Why you should explore the wines of the Livermore Valley
The Livermore Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) is one of the oldest wine regions in California. In 1982, it was among the first American appellations designated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (BATF). The AVA is also part of the Central Coast AVA and the San Francisco Bay AVA.
The valley is located approximately 30 miles east of San Francisco in the East Bay area of ââAlameda County. Oriented on an east-west axis, it is approximately 15 miles long and 10 miles wide.
It is surrounded by the Diablo Range to the east, north and south. The Amador Valley to the west connects the Livermore Valley with San Francisco Bay, allowing sea winds and mists from the bay and the Pacific Ocean to cool down into the valley.
The result is a pronounced diurnal variation in temperature, with hot days and cool nights, which helps to preserve the acidity of the ripening grapes. Otherwise, summers are hot and arid with average high temperatures in the 80s and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The area receives about 18 inches of rain per year, almost entirely during the winter months.
The first wine grapes from the Livermore Valley were planted by Spanish missionaries in the mid-18th century. Californian pioneers, notably Robert Livermore, who gave the valley its name, began planting wine grapes in the 1840s.
Three of California’s oldest and most iconic wineries were planted here in the 1880s by CH Wente (Wente Vineyards), James Concannon (Concannon Vineyard) and Charles Wetmore (Cresta Blanca Winery). The first two wine estates are still in operation. Cresta Blanca closed in 1965. The Wente family purchased the historic property in 1981 and currently operates the Wente Vineyards and The Course at Wente Vineyards tasting room there.
Cresta Blanca’s inaugural wine, in 1884, won an international gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1889, making it the first Californian wine to win a gold medal in an international competition.
Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle grape expressions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah. The region is the historic center of California chardonnay. According to the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, approximately 80% of California Chardonnay vines find their genetic roots in a Livermore Valley clone.
The soils consist mainly of various mixtures of loam and gravel. These are fast-draining, low-nutrient soils that are ideal for reducing vine vigor and increasing the concentration of flavor in grapes.
The region has over 4,000 hectares of cultivated vineyards and over 50 wineries. About 30 varieties of grapes are grown in the Livermore area.
These varietals include Petite Sirah, historically the region’s signature wine, traditional Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and white varietals like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. There are also selections of Italian, Rhone and Spanish grape varieties from a warm climate.
Below are tasting notes on a representative selection of wines from the Livermore Valley.
Page Mill Winery, 2020 Chardonnay, San Francisco Bay, 13.1% ABV, 750 ml, $ 22
Apple and pear nose, accompanied by lemon, followed by a hint of vanilla and almond. It’s slightly creamy, with a little buttery note. On the palate, it is creamy, with ripe green fruits. The finish is medium, with a slight bitter note on the finish.
This Chardonnay comes from two vineyards, just slightly north and west of the Livermore Valley, along the San Francisco Bay. The local Mediterranean climate ensures maturity, while the cool winds and morning mists that come from the bay help retain the acidity.
The wine is fermented at 20% in oak barrels and the remaining 80% in steel tanks. The result is a fresh and lively wine that retains good acidity and offers just enough of a ripe, well-integrated tannic structure to give the wine some structure.
Appearance 8/10, Nose 27/30, Mouth 28/30, Final 27/30, Overall rating: 90/100
McGrail Vineyards, Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc, Livermore Valley, 2019, 13.5% ABV, 750 ml, $ 25
Stylistically, this wine sits between a warm climate and a cool Sauvignon Blanc climate. There are the herbal, lemon / lime, apple / pear and currant notes typically found in the cool climate of Sauvignon Blanc, but the apple notes are more ripe and there are some of the tropical fruit notes usually found in the climate. warmer Sauvignon Blanc. In this case, the tropical fruit notes are subtle, with a hint of mango and pineapple. The result is a crunchy and fruity wine that will pair with a variety of dishes, from fish to chicken and pasta to cheese and fruit.
Appearance 7/10, Nose 27/30, Mouth 26/30, Final 26/30, Overall rating: 86/100
Longevity, 2019, Deb’s Rose–ru–vee, Vintner Select rosÃ© wine, Livermore Valley, 13.8% ABV, 750 ml, $ 24
This rosÃ© is a blend of 78% Grenache and 22% MourvÃ¨dre. On the nose, it has notes of strawberry and raspberry, with some citrus zest and ripe, almost oxidized apple. On the palate, it presents the same notes of fruit, with notable acidity and a ripe tannic structure, well integrated but noticeable. The finish is long, with lingering notes of strawberry and a slight hint of bitterness on the finish.
