Tasting Through the Livermore Valley Wine Region
We wanted a wine tasting weekend a short drive from San Francisco with delicious dining and other activities; what we discovered was Livermore Valley Wine Country. Located in Tri-Valley, it is one of California’s oldest wine regions dating back to 1840. Less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco and offering a plethora of wineries and plenty to do, Livermore Valley was the ideal excursion.
Of the 55 wineries many are family owned, and some, such as Wente Vineyards, operate with the fifth-generation of the family at the helm. This results in friendly wine-tasting experiences—often with the owner pouring your wine. From the moment you arrive, you feel at home.
The east-west orientation of the valley creates a different climate and conditions for the grapes, characterized by hot days tempered by cool evening breezes from the west. We couldn’t wait to experience the wine.
We began our tasting at Murietta’s Well, which has a history of winemaking dating back to 1896 and is named for the famous artesian well on property. The winery was purchased by the Wente family in the 1930s and was revived in 1990. We were delighted to see vines leafed out with tiny clusters of grapes forming and rows adorned with roses, a decorative touch that actually serves to alert to potential threats to the vines.
Murietta’s Well occupies 92 acres of vineyards and produces a complement of red and white wine. The whites were refreshing, but my favorites were the 2011 Touriga Nacional, a Portugese grape, and the 2012 Zinfandel, which we sipped while looking out over their estate vineyards. The sunny patio encouraged us to savor the wine and enjoy a leisurely afternoon.
To gain perspective and a view over the valley we stopped at 3 Steves Winery, named for the three owners who are all named Steve. Their winery is located on a ridge overlooking the valley and their tasting room has a lighthearted, fun ambiance. We started with their Brut sparkling wine, poured by Steve, and then sampled a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Next we tasted their full-bodied reds: Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, balanced and sophisticated. We toured their production room and were treated to a barrel sample. Their Rose was refreshing on this warm day. We were having such a good time we didn’t want to leave.
When we arrived at Nottingham Cellars, we took note of the outdoor tables but chose instead to taste indoors in the large tasting room. We started with the whites, Voignier and Chardonnay, transitioned with the Grenache Rose, and moved into the bold reds. First up were the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Petite Sirah, and the Bordeaux Blend. The Petite Sirah was full-bodied with red fruit flavors and balanced tannins, a favorite.
There is a saying in the wine industry that it takes a lot of beer to make good wine, so we decided to visit Altamont Beer Works to see if this might be where local winemakers get inspired. Altamont has a cult-like following, serving more than 700 people on weekends. We sampled a beer flight of Altamont’s five brews. Beer in hand we toured the production facility, where they brew 650 gallons of beer daily. Customers stop in to purchase growlers of their favorite brew to enjoy at home. We came to the conclusion that the refreshing beer would provide ample inspiration to local winemakers.
Nearby in Pleasanton, we joined the fans at the Good Guys Car Show, which featured classic Mustangs in addition to the array of classic brightly colored hot rods. It was a prime location for people watching as families descended upon the show to admire the cars on display and to watch them race in the Autocross event. Car enthusiasts had much to occupy their attention with hundreds of cars to view and auto-related products. If we didn’t have so many fun activities planned we might have spent the entire afternoon admiring the collection of cars.
During our visit, we dined at Denica’s, a neighborhood bakery and diner that creates the most enticing baked goods and satisfying meals. The chilaquiles are particularly good and a favorite breakfast choice.
Piatti in Danville provides upscale Italian dining and an interesting wine list, including local wine, as well as delicious food. Pizzas, panini, and pastas are plentiful and scrumptious, barely leaving room for dessert.
Winemaker’s Pourhouse is a wine bar with food pairings located in bustling downtown Livermore. It features local wine by the glass or bottle along with tasty snacks such as a hummus plate, roasted peppers with corn and quinoa, and flatbreads. We were happy with our selections and the care that was taken to ensure a proper wine pairing with our food.
Hyatt Place in Dublin provides comfortable, spacious accommodations for business and leisure travelers. Comfy beds, linens, and pillows guarantee a restful sleep, and the breakfast buffet ensures proper energy for the day’s activities.
Livermore makes for an ideal excursion from San Francisco. It is a place where you can experience warm weather, wine, food, and plenty of activities including golf with 15 courses from which to choose. We were surprised to find that a weekend wasn’t nearly enough time to take advantage of all of the activities—especially wine tasting.