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.
One of the most difficult aspects of the tasting is to identify how long a wine should be aged. Here, experience and personal liking will determine when to open a bottle. The flavors and texture, or the feel in the mouth persist a couple of minutes after drinking. This is a strong indicator that the wine has a good aging potential.