This is a classic Mediterranean / Provencal style rosÃ©. It is fruity, but has a noticeable tannic backbone which gives it more structure and weight and allows it to pair well with many different foods. The rosÃ© made from heat-loving Mediterranean grapes could easily become the signature wine of the Livermore Valley.
Appearance 9/10, Nose 27/30, Mouth 26/30, Final 28/30, Overall rating: 90/100
Retzlaff Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley California, 2015, 14.5% ABV, 750 ml, $ 65
The Retzlaff Winery was established in 1976 and has been certified organic since 2006. The winery is located on a 14-acre historic Victorian estate just on the outskirts of Livermore. The cellar produces unique wines from the main Bordeaux grape varieties. Their Cabernet Sauvignon typically sells for around $ 35, although the 2015 is generally more expensive because grape production was short that year.
On the nose, the wine presents notes of red and black fruits, in particular black cherry, as well as woody spices. On the palate, it is smooth, with a notable weight in the mouth, good acidity and ripe and well-defined tannins. The finish is long, smooth and fruity.
Appearance 8/10, Nose 26/30, Mouth 26/30, Final 26/30, Overall rating: 86/100
Las Positas Vineyards, 2013, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Livermore Valley, 14.3% ABV, 750 ml, $ 71
It is a rich, full-bodied and deeply colored wine. It is made mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon clones number 6 and 191. On the nose there are intense aromas of black fruits of plum, black fruits and blackberry, with some prune. There are spicy notes of cinnamon and cloves, as well as new leather.
On the palate, it is a rich, full-bodied, intensely fruity and fruity wine that shows both elegance and complexity. In addition to the dark fruit notes, ranging from dried to slightly jammy, there are additional notes of dark chocolate, hints of coffee, as well as some elements of dry herbs.
The wine has good acidity, as well as a well-integrated ripe tannic structure. The wine spends 30 months in oak barrels then spends several years in bottle before being released. It is a wine capable of long aging that can easily be consumed over the next decade.
The finish is long, with elements of fresh and dried black fruit, a lingering slight sweetness and a hint of dry wood.
Appearance 9/10, Nose 28/30, Mouth 27/30, Final 28/30, Overall rating: 92/100
Page Mill Winery, 2017 Livermore Valley, Vintners Collective, 13.9% ABV, 750 ml, $ 42
The Vintners Collective is an association of six like-minded wineries in the Livermore Valley who work together to craft wines made from 100% Livermore AVA fruit that showcase the wine character of the region.
The wine is a blend of 40% Merlot and 40% Syrah, with 15% Petite Sirah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a powerful and full-bodied wine that presents intense flavors of black fruit, accompanied by notes of wood smoke, notes of dry herbs, seasoned wood and light notes of cigar box / cedar.
On the palate, the black fruit is mouth watering, with good acidity and ripe and well seasoned tannins. The finish is long and smooth, with lingering notes of black fruit.
Appearance 8/10, Nose 27/30, Mouth 28/30, Final 26/30, Overall rating: 89/100
Cuda Ridge Wines, Livermore Valley, 2017 Melange d’Amis, red wine, 14.4% ABV, 750 ml, $ 60
The Amis blend is a Saint-Emilion-style Bordeaux blend made from 56% Cabernet Franc from the White Cat vineyard, 38% Merlot from the One Oak vineyard and 6% Petit Verdot from the Smith Ranch vineyard.
It is a sweet and complex wine, with a pronounced weight in the mouth and a soft and velvety mouthfeel. On the nose, it offers intense notes of red fruits, accompanied by some black fruits. The preponderance of Cabernet Franc in the blend tends to favor notes of red fruits, notably strawberries and raspberries.
In the mouth, we find a mixture of red fruits and black fruits, with an emphasis on the former, with notes of milk chocolate and cinnamon. There are also aromas of pencil shavings, cedar and cigar box.
It is a full-bodied, concentrated, powerful wine, coating the mouth and full of flavors. It presents a notable acidity, with ripe and well integrated tannins. The finish is long, with lingering notes of red fruits and hints of milk chocolate.
The wine spends 17 months in oak barrels, with 40% new barrels and 60% already used barrels. About 50 cases are produced each year.
Appearance 9/10, Nose 27/30, Mouth 28/30, Final 27/30, Overall rating: 91/100
Livermore Valley wines are often an afterthought in the Californian wine world. It’s a shame, because the region produces exceptional and tasty wines at competitive prices. They deliver an aroma and flavor profile that emphasizes concentrated fruity notes wrapped around a distinctive backbone of ripe, smooth and well-integrated tannins, accompanied by crisp acidity.
If your palate turns to classic Californian wines, there is much to discover in the Livermore Valley.