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Livermore Valley California Wineries

by Sandy Sims
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Livermore Wine Country

Visitors wandering Livermore's country roads will find an explosion of winery riches.

Located in a valley in the rolling hills east of Oakland, Livermore—the place that first put California wines on the world stage—is regaining its title as the premier California wine country.

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Livermore Valley wine grapesVineyards are again nudging their way up the valley's surrounding hills.
Tasting rooms vary from small intimate boutiques to large sprawling stone structures.
More than forty wineries, including Livermore legends Wente and Concannon, are creating internationally celebrated wines as well as destination spots that include wine tasting, picturesque locations for weddings and concerts, up-scale restaurants and world-class golf courses such as those at Poppy Ridge and The Course at Wente.

Livermore Valley Wineries

Livermore Valley Wineries MapIn spite of their growing recognition, Livermore vintners are a down-home, friendly bunch.
Visit a Livermore Valley tasting room, and you'll often find owners and winemakers pouring their own wines, while chatting about their varietals, their plans, and their region's saga and glorious rebound.

Livermore Valley History

This valley, once home to Ohlone Indians, was claimed by the San Jose Mission in 1796 as grazing land for cattle and sheep. When the Spanish took over, they created Mexican land grants. The largest of these, Rancho Las Positas, was given to Robert Livermore. There he raised cattle, horses, and pears and olives and planted a vineyard for low-grade table wine.
During the Gold Rush, Livermore's rancho became a stopping point for those headed to the Mother Lode country. The town of Livermore was established in 1869 in memory of his kindness and hospitality.
Cresta Blanca Winery (Wente)Charles Wetmore, James Concannon and Carl Wente, planted cuttings from European vines in the early 1880s.
Just a few years later, Livermore wines burst onto to the international stage when Wetmore entered his Cresta Blanca Sauterne in the 1889 Paris International Exposition bringing home a gold medal and the competition's highest award, the Grand Prix. (It would be almost 100 years before California wines were again so recognized. At the Paris Tasting of 1976, French wine experts ruled Napa Valley wines were superior to those from Bordeaux and Burgundy.)
After the 1889 Paris stamp of approval, Livermore exploded with vineyards, introducing new wines to America.
Historic buildings at Ravenswood in Livermore ValleyFor a glimpse of those times, visit Ravenswood. This restored Victorian Estate is the site of what was the valley's largest vineyard in the 1880s.
Just 20 years after winning the Paris gold, Livermore’s wine industry received a fatal blow—Prohibition.
Only Concannon and Wente survived by producing sacramental wines, table grapes and by taking up ranching.
Following Prohibition, the main source of income for Livermore—some 3,000-plus residents by 1947—was ranching. Its claims to fame were the Fastest Rodeo in the World and the Centennial Light Bulb (the longest burning bulb in the world). Both are still going strong.
Pick up trucks and cowboy hats, dominated the town in the 1950s until the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory moved into town and became the city's largest employer, followed by Sandia National Laboratories. (At the time, both labs were part of nuclear weapons development during the cold war.)
With the settling in of scientists, the town sprawled, and then sprawled again in the 1980s and 90s when professionals from nearby Silicon Valley came for the valley's affordable housing. Some scientists got the winemaking bug and opened their own wineries.
Livermore Valley vineyards panoramaLivermore’s wine industry grew slowly until the 1990s when the South Livermore Valley Specific Plan was adopted. The plan—created specifically to protect Livermore’s wine industry—requires developers to preserve a certain amount of agricultural land for every home they build. This is why an old winery and vineyard might sit in the middle of a development or million-dollar homes may lie in an ocean of vineyards. With this plan and Livermore’s rocky soil and Mediterranean climate, vintners are returning to the valley.
Today, Livermore's population of some 100,000 includes cowboys, nuclear physicists, techies and lots of vintners—people from all over the world and all religions. Locals can cheer a bucking bronco at the rodeo in the afternoon; attend a talk on the expansion of the universe in the evening, and the next day bicycle through vineyards stopping occasionally to taste world-class wines.
Livermore Valley view from McGrail VineyardsWith hundreds of million-dollar homes, Livermore has become the third wealthiest midsize city in the nation, boasting cultural events such as ballet, opera, theater, even a Shakespeare Festival. The upscale Purple Orchid Inn Resort and Spa nestles in an olive grove amid vineyards. Garré Winery offers a gourmet lunch in its charming café. And at the western end of Livermore—the so-called entrance to Livermore Wine Country—Campo de Bocce offers world-class bocce courts and fine dining.
The Livermore Valley Wine Growers Association coordinates the Harvest Wine Celebration on Labor Day weekend, the Livermore Valley wine Country Taste of Terrior on the third Thursday in July, and Holiday in the Vineyards on the first weekend in December and more.

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Slideshow—all photos on this page
Sandy Sims, an award winning journalist, newspaper editor, and travel writer, also writes fiction.

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