There are 50 wineries in the Livermore Valley and they offer a little bit of everything for the wine country traveler. Outside of the two big and historic wineries of Wente and Concannon, these Livermore wineries are mostly small and family-run wineries, running the gamut of boutique to outright funky and bizarre in some cases. We spent a few days in the Livermore wine country this past weekend. This is our third trip to Livermore in recent times, visiting the majority of wineries to create a Livermore wine trail for our Wine Country Getaways website. We have been anxious to add the Livermore wine country to the nine California wine regions we have detailed on Wine Country Getaways.
Here are a few of the wineries we visited on this last trip that offer some impressive experiences with good wines and hospitality.
Page Mill began on the San Francisco Peninsula in the Los Altos Hills near Page Mill Road. Once the winery outgrew its quarters, the winery moved across the Bay to Livermore. Dane Stark is the owner and winemaker. Dane still buys some grapes from the Los Altos Hills, but for his annual 2500 case production winery the bulk of grapes come from the Livermore area. The tasting room and winemaking cellars opened two years ago in a pretty setting on So. Livermore Avenue. We tasted the entire lineup of wine and were impressed by the quality and reasonable price range. The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding. It is one of the best we have tried, crisp and refreshing, and full of flavors. It is the perfect picnic wine.
Thomas Coyne Winery
This is a very funky winery out in the middle of Livermore farmlands. The winery and tasting room are in the old Chateau Bellevue Winery that was built in 1881. There is a surprising number of visitors each weekend at Thomas Coyne. The word is out that, although funky and unusual, this little winery is making some delicious wines. Both Rhone and Bordeaux style wines are made here, and each week the winery alternates the sampling of these wines in their tasting room. Thomas Coyne is the winemaker. He and his wife Emilie are the owners, and you are likely to find them both in the tasting room if you visit. There is a nice picnic area where you can enjoy views of the Livermore farmland while having lunch.
Les Chenes Estate Vinyards
Way out on Victoria Lane there is small housing development where you will find Les Chenes winery. Candice and Richard are the owners and Richard is the winemaker. Each Saturday and Sunday they both work the tasting room, happily pouring their wines and engaging in great conversation with their guests. The emphasis is on Rhone Style wines and these wines have received rave reviews. The winery makes about 1200 cases of wine annually and all of it is either sold at the winery or through their wine club.
Retzlaff Estate Wineyr
Retzlaff is another funky and fun winery. You would never find anything quite like this at a Napa Valley tasting room. It is the fifth oldest winery in Livermore with a starting date of 1986. The winery is organically certified and is owned by Dr. Robert Taylor, who is also the winemaker. Dr. Taylor was a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore Lab and used his scientific knowledge to make some delicious wines. The staff in the tasting room makes you feel quite at home. The grounds are beautiful and this is definitely a great spot for a picnic lunch.
McGrail Vineyards & Winery
McGrail is a little more upscale than any of the wineries above. The grounds, wine cellar and tasting room are relatively new and quite impressive. More impressive is the recent award by the San Francisco Chronicle of the best overall red wine of their extensive competition. The McGrail 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded Best of Class. If you visit, make sure you try their other wines as well. They are well made and the McGrail Family and winemaker Mark Clarin should be very proud of their outstanding lineup of wines.