SAN FRANCISCO, SEPTEMBER 22, 2011 - If you think that only Napa, Sonoma or one of the other large wine regions in California have the wine, atmosphere and amenities that you love, you will be missing out if you don’t look to Livermore Valley. It’s not just about drinking wine here. It’s about the lifestyle, sharing stories and ensuring that same lifestyle is here for generations to come.
Located 30 miles east of San Francisco, Livermore Valley Wine Country is home to over 40 wineries and was the first region to put America on the international wine map back in 1889.
Livermore Valley celebrated a lot of milestones this year: the 80th birthday of Jim Concannon from Concannon Vineyard, the 50th anniversary of Petite Sirah being bottled as a varietal (also by the Concannon Family) and the 30th anniversary of the Harvest Wine Festival. The festival takes place in early September every year and this years celebration was over Labor Day weekend.
This festival is part of California Wine Month and is unlike any other I’ve previously been too. On Sunday your ticket price included a shuttle bus taking you on different routes throughout the region. Great idea to have fewer cars on the road and have a DD (designated driver), allowing you to sit back, relax and really enjoy your day of wine tasting. On Monday, no shuttle busses, but a more intimate setting, allowing you to not only meet the winemakers, but also spend some quality time with them.
Here are highlights from this year’s Harvest Festival:
Concannon Vineyard: the property is warm and inviting. A recent $30 million revitalization project was completed with a fresh look to their labels as well as the property, including the state of the art Underdog Wine Bar, Certified Sustainable winery, as well as organic.
Winemakers John and Jim Concannon and Jim Ryan, their Director of Hospitality, are down-to-earth, easy to talk to, and very easy to kick back and drink some wine with. When arriving at the winery, one of the first things you’ll notice is their outdoor wine bar and restaurant. It’s one of those places that makes you want to skip running around to different wineries, order a bottle of wine, sit and spend the day at this beautiful winery.
Concannon tasting recommendations: Conservancy Crimson & Clover, Reserve Viognier, Reserve Assemblage Red Wine, Selected Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon & Conservancy Cabernet Sauvignon, Limited Release Tempranillo and of course, Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah (any of the Petite Sirahs really). Also poured at Concannon is Darcie Kent, limited production, craft wines. Taste their Zinfandel, Gruner Veltliner Rava Blackjack, and Madden Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wente Vineyards: Wente has two locations. First, they have their main tasting room. And second, is their gorgeous property that includes their Greg Norman golf course, award winning restaurant, second tasting room, unique outdoor table top concert venue, organic garden and caves. Met with Carolyn Wente, current CEO, she walked us around, showcasing both the rich history as well as the latest additions to the property.
We finished off our tour with lunch at their delicious restaurant. The restaurant is hip and inviting. There is great outdoor seating allowing you to enjoy the blue skies overhead and the luscious winery that surrounds you. Wente has its own organic garden, changing its menu based on what’s tasting great and picked that day.
Check out their concert calendar too. Wente offers a very unique outdoor concert experience, complete with round tables and while linens. Featured artists include Diana Ross, Tears for Fears, The Beach Boys, and local Northern California boy Chris Isaak.
Wente also produces Murietta’s Well, Tamas Estates, and Nth Degree Wines. Wente tasting recommendations: Morning Fog Chardonnay, Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon, Reliz Creek Pinot Noir, Murrieta’s Well Red Meritage, Tamas Double Decker Red.
Thomas Coyne Winery: Here, vineyards are surrounded by mountains, rustic barns and charming historic buildings. Thomas Coyne started making wine in 1989 under his own label and in 1994 he reopened the old “Chateau Bellevue Winery” originally built in 1881 by Frenchman Alexander Duvall. You can always spot Tom, he’s the one wearing the Penn State hat. The wines consistently win local, regional and state awards.
Thomas Coyne tasting notes: Wines produced include Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, a Rhone blend called Quest™ and a Bordeaux blend called Confluence™. Be sure to try the Petit Verdot, Chateau Bellevue Syrah Estate Reserve, Petite Sirah, and chat up Tom about the next Big Ten matchup. Pack a picnic. This is a fine setting for sipping some wine, snacking, sharing stories and passing the day. Just pop a squat at one of their picnic tables and enjoy!
Las Positas Vineyards: Lisa Maier, the owner and winemaker Charlie Kidd enjoy sharing future plans for the vineyards and discussing combined old and new school wine philosophy. Las Positas is surrounded by history, with soil rich with flavor and complexity. Keep your eye on this vineyard. Charlie jokes around that between he and his brother (who studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis) they will one day rule the wine world. Future great things are sure to come.
Las Positas tasting recommendations: Casa de Vinas Covarrubias Petite Sirah, Casa de Vinas Covarrubias Cabernet Sauvignon (if you eat meat, grab a steak with this one), Livermore Valley Chardonnay.
Fenestra Winery: Even though they’ve been around since 1976, the winery has the character of a much older, quaint winery. This is a great place to picnic by the creek and taste some of their award-winning wines. They usually have events throughout the year, such as Barrel Tasting Weekend, Spring Fling, Chocolate and Cabernet Weekend, so be sure check out their calendar of events.
Fenestra tasting recommendations: Torrontes, Pinot Gris, Semonnay, True Red, Mourvedre, Cabernet Franc (Ghielmetti Vineyard), Malbec (Ghielmetti Vineyard) and the Port (excellent with some Belgian chocolate).
There are more than 40 wineries in Livermore. See a complete list of wineries in the Valley. While impossible to visit all in a single visit, the Harvest Festival is an excellent way to experience the Livermore Valley in just two short days.
Stay overnight at the Purple Orchid Inn Resort & Spa. This is a wonderful 21-acre private estate conveniently nestled in the rolling hills of Livermore Wine Country. There is a large outdoor pool, patio and BBQ area. You can sit and relax by the pool after getting a massage, sipping a glass of wine. Check out their specials when booking. The new owners are full of life, spirit and great ideas for making the Purple Orchid the place to stay in Livermore Valley.
If you think that only Napa, Sonoma or one of the other large wine regions in California have the wine, atmosphere and amenities that are what you love, you will be missing out if you don’t look to Livermore Valley. Here it’s about the lifestyle, sharing stories and ensuring that same lifestyle is here for generations to come.
For more on Livermore Valley wine history, see Livermore Valley Wine (Part 1) – The best of the old and a promise to the future.
To view more photos of the Livermore Valley wine region, go to the Out And About San Francisco Facebook page.
Useful links and tips:
Livermore Valley Wine Country map
Upcoming Livermore Valley events and festivals
Upcoming winery events
Interactive planning tool: build your trip
Livermore Valley wine history
California Wine Month details
Weather: it gets quite hot in the daytime (80s and 90s F) and cool in the evenings (50s F). Be sure to bring a warm layer for evening. Temperature varies based on month. Be sure to check the weather before coming out.
Special thanks to: Stevan Nordstrom for taking such great photos, Jim & John Concannon, Jim Ryan, Charlie Kidd, Chris Chandler and Carolyn Wente for taking time out of their busy schedules to show us around and introduce us to Livermore Valley.
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