Livermore wine country on the move with Bordeaux and Rhones
Despite the fact that the Livermore wine country has made historic contributions to the California wine scene, it has remained a small and little recognized wine and food destination. Some recent developments in the Livermore Valley indicate that Livermore as a wine region is on the rise. It will attract new wineries, vineyards and more foodies. I base this primarily on a recent wine tasting and seminar we attended at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco. Called “Sip & Discover Livermore Valley,” 15 wineries, along with their winemakers, showcased their best Livermore wines.
It has been a couple of years since our last extended visit to the Livermore Valley. During the walk-around tasting at the St.Regis, we were surprised at the number of new wineries. It’s a new breed of winemakers adding life and vitality to the area. The old guard wineries, Wente and Concannon, are also part of the Livermore revitalization. As the younger generations of these historic families take charge, Karl Wente and John Concannon specifically, we see more quality in these wineries established in the late 1800’s.
We were very impressed with many of the wines we tasted, more so in the red wines. Only a few wineries had whites to pour; the focus was on the Bordeaux style wines and Rhone style wines of Livermore. Bordeaux wines have been key in the Livermore Valley, and Steven Kent Mirassou has been instrumental in leading the charge. His Lineage Bordeaux blend is a beautiful and elegant example of what can be done in the Livermore Valley. At the McGrail table, the Cabernet Sauvignon was balanced and exciting. At the Cuda Ridge table, the Petit Verdot was a joy.
Many of the new breed of winemakers are gravitating toward Rhone style wines. The winery that impressed us the most was the Vasco Urbano Wine Company. Young winemaker Collin Cranor has something wonderful in his style, and Janelle and I loved all his wines. Fun, and ready to drink and enjoy, was our experience. We also liked the Syrah from both the Occasion and Dante Robere wineries. What we discovered from the tasting of these Livermore Valley wines was the balance and elegance of the wines. No notes of too much oak, tannins or acidity; just very nice wines to enjoy.
Livermore Valley Terroir
If you visit the Livermore area in the summer, you feel the heat. By the late afternoon, a daily flow of cooling winds comes from the San Francisco Bay waters. Additionally, fog often makes a morning visit to the vineyards. And then there is the gravelly sandy loam soil that encompasses the valley. According to the Livermore folks, the Livermore area has the terroir that is similar in part to Bordeaux and the Rhone regions of France.
Livermore Valley’s Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon
At the “Sip & Discover Livermore Valley” seminar were Karl Wente and John Concannon, who each gave very passionate descriptions of their family history that is responsible for many of the wonderful vineyards we now have in California. In 1883, Carl H. Wente and James Concannon founded their wineries in Livermore. In 1889, people began to take notice of Livermore wines when Charles Wetmore’s dry white wine won the Grand Prix at the International Paris Exposition. These early settlers could tell that Livermore was a perfect place for farming. From Karl Wente, we learned that in 1912 Wente planted the first Chardonnay in California. The Chardonnay came from budwood from the Montpellier area in the South of France. Wente was the first winery to put “Chardonnay” on their label. Today, 80% of the Chardonnay in California has a direct relationship with the Wente Chardonnay clone. John Concannon spoke about his grandfather who brought cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon to California from Chateau Margaux. “There are 80,000 acres of Cab in California and 75 percent of it is the Concannon clone. The mother vine comes from our cabernet vineyard.” The final touch of their presentation was a taste of a Chardonnay and a Caberenet Sauvignon from vineyards of the mother clone. What a treat!
I’m looking forward to more great wines coming from the Livermore Valley. Currently there are 50 wineries in Livermore, but that number is increasing and so is the vineyard acreage. I am hoping that the wines from Livermore will be fairly priced. Yes, Napa Valley and Sonoma can ask a higher price point because of their reputation. They can sell a bottle of wine that we consider to be overpriced. Consumers need to get to know the fine quality of Livermore wines and, if they are priced fairly, people will give them a try.