Exploring Livermore Valley Wine Country

Concannon Vineyard recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Petite Sirah as a varietal wine.

Petite Sirah… a.k.a. P.S…. a.k.a. “Pets”… has been around a lot longer than that, of course. It’s just that it didn’t always go by that name, nor was it bottled as a varietal wine; vintners often used it to “beef up” their red blends. Click here for nine fascinating facts about Petite Sirah.

Concannon is one of more than three dozen estates in California’s Livermore Valley, located less than an hour east of San Francisco International Airport. The winery has been going strong for more than 125 years, as has nearby Wente Vineyards. If you’re a history buff, these two are must-see stops during a tour of the area.

Other Livermore Valley Wine Country estates offer out-in-the-country experiences, and there also are tasting rooms in downtown Livermore’s Blacksmith Square.

Unlike some other wine regions—with large crowds, long lines and expensive tasting room fees—most of Livermore’s wineries still offer complimentary tasting in a homespun atmosphere, where wine enthusiasts and novices alike are warmly welcomed.

Some of the wineries offer fine dining on the premises, while others provide all the fixin’s…and outdoor tables…for a casual picnic.

For upscale wine country dining, the Wente Vineyards Restaurant features American dishes with Italian, French and Californian influences. Many of the ingredients come from the estate’s organic garden.

Looking for a more casual meal, but aren’t in the mood to battle the local ant colonies? Café Garré at Garré Winery offers outdoor patio seating and Mediterranean-inspired wine country cuisine.

There are several outstanding stand-alone restaurants in the area as well. But first, we need to work up an appetite by doing some wine tasting. Here are thumbnail sketches on a handful of Livermore Valley wineries…

  • Deer Ridge Vineyards Winery Estate & Gathering Place: Besides having the longest name among Livermore area wineries, Deer Ridge is a true showplace. Its Tuscan-style architecture is stunning against a backdrop of vineyards and soft rolling hills.
  • Les Chénes Estate Vineyards: Soak in magnificent mountain views as you sip estate-grown varietals that trace their roots to the Rhone region of France.
  • Cedar Mountain Winery: Cabernet Sauvignon is the specialty of the house at Cedar Mountain, where the focus is on small-lot, handcrafted wines.
  • La Rochelle Winery: By tapping top vineyards in California and Oregon, La Rochelle has gained a reputation for crafting world-class Pinot Noir.
  • Fenestra Winery: A valley favorite for more than 30 years, Fenestra is a boutique estate that crafts limited-quantity bottlings that allow Livermore’s terroir to shine through.
  • Elliston Vineyards: Many Livermore-area couples have tied the knot on Elliston’s beautiful grounds. The setting is stunning…and so are the wines.
  • Little Valley Winery: Tempranillo, a Spanish variety, is the star of the show at this estate, which also makes an array of sparkling wines. A favorite at the tasting room is the raspberry.
  • Mitchell Katz Winery: If you enjoy drinking “wines of a place,” this is the place to go. The winery is devoted exclusively to single-vineyard wines that capture the essence of the particular vineyard and the specific vintage.
  • Bent Creek Winery: Nestled in the rolling hills southeast of Livermore, Bent Creek is surrounded by vineyards. It’s a beautiful place to taste award-winning wines of numerous varieties.
  • Charles R Vineyards: This small, family-owned winery is tucked away in a valley along an old mining road. When you stop by to taste the handcrafted wines, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet the man who made them: Randy Bartlett.
  • Longevity Wines: The specialty of this artisan winery is a Rhone-style blend consisting of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah.
  • John Christopher Cellars: Located in historic Blacksmith Square, the tasting room offers an array of wines to sample, including some sublime red blends.
  • Livermore Valley Cellars: The folks at LVC take winemaking seriously. But the same does not go for themselves. Their irreverent approach to the wine-tasting experience is a breath of fresh air in a sometimes-stuffy wine world.

Our thirst adequately sated, it’s time to chow down.

If you’d care to rub elbows with the locals, head to Esin Restaurant and Bar for American food with a Mediterranean flair, top-notch service, innovative desserts and an award-winning wine list.

Craving steak? Hap’s Original is an authentic New York-style steakhouse featuring broiled-to-perfection Angus steaks, and expertly executed seafood. It, too, boasts an extensive wine list.

And if it’s a unique, tell-your-friends-all-about-it experience that you seek, there’s only one place to go: Campo di Bocce of Livermore. There, you’ll dine in the casual elegance of an Old World Italian villa, sip fine local wines and test your bocce skills on one of eight state-of-the-art courts.

From historic wine estates to vineyard-side gourmet dining, and from pristine picnic locations to bocce, Livermore Valley Wine Country offers plenty to see, do…and, of course, taste.

Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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