specialize in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some other grapes, mostly Bordeaux varieties.

Wente Vineyards

5050 Arroyo Road

Livermore, CA 94550

Wente Vineyards, now operated by fourth and fifth generation Wentes, has the distinction of being the oldest family-operated winery in the United States after opening its doors in 1883. A visit to Wente is actually a visit to two winery locations. The first is closer to the region's other wineries and has the production facilities, a tasting room and a separate tasting room for Wente's second label, Tamás Estates. Wente's other location is further from town and located against the foothills and is a true winery destination. The historic Cresta Blanca buildings of Livermore’s original winery that Wente purchased in 1981, immediately distinguish the “Vineyard” location. The tasting room, wine caves and barrel room are all part of this original winery and worth a tour just to see the caves alone. In addition to the winery there is a golf course, a concert amphitheater and areas for weddings.

The Restaurant at Wente offers multicourse lunches and dinners that are presented with a quality and style designed to make you slow down to savor each bite. Start off with a salad made with fresh vegetables grown on site, enjoy tender meat, pasta or vegetarian dishes, and finish with specialty desserts and cheeses. A wine selection by the bottle or glass will complement the meal with help from your server.

When tasting and buying wine from Wente, the chardonnays are the signature varietals with styles ranging from completely stainless steel to those aged in French, American and Hungarian oaks. Sample the range and you're sure to find at least one that fits your desired palate. In addition, Wente makes a range of award-winning cabernet sauvignons and winery visitors will enjoy sampling the Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache and several red wine blends.

McGrail Vineyards

5600 Greenville Road

Livermore, CA 94550

Continuing the family-run theme, McGrail Vineyards is one of Livermore's newer wineries. Beginning in 1999 as a vineyard growing exceptional cabernet sauvignon, McGrail originally sold its grapes and didn't release under its own label until the 2003 vintage in 2005. The newness of the winery should not cause a visitor to think that McGrail doesn't take its craft seriously. The winery was already winning awards led by its signature cabernet sauvignon. The 2008 Cabernet Reserve won the 2012 Sweepstakes Red Wine Award at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

A visit to McGrail immediately impresses with the views and it's easy to see the family's pride in their location as well as in their cabernet sauvignon vineyards that can be seen from around the winery. The hilltop location is perfect for cabernet sauvignon. This leaves the grapes cool in the evening and early morning with fog that burns off later in the day, thus exposing the grapes to a very warm afternoon sun. The Bay Area's weather allows for a long growing season that is necessary to ripen cabernet grapes.

There's a reason the family does so well with its cabernet. Heather McGrail, daughter of owners Jim and Ginger, says, "Our winemaker and the McGrail family feel fortunate to have a great piece of property that grows wonderful cabernet sauvignon. Our main goal is to work hard in the vineyard to cultivate only the best fruit and then to move it gently along as it slowly ages into a delicious glass of wine."

The McGrails are down to earth and friendly. At the entrance to the winery is a classic pickup truck and on the grounds you'll find musicians, a large fountain, local artists and even olive oil tastings. The winery is an active, enjoyable, unpretentious spot that just happens to have fantastic vineyard views.

For tasting and buying, focus on the Cabernet Sauvignon. It's produced in different styles that have various amounts and types of oak. The winemaker even pulls the skins out early and makes a cabernet sauvignon rosé that's perfect when chilled and served on a warm summer evening.

Concannon Vineyard

4590 Tesla Road

Livermore, CA 94550

Established in 1883, Concannon Vineyard owes its first success to producing sacramental wines for the Archbishop of San Francisco. This contract with the Church proved invaluable as it carried the winery successfully through Prohibition.

The vineyards at Concannon themselves are a California State Historical Landmark as cuttings from Livermore were taken to Mexico to improve the country's commercial wine production. At the edge of the site near Tesla Road, the historic Concannon family home sits near the original gate for the winery and another historic building, now called the Ellen Rowe Victorian, was moved from downtown Livermore to the site and serves as a backdrop for weddings.

For most wine drinkers, Concannon's main claim to fame is the first bottling of Petite Sirah as a varietal wine in the United States. The first vintage of Petite Sirah, typically a blending grape, was the 1961 (actually released in 1964, allowing for oak aging that softened the typically harsh Petite Sirah tannins), and it has become the signature varietal of the winery and a grape that many other wineries now produce as a varietal. Visitors can enjoy the Petite Sirah in the tasting room, by the glass in Concannon's new Underdog Wine Bar and Restaurant or out on the expansive lawn in front of the winery.

For tasting and buying, no visit to Concannon is complete without sampling the range of Petite Sirah, which is treated by this winery as a premier varietal. The Captain Joe Petite Sirah is a particular favorite of Concannon guests. The winery also produces several other varietals, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

Steven Kent Winery

5443 Tesla Road

Livermore, CA 94550

Steven Kent Mirassou’s earliest memories are connected in one way or the other with his family’s business. When Steven was six he would play in the vineyards across the street from the family winery and find things like the skulls of long-dead cows tangled up in weeds. At eight years old Steven run through the fermentation cellar and feel dwarfed by huge redwood tanks and well aware of the rich and mysterious aromas of fermenting Cabernet. At 13 Steve started working disgorging sparkling wine, sweeping out warehouses, and driving forklifts. It was about this time, too, that Steven truly started to understand his family’s history in the California wine business, 5-generations of working the land and making wine…longer than any other in America before him.

Being part of a family that settled in Santa Clara County in 1854 and stayed there made the your Mr. Mirassou eager to see other parts of the world. Steve attended college and graduate school on the East Coast and didn’t come back to California to stay for 10 years. Steve studied literature and wrote a bit and that is what he wanted to do when he was 18. The idea of working in the wine business didn’t occur to Steven and he knew I didn’t want to sell anything, especially wine.

In 1992 Steven, along with his wife June came back to California from New Jersey with 2 children and another on the way, plus he was in need of a job. Steven found himself managing municipal street sweeping contracts for a small company and would occasionally get on a sweeper or power wash downtown parking garages. Traveling back and forth to Monterey through vineyards and strawberry fields to visit his mother stirred some old memories deep inside. Maybe it was memories of childhood or some deep-seated love for growing things. In 1996, Steven joined his father, and they started the Steven Kent Winery in Livermore Valley.

The very first wines from this new winery were very well received and were proof both Steven and his father that the Livermore Valley was as ideally suited as any growing area in the world to produce world-class Bordeaux varietals. Their brand grew, and soon Steven started making more and more different wines. The extraordinary quality of the 2007 vintage was wonderful. In that year, Lineage was born.

Lineage is the wine that serves as Steven Kent Winery’s offering to the pioneering works that the previous generations of his family and a challenge to generations to come of America’s oldest winemaking family to create ever-greater wine.