Livermore Valley: The Unassuming Wine Country
By Tom Hayes

So the kids are with their grandparents for the day, and you find yourselves with a Saturday to do "grownup things." Try a wine tasting excursion in nearby Livermore. The Livermore Valley is a short drive away and is home to a number of wineries. If you are old enough to remember the Napa Valley when it was less developed, you just might be reminded of those days by visiting Livermore.

The Livermore Valley has a long history as a wine-grape region. While Napa and Sonoma Counties get more visitors, Livermore can provide the wine-loving public with plenty of fine wines. In fact, Livermore has a large number of small-production facilities that are lesser known but still produce noteworthy wines. Here is a link to a map showing 23 wineries: www.livermorewine.com/visit.html

At this time of year you can visit without the worry of crowds, although Livermore has yet to see the summer throngs of visitors that other California wine regions experience. And while Livermore has experienced somewhat of a growth spurt in housing, much of the valley is still semi-rural.

SPECIAL EVENTS

In addition to the wines, Livermore Valley Winegrowers’ Association sponsors numerous special events to attract visitors. For example, this month the California Independent Film Festival will take place in Livermore at the restored Vine Theatre. www.livermorewine.com/indie.htm

The annual Harvest Wine Celebration is always held on Labor Day weekend and is a popular event. A feature of this event that I particularly like is the shuttle service between wineries. You don’t need to bother driving from one place to the next. The shuttles come by every few minutes and stop at each winery. Put this event on your calendar for next year.

Members of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association also hold a special open house event during the holiday season. This year’s Holidays in the Vineyards will be December 4-5, during which all the wineries welcome guests to enjoy gourmet foods, music, special crafts, and, of course, wine tasting.

RECOMMENDED WINERIES

Here are a few wineries that I recommend visiting. You will find that the atmosphere is each winery is unique, but all of the people you meet will be friendly.

Steven Kent Winery

www.stevenkent.com/

Steven Kent makes truly outstanding wine, but you won’t find his label in many retail stores. That’s because his loyal customers buy nearly all of his production directly through the Steven Kent Future Release Program or in the tasting room. Club members enjoy discounts on purchases and are treated to special members-only events throughout the year.

If you like big, luscious red wines, you simply must stop here and try the 2001 Vincere (Vin-Chair-Ay), a special blended made from Barbera, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. For white wine lovers Steven Kent has a superb 2002 Chardonnay named for his grandmother, Merrillie. These are wines for special occasions or would make wonderful gifts for a close friend.

Thomas Coyne Winery

www.thomascoynewinery.com

Thomas Coyne makes many wines in small batches, and they cover most every preference. Try some lesser-known varietals her, such as the gold-medal winning 2002 Mourvedre. Thomas Coyne also likes to blend wines, and he has succeeded in making some very good wines at reasonable prices.

Thomas Coyne Winery is at the western edge of the Livermore Valley and is set back off Vallecitos Road down a narrow drive. Look for the big barrel sign marking the entrance. This winery was first built in 1881 and was re-opened by Thomas Coyne ten years ago.

Tesla Vintners

You won’t see a sign, just a banner that says OPEN, but do stop at 5143 Tesla Road and say hello. This is a community tasting room, where two wineries now offer tastes of their wares, and two more wineries are planning to join them here in the near future. Little Valley Vineyard and Big White House wines are currently being offered here.

Do you enjoy sparkling wines? I tried Little Valley’s raspberry-infused sparkler and also an almond sparkling wine here that were crisp and bright with just a touch of sweetness. Surprise your friends with these two enjoyable wines. For a change of pace, give the Tempranillo a try. This is made from a Spanish grape that is not at all common in California.

Big White House www.bigwhitehouse.com offers a special Viognier Ice Wine that is very popular and in short supply. At 10% residual sugar, the 2000 vintage makes the perfect dessert.

The tasting room was being remodeled during my visit, but wine was still being poured outside under a big tent. Tesla Vintners has big plans for their facility here. Ask about the art classes that are offered on site. Also, take time to inspect the stained glass windows on the porch of the tasting room. There are four different panels that are said to be over 200 years old.

Bent Creek Winery

www.bentcreekwinery.com

Located a quarter mile off Greenville Road, Bent Creek Winery is a bit out of the way, but it is worth visiting. This is one of the newest wineries in the Livermore Valley, but their wines are not the product of novices.

Fans of Portuguese style port will want to stop here and try the Amador County Vintage Port, which recently stunned the wine world by wining a Double Gold Medal in competition. Also be sure to try the Livermore Valley Syrah, made from grapes out of the Bent Creek vineyard itself.

Regular tasting room hours are limited to noon–4:30 p.m. on Friday through Sunday, but you can also call ahead to make an appointment. Be sure to say hello to Princess the cat, who frequents the tasting room.

Eckert Estate Winery

www.eckertestate.com

This limited-production winery produces some hard-to-find varietal wines, such as Charbono and Malbec. All of their wines are lovingly produced by Michael Eckert. His wife Vickie hosts the tasting room on weekends, and you can make an appointment to visit Monday through Friday. When I visited recently they offered one white wine, a 2000 Viognier, and nine reds. Don’t try them all in one visit, but do try the Viognier if you like white wines with forward fruit flavors. For a spicy red, the 2001 Barbera is excellent. You won’t go broke buying Eckert wines, either. These are well-made wines at attractive prices.

Fenestra Winery

www.fenestrawinery.com

Fenestra Winery is set back from Vallecitos Road just across from Thomas Coyne and is a peaceful, charming site. Winemaker Lanny Replogle has what it takes to make outstanding wines, and he has a loyal following among locals. Fenestra’s tasting room is larger than most in the valley, and upon entering I was greeted by the largest crowd I had seen at any of the Livermore wineries.

Fenestra makes a dry Rosé that is an excellent afternoon treat. The Viognier was rated best of appellation at the California State Fair.

Tom Hayes lives in Fremont and loves fine wine. This is his second article for BAFT.

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