Livermore Valley is one of the oldest wine growing regions in California, going back 130+ years. It has a colorful history of pioneering winemakers that have helped shaped the wine industry throughout the United States.
Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines in the 1840’s. As early as 1889, Livermore went on to win America’s first International Gold Medal for wine at the Paris Exposition. It was a big deal, Charles Wentmore won the grand prize, putting California wines on the world map.
Pioneers C.H. Wente, James Concannon and Charles Wentmore are heralded for discovering the grape growing potential of the Livermore Valley and founded their wineries in the early part of the 1880’s.
With all its rich history and prominence, Livermore Valley never garnered the same reputation as other wine growing regions in California. The Livermore Valley shifted from grape vines and farmland to housing developments, office complexes and strip malls.
Today times are changing and the region is enjoying a wine renaissance of sorts. New winemakers are attracted to the soils, climate and terroir. The Livermore Valley now has more than 50 wineries varying in size and production. There is a new surge of tasting rooms that offer activities, events and festivals.
The story of the Livermore Valley is just being discovered, which makes it a very exciting place to be. As winemaker Steven Kent Mirassou says, “The Livermore Valley wine community is just now figuring out what our capabilities are, what grows best, how we make better wine each year, and how we communicate our story to the larger world.”
Livermore’s influence on California wines is deep and far-reaching. Livermore Valley is known for bringing grape varietals from France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Charles Wentmore was one on the first pioneers to find similarities between the terroir of the Livermore Valley and that of Bordeaux. Charles Wentmore planted cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from Château d’Yquem.
Carl H. Wente is recognized as the pioneer of California Chardonnay. Wente released the nations first bottling with the varietal name Chardonnay on the label. The Wente family is most noted for bringing the Chardonnay clone to California in 1912 from Montpellier University in France. The clone was planted in what is now a heritage vineyard, along with cuttings from the historical Gier Vineyards in Pleasanton, CA. California is renowned for its Chardonnay and today the majority of Californian Chardonnay is produced with the Wente Clone 4 or other Wente Chardonnay Clones.
Janes Connanon is most notable for Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Concannon Cabernet Clones 7, 8, and 11 are the most widely planted Cabernet Sauvignon clones in the country. Today 80% of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon can be traced to a Concannon Clone.
Thirty miles east of San Francisco lies the The Livermore Valley. It is 25 miles long and 18 miles wide, with 259,000 acres, of which 4000 are planted to grape vines. The soils are well-drained and composed of loam, sand and gravel.
Due to its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean the valley is directly impacted by the cool air from the Ocean. The coastal fog and marine breeze come in from the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay and cool the valley’s warm air, resulting in warm days and cool nights, ideal conditions for producing fully ripened, balanced fruit.
Livermore Valley Winemakers
I had the opportunity to meet five inspiring and trailblazing winemakers from the Livermore Valley over a media lunch in New York City. It was a wonderful, jovial, and interactive lunch that showcased the wines, the stories, the depth, the camaraderie, and sense of community within the Livermore Wine region. Several of the winemakers have deep roots in the Livermore Valley while a few were new to the region, but all were deeply devoted to winemaking in the Livermore Valley.
‘The process is still the same for every scale of winery; that there are ways to make great wine even on a small-scale. Let the fruit do the talking”
Phil Long is founder and winemaker for Longevity Wines. They are the first urban style winery in Livermore Valley. Phil began making wine with his wife Debra in the their garage. They opened in 2006 and are family run production with approximately 2000 cases a year. All the wines are produced in small batches. Last year they were voted Livermore Valley Winery of The Year.
We tasted the Longevity Pinot Blanc 2018 which was voted the best white wine in the Livermore Valley. The wine is stunning, medium bodied, bright, fresh, and a delight on the palate.
“I love music, it makes me happy. I love my guitar and making music with my friends.”
Karl Wente is fifth generation winegrower and chief winemaker of Wente Vineyards. Wente Vineyards is the country’s oldest, continuously operated family owned winery. His winemaking philosophy at Wente Family Estate has three components: 1) Sense of place, 2) Varietally typical and 3) Elegant and balanced. These three pieces are critical as they develop wines vintage after vintage. Karl strives to ensure their wonderful estate grown vineyards shine through.
We first tasted the Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2017. I was immediately enamored as this was a leaner and cleaner style of Chardonnay. It is a deliciously balanced wine with distinct minerality. Next we had the 2016 Wente Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wentmore Vineyard. Karl described this wine as the classic Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of dark cherries, blackberries, spice and hints of cocoa. The wine has velvety smooth tannins on the palate with nice bright acidity.
Steven Kent Mirassou
“The most rewarding thing about being a winemaker is to be able to take care of people and to bring a little bit of joy everyday.”
Steven Mirassou and his family have been making wine in California since 1854, to put it into context, that is six years before Abraham Lincoln was President. They are the oldest winemaking family in the country. The seventh generation is now taking over the cellars. Steven Kent Winery specializes in the production of small lots of world-class wines.
The 2015 Steven Kent Cabernet Franc from Livermore is 100% Cabernet Franc from two distinct vineyard sites. Steven says “Cabernet Franc is the sexiest grape alive” it is underutilized and Livermore valley is a great place to grow the varietal. This is a Chinon style Cabernet Franc. It is has nice bright acidity, and is aromatic and complex. Steve only makes 200 cases of this incredible wine.
“Livermore Valley is a special place as most of the winemakers know each other, share and join in the commandery of winemaking. We all support each other and congratulate each other in our celebrations.”
Rhonda Wood from Wood Family Vineyards is owner and winemaker. An airline pilot, Rhonda always dreamed of buying a vineyard and making wine. Her and her husband brought a vineyard in Livermore Valley in 1996 and today they produce about 5000 cases. They are known for their bold reds and a big Chardonnay.
We tasted thew Chardonnay, The Wood Family Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay “Para Mas Amigas”, which means more girlfriends. This gorgeous full-bodied Chardonnay has notes of honey, pear and a touch of fresh herbs. The wine has a plush palate with nice balance of fruit, acidity and alcohol.
“My favorite part of the Livermore Valley is how the entire community has come together recently to work towards making our downtown a wine country destination that locals, as well as, visitors will enjoy. It will be anchored by an upscale hotel, an expanded historic district , and a science center.”
Darcie Kent is a fifth generation artist and vintner. Her great great grandfather came to America from Switzerland to pursue a career in winemaking. Darcie makes the labels for her wines, and sells her art at the gallery in the winery. Her daughters are sixth generation and they own the business fully. Today Darcie Kent Winery is a female based winery in Livermore and they are having a blast.
Darcie Kent Madden Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 is a full-bodied wine with notes of black fruit, cocoa and spice. It is intense, well-balanced and has nice firm tannins. Darcie is committed to crafting limited production single vineyard wines from her finest estates in the Livermore Valley, and the Madden Cabernet is a perfect example.