Wine tasting in Livermore is a lively experience. It makes me think that Livermore should drop the “r” in the name and get the attention it deserves.
I shared my recent wine tasting outing with Deborah (the wine expert at Johnston & Alves) and Carolyn, a physicist who previously spent over ten years at the Livermore Lab. Carolyn could not believe how sweet Livermore had become. “If I had known it was going to develop like this,” she said, “I might have moved here.”
Presently, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association has a smart tagline. It’s simply: Livermore Valley Wine Country, We’re CLOSER than you think. This is very true. Livermore is about 40 miles east of San Francisco. From Lamorinda, it took us 35 minutes to get to our first winery. From Silicon Valley, it’s a lot closer than Napa. We in the Bay Area should expand our minds to include this place when we think of wine country.
To plan a visit, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association has a great website with maps and a listing of over 40 wineries, but if you’d like to follow our itinerary, here it is:
We started at Retzlaff Vineyard. The long tree-lined dirt road, the flowers being planted, the country feel with the dog running around—all served to immediately remove our preoccupations and get us into the tasting spirit. I’ll leave my colleague to talk about the tasting itself, but here is a photo I took of one of the wine bottles. What a fun label design!
Next stop was Café Garré for lunch. Eating outside on the porch in January, I’m reminded of the reasons I moved to California: mild weather, beautiful landscapes, healthy food. We were told Café Garré had a new chef and I do hope he is happy there because our meals were stupendous.
Afterwards, we walked about 25 yards to the Garré Winery for a tasting. Again, talking as someone who loves beauty, I must point out the enormous eucalyptus tree outside the tasting room. Please don’t overlook it on your visit.
Our third winery for the day was Darcie Kent Vineyards. The tasting room fills out a house that had previously been home to Carolyn’s friend, so it is fitting that a host greeted us at the door and treated us as if we were part of the family. He led us to two cozy couches and patiently explained our tasting options. (If you don’t have a similar experience when you visit, try walking around the grounds and returning to the house when a free host appears at the door.)
What is also notable here is owner Darcie Kent’s artwork on the walls, which also appears on the wine labels. While I was reflecting on how well her art reduces to the small size of a wine label, I fell in love with the taste of her Grüner Veltiner. This made my friend Carolyn so happy (she used to drink Grüner Veltiner when she lived in Austria) that she bought me a bottle (thank you, Carolyn!) and we were on our way.
BOAVENTURA DE CAIRES
We made a brief stop at BoaVentura Vineyard. I wish we’d had time to taste, but they weren’t hurting for visitors, so we merely looked around and watched people play bocce ball and picnic all over the place. Make no mistake, this place has character.
Our final destination was Murrieta’s Well. I hesitate to show partiality to any one place, but Murrieta’s Well is really a must-stop. The witty quotes on the walls of the tasting room, the award-winning wine itself, and the overall buzz of a lot of people enjoying themselves all work together to assure you that you are in the right place at the right time.
I imagine I’ll have the same feeling at Livermore’s annual Barrel Tasting Weekend, Saturday, March 29 to Sunday, March 30. A “barrel tasting” is a chance to taste and pre-purchase wines before they have been bottled, to partake in the celebratory nature of the final stages of winemaking. At this barrel tasting, there will be music, food for purchase, a few demonstrations, and thirty or so participating wineries. Why not save the date and live more in Livermore?