Livermore, California Is Wine Country’s Best Kept Secret
On the outskirts of the Bay Area rests the sleepy town of Livermore, California. I call it a town, though by definition it’s far more a city now than the under-populated rodeo town it was 20 years ago. Though it’s managed to maintain it’s historically country roots, Livermore has shifted its charm to attract a very different crowd: the wine connoisseurs and foodies of northern California. For years winos have praised Napa Valley and Sonoma County as wine country, but with Livermore’s Wineries expanding and attracting visitors from all over the world, it’s safe to say Livermore is officially on the map.
Livermore has over 50 wineries to date and has launched 9 new wineries in the last five years, but what makes Livermore really stand out is that most wineries are small and family owned. That means you have a pretty good chance of meeting the wine maker and their family when you go for a visit. It also means knowledgeable and detailed descriptions of what you’re drinking, humble stories about the winery and its beginnings and heavy pours to keep the conversation going. It’s tasting wine the way wine is supposed to be tasted: while enjoying the company of others.
Another thing that sets Livermore Wineries apart from their giant rivals is the lack of crowds. Sure, the Wente Winery picnic area is crowded on just about every Saturday afternoon, but you don’t get those bus loads of drunk tourists or heavy traffic to and from each winery the way you do in more known locations. That means less wait time between pours, more one-on-one time with the wine experts and more space to let loose.
Each spot boasts a different specialty and a fancy way of noting its acclaim. Wente’s “Nth Degree” is a line of handcrafted, limited production wine and is considered the best of the best of Wente and all of Northern California. Concannon Vineyard was the first winery to bottle a Petite Sirah and has won countless awards for its sweet, aromatic and jammy fruit flavor. This past year the Crooked Vine Vineyard won the SF Chronicle Double Gold and San Diego Wine Maker Challenge Gold with its 2012 Cabernet Franc, a delicious blend of oak and vanilla balanced with tropical undertones.
Livermore wineries are best enjoyed by bike. The distances between each stop make for a perfect 5-10 minute ride, and the views of the rolling hills surrounding the valley are a real treat for your wine-glazed eyes.
Aside from the drinking and socializing expected from a day sampling wine, most wineries offer other forms of entertainment as well, like bocce ball courts, trails to explore, small museums, places to grab a bite to eat or horses to pet when you’re a little sauced up. Livermore has also dreamed up some more educational ways to hammered during your wine tour. Wente Winery offers interactive workshops for the people who really want to know thier wine — like a wine-filled class on aromas and pairings and a workshop on wine blends where you not only mix, drink and cork your own blend, but are encouraged to taste, share and drink throughout!
Entrepreneurs, restaurant owners and small business have embraced the wine movement in their city. The “Historic” Downtown has been complete redone to attract tourists, but has managed to maintain the ghost of it’s beginnings with it’s country vibe and Western-style storefronts. Amid the leather stores, pool halls, antique shops and filling stations, you’ll now find upscale wine bars, ale houses, restaurants with waived corkage fees, trendy bakeries and juice bars.