Livermore Valley is a wine region located just 30 miles east of California’s San Francisco Bay Area. Surrounded by picturesque coastal range mountains, and having a unique east-west orientation, it presents an alluring scenery as well as ideal conditions for winegrowing. It’s home to some of the state’s most significant and historic wineries. I visited several during my recent trip to the Golden State. Not only do they produce exceptional wines, but the area also has a vibrant history.

Livermore Valley

Photo Credit: Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association

Livermore Valley is one of California’s oldest wine regions and has been instrumental in the development of California’s wine industry, having introduced varietals from France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Spanish missionaries planted the first grapes here in the 1760’s. However, Robert Livermore, the man after whom the region is named, planted the first commercial vines here in the 1840’s. By the 1880’s, recognizing the area’s potential, other groundbreaking winemakers such as Charles Wetmore, Carl Wente, and James Concannon had founded their wineries here as well.

Cresta Blanca

Charles Wetmore, Secretary of the California Viticultural Commission, opened Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882. Wetmore recognized similarities between Livermore’s terroir and that of France’s Bordeaux region. In 1889, his Livermore Valley dry white wine became the first California wine to win a French competition after winning the Grand Prix at the International Paris Exposition. This was an important victory for California wines. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit this historic winery as it was shut down during prohibition and Charles Wetmore died before its repeal. The land eventually was purchased by the Wente family in 1981.

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Wente

Livermore Valley

Wente’s “Morning Fog” Chardonnay

Wente Vineyards is among Livermore Valley’s top wineries. It’s recognized as the “pioneer of California Chardonnay.” In 1912, Carl Wente and his son, Ernest, began importing Chardonnay cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montepellier, France, one of the leading viticultural schools in the country. In 1936, they released the nation’s first varietally labeled Chardonnay. Wente Chardonnay received international praise in 1959 when wine journalist of the Los Angeles Times, Robert Balzer, reviewed the vintage, declaring it the “finest white wine in America.” Today, Chardonnay is the most popular wine sold in the United States and most of the Chardonnay grapes grown in California are Wente clones or their derivatives.

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Blind Wine Tasting at Wente Vineyards

My visit to Wente was an amazing experience. The staff was more than hospitable. Not only did I get to taste some excellent wines, but they even held some fun learning activities for guests in their Winemakers Studio. The first was a blind tasting with samples of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine glasses were black to prevent guests from seeing the color of the wines, leaving us to use only our sense of smell and taste. This is a great way to put your palate to the test.

Livermore Valley

Aroma Discovery Workshop at Wente Vineyards

Next was an “aroma discovery” workshop. Three fragrances were placed under upside down wine glasses to capture the aroma. In the center of the table was a wide variety of items from chalk sticks and pieces of leather to dried peaches and herbs. Participants were encouraged to test their sense of smell by sniffing the fragrances and trying to match and identify them according to the items on the table. If you’ve ever wondered how some people are able to describe the characteristics on the “nose” of a particular wine, this is a good way to learn. Start smelling things and making connections. Click here to learn more about classes at the Winemakers Studio.

Concannon

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Concannon has received over 100 reviews and awards of 90+ points since 2008

Concannon Vineyard is another one of Livermore Valley’s leading historic wineries. It’s recognized as the “pioneer of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.” In 1961, Concannon was the first to introduce a varietal Petite Sirah in California, and much like Wente did with Chardonnay, Concannon has helped California Cabernet Sauvignon reach international recognition. Today, Concannon Cabernet clones are the most widely planted in the state.

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Crushing Grapes at Concannon Vineyard

I had the opportunity to participate in a guided tour of Concannon’s vineyard with a group of fellow wine bloggers. We picked grapes from the vines, crushed them and tested for brix, a system used for measuring the sugar content of unfermented grape juice and the expected alcohol content of the finished wine.

Afterward, we were treated to dinner outside on the estate lawn where we could enjoy the sunny weather, good conversation, and wine tasting with John Concannon, 4th generation vintner who took over the vineyard from his father in 2008. John is a strong advocate of environmental conservancy and Concannon Vineyard was one of the first in California to become Certified Sustainable.

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Appetizer and Wine at Concannon’s Wine Bloggers Dinner

Murrieta’s Well

The following morning we set out to Murrietta’s Well. I was especially interested the legend of Joaquín Murrietta, a bandit known as the Mexican Robin Hood or the Robin Hood of El Dorado. Some label him a hero while others consider him an outlaw. In the 1850s, he traveled throughout California during the Gold Rush. He earned a reputation and living rounding up wild, sometimes stolen, horses, driving them down to Mexico and selling them to the Mexican army. He and his gang often stopped here to water the thirsty horses from an artesian well. Hence the name, “Murrieta’s Well,” which produces water to this day. Murrieta is thought to have been killed in 1853 during a gunfight with California State Rangers.

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Murrieta’s Well Plaque

In the 1870s, a French immigrant named Louis Mel buys the property and builds a gravity-flow winery into the hillside next to the well. In 1884, Mel’s wife writes a letter to her childhood friend, the wife of the Marquis de Lur-Saluces at the renowned Château d’Yquem in Bordeaux, introducing Charles Wetmore. Wetmore travels to Bordeaux and obtains cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. It was wine made from these cuttings that won Charles Wetmore the Grand Prix at Paris in 1889. He shared these cuttings with Louis Mel, who planted them on his estate. In 1933, Louis Mel sold the property to his friend, Ernest Wente. It’s been a part of the Wente family ever since.

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Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Dry Rosé, The Whip, and The Spur.

After a brief history lesson, it was time for breakfast and wine tasting. The tasting included a dry rosé and two of Murrieta’s special blends, The Whip and The Spur. I enjoyed all three, though my personal favorite was The Spur, a red blend comprised of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. It’s a unique and robust combination you can enjoy time and time again. Click here to learn more about their wines.

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Selfie break at Murrieta’s Well, enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Plan a Trip to Livermore

Other Livermore Valley wineries include Steven Kent Winery, Nottingham Cellars, Cedar Mountain Winery, and Las Positas Vineyards. Each have their own unique story. Visit the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association website to learn more and get information to help plan your trip. Once you get there, be sure to take advantage of the Wine Trolley and spend a day traveling to a list of wineries.  Enjoy the great weather, live events, and terrific tastings. Live a little more. Cheers!