Livermore Valley Wine Country, A San Francisco Retreat

historic livermore travelpluswineThere’s nothing new about the wines of Livermore Valley. The region has a fascinating, wine-producing history since the 1760s, when Spanish missionaries planted the first grapes.

Then, in 1889 at the Paris Exposition, Livermore Valley put California on the world wine map when it won America’s first international gold medal for wine.

Today, the wine region is set apart from freeway traffic and commerce. For San Francisco locals and visitors alike, it’s an easy and welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Development dissipates as the scenic hills gradually give way to the Livermore Valley vines and, of course, tasting rooms.

Getting There

If you’re staying in San Francisco, Livermore Valley Wine Country is an easy day trip. Within an hour of the city center or several area airports, you can be sipping tasty wine and walking the vines.

Of course, we do recommend spending the night in Livermore to take full advantage of this San Francisco wine retreat and all it has to offer.

The Experience

concannon vineyard livermore travelpluswine

With over 40 wineries ranging from boutique to sizeable, there’s a place for nearly every taste, experience, and budget. Whether you’d like to sip with the winemakers among the barrels or prefer a swanky tasting space with an entertaining wine educator, Livermore Valley Wine Country provides.

If the day is gorgeous and you feel like spending time in the great outdoors, we’d highly recommend packing a picnic lunch or snack. Many of the wineries we visited have quiet picnic areas.

Keep in mind the majority of wineries in Livermore Valley are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from around 11am-5pm. As always, it’s a good idea to confirm opening hours before you visit.

Wineries to Visit:

When taking on wine country for the day, you can either play it by ear or plan ahead. Either way, we’d suggest visiting the Livermore Valley Wine Country website and picking up an area winery map.

Here’s an overview of what we did:

Fenestra Winery

fenestra winery livermore travelpluswineYou won’t regret stopping by this rustic, friendly barn-like tasting room. At Fenestra Winery, you’ll encounter an astounding number of wines (around 20) poured by the owners who take joy in their creations and interacting with guests.

Whether you’re looking for a Verdelho to pair with curry, a Malbec for roasted duck breast, or a Port to pair with your late night chocolate habit, Fenestra makes a wide variety of wines that are likely to please a range of palates. As a bonus, their wines are reasonably priced at $10 to $32 a bottle.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • True Red, Lot 25: This blend is a sophisticated and amazingly beautiful medium-bodied wine. Blackberry aromas play on the nose while plum and black cherry linger on the tongue long after you’ve sipped. It’s Fenestra’s most popular wine.

Bent Creek

bent creek zinfandel port livermore travelpluswineThis winery is all about location, location, location. The vineyards, combined with a hiker-friendly ridge and tall oak trees make for a picturesque afternoon in wine country. After you’re done tasting, buy your favorite Bent Creek bottle and hike past the vines to the gazebo and unwind while you enjoy a picnic lunch.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • 2007 Zinfandel Port: A truly memorable dessert wine. I have never tried a Port-style wine that tastes like grapefruit. It allows you, on a more philosophical note, to marvel at how Mother Nature works. Grapefruit with caramelized pecans? It’s a pleasant combination.

Murrieta’s Well

murrietas well zarzuela travelpluswineIn the 1850’s Joaquin Murrieta discovered an artesian well bubbling from the floor of the Livermore Valley. A well-traveled adventurer, he declared this water the best in the West and today it’s home to a nice winery owned by Wente.

While our last couple of wineries featured ‘mom-n-pop’ style tasting rooms, Murrieta’s Well boasts classy elegance and wine educators.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • 2008 Zarzuela: With so many flavors going on here, like lavender, it’s an intellectual wine that makes you contemplate. Vanilla, leather, and spice transport you back in time. Perhaps even Joaquin Murrieta would have approved.

Concannon

underdog wine bar at concannon travelpluswineConcannon Vineyard is an ideal last-stop on your Livermore Valley wine tasting itinerary. You can enjoy a final tasting and grab a bite to eat at the swanky Underdog Wine Bar before heading back to your hotel (I recommend the Campton Place Taj San Francisco if you’re staying in the city) or local accommodations (the Double Tree Hotel in Livermore is comfortable and quiet).

In 1883, James Concannon planted his first vineyard and built the winery. Today, the original structure is still in place, but the winery has expanded significantly and the tasting room is chic, spacious, and inviting.

wine flight at underdog wine barNext door, in the same building, is the urban-themed Underdog Wine Bar featuring wines from Livermore and around the world as well as delectable tapas-style dishes. Whether you go for the tasty soup and salad, an Ahi Tuna Tartar Tower, a Farmstead Cheese Board, or decide to sample several items, the menu is diverse, presentation lovely, and flavors mouth-watering.

We were impressed by the knowledgeable restaurant staff, all eager to make our food and wine experience memorable. If you can’t decide which wine you’d like to sip with your meal, ask your server to recommend a wine flight.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • 2007 Reserve Syrah: Our personal favorite at Concannon. This full-bodied, 100 percent Syrah has traces of mocha and chocolate to arouse the palate along with aromas of blackberry and dark cherry. We found it to be a tasty, memorable wine to sip as we sat back and reflected upon our day in Livermore.

Mark your calendar

Livermore Valley’s 3rd Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend is happening Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20 from 12pm- 4:30pm. This is a great opportunity to meet winemakers while tasting their wine right out of the barrel. Each participating winery offers a unique experience, so be sure to grab your tickets soon.