This week, I had the chance to dive into the Livermore Valley AVA, one of the first US appellations and one of California’s oldest wine producing regions.
This historic AVA is also part of the Central Coast AVA and the San Francisco Bay AVA and is located about 30 miles east in Alameda Country. It’s a compact place – about 15 miles long and 10 miles wide.
Spanish missionaries planted the first wine grapes in the Livermore Valley in the 1760s and Robert Livermore came looking for an ideal place to plant the first commercial vines in the 1840s followed by C. H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore who were early founding fathers of Wente Vineyards, Concannon Vineyard (here’s a conversation I had with John Concannon a few years ago) and Cresta Blanca Winery (closed in 1965).
Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle varietal labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petite Sirah. Nearly 80% of California’s Chardonnay vines trace their genetic roots to a Livermore Valley clone. It is one of California’s oldest wine regions and played an important part in shaping California’s wine industry including winning America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition.
The mix of tradition, history, innovation, and new winemakers attracted to what makes Livermore special is part of its allure and charm. According to the Livermore Valley Wine Growers Association, the region now has over 50 wineries of all sizes and more than 5,000 acres of vineyards. The temperature is diurnal in nature – meaning warm days and cool nights – and more than 30 different grape varieties are grown.
I was sent several representative samples and here’s my take:
- 2019 Fenestra Winery Sauvignon Blanc – notes of citrus, lemongrass, stone fruit and tropical fruit.
- 2019 Mcgrail Family Chardonnay/ – this was a creamy, buttery, and toasty classic Chardonnay. I tasted notes of citrus, apple, pear, stone fruit, tropical fruit, and butterscotch.
- 2018 Wente Vineyards Eric’s Small Lot Chardonnay – Wente is responsible for bringing back the French grape clone that produces more then 80 percent of California chardonnay. This is my style of Chardonnay – unoaked and restrained with notes of apples, apricots, citrus and a nice minerality.
- 2016 Garré Winery Profound Secret — A blend of 40 percent Merlot, 28 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Malbec, 14 percent Petit Verdot and 4 percent Cabernet Franc. I tasted cherry, raspberry, vanilla, anise, spice, and oak.
- 2018 Wood Family Vineyards Big Wood Zinfandel – a blend of 97 percent Zinfandel and 3 percent Petite Sirah, this is a big, classic Zinfandel. It has notes of dried fruit, blackberry, milk chocolate and vanilla.
- 2018 Cuda Ridge Cabernet Franc – a blend of 92 percent Cabernet Franc, 6 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 percent of Petit Verdot. I am a big fan of a well-made Cabernet Franc and this one doesn’t disappoint. I tasted black cherry, spice, tobacco, and it was well balanced and just nice.
Livermore Valley is a treasure – it’s clear that the renaissance continues to make an impact with well made, terroir-driven, diverse wines that will continue to shape California wines.