It may surprise some people that the first California wine to win an international award came from the Livermore Valley. In fact, the Best of Show medal won by a Livermore Valley wine at the 1889 Paris Exhibition was the first ever won by an international entry.
This year, Livermore Valley celebrates its 150th harvest with the California Wine Auction on August 6 and 7.
The Livermore Valley's 15 wineries range in size and variety, but all offer tasting of wonderful, locally produced wines which are still winning awards.
Cedar Mountain Winery was founded in 1990 by owners Linda and Earl Ault. Producing just 4,000 cases per year, Cedar Mountain has nonetheless attracted national attention for their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. In fact, Wine Enthusiast magazine has recognized Cedar Mountain as one of "America's Great Cabernet Sauvignon Producers," an honor given for "consistent quality over the past five years."
The winery hosts a variety of events during the year, including barrel tastings and "Jazz at Cedar Mountain" concerts. Call for details.
Chouinard Vineyards was founded in 1978, with the winery established in 1985. Winemaker Damian Chouinard produces estate grown Chardonnay and Cabernet as well as award winning Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and even sparkling wine.
On Sundays throughout the summer, their "Music in the Vineyards" series offers everything from swing to reggae to blues and Cajun. Reservations are necessary. A variety of other events are scheduled call for details.
Concannon Vineyard was founded in 1883 by John Concannon, an Irish immigrant, and Concannon's history is evident everywhere at the ivy-covered winery.
Today, their specialties include Petit Sirah and a Sauvignon Blanc that's rated among the top 50 by Wine Spectator magazine.
In addition to tasting, Concannon offers classes on a number of topics including wine label reading, tasting, and the pairing of wines with foods. Their "Music on the Lawn" events feature monthly performances during the summer months. Call for details.
Elliston Vineyards offers a picturesque setting to go with its award winning wines. An historic Victorian mansion is the centerpiece of the estate, offering the perfect place for events ranging from weddings to corporate retreats. Elliston's wines run the full spectrum, from Cabernet and Chardonnay to more unusual varietals such as Merlot and Pinot Noir and their trademark Pinot Gris.
Elliston hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including Winetaster Dinners every Friday and Saturday night. Call ahead for reservations.
Fenestra Winery is owned and operated by Lanny and Fran Replogle, who have attracted a following of "Fenestra Fanatics" to their work. With award winning wines like their Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel Port, and Malasia Bianca, it's easy to see why.
Fenestra also offers a gift service and special products like Belgian chocolate truffles filled with Fenestra Port, as well as other food and gift items.
Garre Vineyard and Winery is the easternmost winery in Livermore Valley and also the newest. The winery features Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and sparkling wines.
Their latest addition is the Garre Pavilion, a 6,000 square foot event center which opened this spring. The facility can accommodate groups of up to 425 people and also hosts a variety of concerts.
The Garre Cafe features Tuscan-style cuisine in a building modeled after an old town Italian cafe.
Ivan Tamas Wines was founded in 1984 by Ivan Tamas Fuezy and Steve Mirassou, two men with generations of winemakers behind them. Today, Mirassou and his son Steven handle the winemaking duties and they're getting rave reviews. The winery produces around 60,000 cases per year of eight different varietals, including the house Chardonnay and Cabernet for Ritz-Carlton hotels worldwide.
The winery also features a hospitality center and tasting room.
The slogan of family-owned Livermore Valley Cellars is, "Wine with character made by characters," so it's clear that this is one winery that doesn't take itself too seriously. That's not to say that their wine isn't excellent, however. In addition to their Zinfandel, they offer unusual varietals such as Alicante Bouschet on the red side and whites such as Semillon, Chardonnay, and Muscat.
Their tasting room and picnic grounds host some unusual events, including barrel tastings and their famous Fungi Festival.
Murrieta's Well was founded in 1989 by partners Phil Wente and Sergio Traverso. The winery produces about 7,000 cases of ultra-premium wine each year from the historic estate vineyards. While it's not open to the public, the winery is available for catered events such as conferences, luncheons, and weddings.
Retzlaff Vineyards has the unique distinction of being the only estate winery in Livermore Valley all the wines they produce come exclusively from grapes grown on site.
In addition to their world-class wines, Retzlaff Vineyards offers tasting, a picnic area, and group tours (by appointment.) Their next event is a "Full Moon Dinner" on August 28, with catered food, live music, and a barrel tasting. Call for details on this and other events.
Stony Ridge Winery is the Scotto family's tribute to good wine, good food, and their Italian heritage. In addition to the Cabernet and Chardonnay of their "California Collection," the Scottos create traditional Italian wines such as Barbera, Malavasia Bianca, Nebbiolo, and Pinot Grigiot.
The Stony Ridge restaurant is open for lunch daily, offering a variety of appetizers to go with their delicious panini (sandwiches). Call for information on special events, including "The Little Big Night" on July 24.
Thomas Coyne Winery specializes in Merlot and Rhone wines, and has made quite a reputation for itself in a short time. Coyne began producing wine under his own label in 1989 and in the first four years of production won over fifty awards in local, regional, and state competitions.
Coyne reopened the historic Chateau Bellevue winery in 1994, producing wines there for the first time since the turn of the century.
The winery has a tasting room as well as a picnic area with a remarkable view of the valley and Mt. Diablo.
Wente Vineyards Estate Winery is the largest in the valley and was the first California winery to produce Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon. Those varietals are still popular and visitors can see these and many others in production on detailed tours which take place daily.
Wente Vineyards Estate Winery , 5565 Tesla Road, Livermore. (925) 456-2305. Daily 11:00 to 4:30.
Wente Vineyards Restaurant and Visitors Center is a separate location offering wine tasting and much more, including their gourmet restaurant, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, catering and conferences, and live music from national acts.
Westover Vineyards is a boutique winery producing over 2,000 cases of award-winning wines each year in a dozen varieties including Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Gehrtztraminer, and more.
In addition to their tasting room, Westover offers business meeting facilities to accommodate up to 100 people, including A/V and P.A. equipment and more, with food by California Culinary Academy graduates.
Westover Vineyards , 34329 Palomares Road, Castro Valley. (510) 537-3932. Weekdays by appointment, weekends noon to 5:00.
Also in this issue ...