A Vinous Oasis Amid Suburban Sprawl

    Never, ever… EVER drive on northern California’s Highway 580 during the morning or late afternoon commutes.

     It will make you think you’re in Los Angeles… or Manhattan, only without the honking taxi cabs.

     And just when some space opens up between the cars, you get up to 40-mph, and you think you’re finally on your way, you’ll encounter another bottleneck.

     Yet less than four miles from the 580, even as the ever-expanding subdivisions of the Livermore Valley inch ever closer, a historic winery beckons visitors to side-step the stress and sit for a while.

     The 1880s building, resembling a barn set into a hillside, was built by a French vintner named Louis Mel, who brought over vine cuttings from such esteemed Bordeaux estates as Chateau Margaux and Chateau d’Yquem. The property was purchased by the Wente family during the 1930s, and used primarily as a storage facility until 1990.

     That’s when another generation of the Wentes – Philip – decided to reactivate and rename the winery. The name is a story in itself.

     Adjacent to the winery building is an artesian well. According to local legend, a Gold Rush era vaquero named Joaquin Murrieta – a Robin Hood-like bandit with a golden heart – often used the well to water his horses. Hence the name of the winery: Murrieta’s Well.

     Part of the Wente Family Vineyards umbrella of estates and labels, Murrieta’s Well operates independently, producing a mere 9,000 cases of wine per year — and sometimes less. Karl Wente, who heads the company’s winemaking team, works closely with Chilean vintner Sergio Traverso to craft cuvees that showcase the unique qualities of the Livermore Valley growing area.

     The vineyards — all 92 acres — are sustainably farmed, and all of the fruit is harvested by hand. The estate’s Bordeaux heritage is honored by a Red Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, as well as a White Meritage cuvee of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

     Iberian influences also are in evidence. A wine dubbed “Zarzuela” is a blend of Spanish varieties Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo and Souzao. And Touriga Francesca, a variety used in Portugal to make Port, is crafted into a tasty table wine.

     Murrieta’s Well may be only a few miles away from Highway 580’s crawl and only a few acres away from the Livermore Valley’s sprawl… but it seems a world apart.


Murrieta’s Well

3005 Mines Road (near Tesla Road)

Livermore, California




Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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