It’s been years since I’ve been to Livermore Valley, and a couple friends are going to be there next week, and want to know who to visit. Both are long time wine enthusiasts, and know wine pretty well. When I looked at the official Livermore Valley Winery website, it likes like nothing has changed there in years, and it’s been at least 6-8 years since I was last there.
Any new wineries worth visiting? Any of the old players worth visiting?
Sorry to say there’s not much out in my neck of the woods. Livermore is just too warm to produce interesting wines, for the most part. Steven Kent makes some good cabernet, and pinot from outside Livermore. Concannon’s petite sirahs are decent, at least that’s distinctive to the valley. Murrietta’s Well (owned by Wente) has some good blends. That’s about it, though I haven’t tried any new places in a few years, so it’s possible there’s a gem I missed. The historic Wente property at the end of Arroyo Road is worth a visit to look around, though the wines are typically just adequate. The restaurant there is good but pricey. My former favorite, Livermore Valley Cellars, is closed.
I’d say the only must-go is actually a restaurant, Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard, which is in downtown Livermore. The highlight is the wine list, which includes many of the best Livermore wines in appropriate stemware by the glass or half-glass, including the Kalin Livermore semillons, which are not easy to find. The tea-smoked duck is my favorite dish, also the lobster dumplings. Nick the sommelier is a great resource. There are also excellent Livermore beers on tap at the Alehouse and Tap 25, both in the immediate vicinity.
I haven’t been out there in some years, but I’d say that Walter’s list looks pretty good. I’d include Thomas Coyne, and Fenestra has some interesting wines. Some of Wente’s higher-end wines have been good. Rodrigue Molyneaux and Big White House / John Evan might be worth a try. But my experience has been that even the better Livermore producers can be pretty uneven. I do need to get back that way though.
Last time I went there (probably 3 years ago?), we had a very nice visit at La Rochelle. They have a sit down tasting studio, sort of like Sojourn. They make mostly pinots and chards, I think, and I don’t think any of their pinots are from Livermore (they are from AV, Sonoma, SLH, etc.), but they were good quality wines and it was a nice experience. I don’t think you had to have an appointment, but it would probably be smart if you were planning to go there.
I’ve been to Wente twice, and it’s perfectly nice as far as large, commercial, Napa-ish type of tasting room. It’s like going to Ferrari-Carano or somewhere like that. They make a big assortment of wines, and some of their upper tier wines are pretty good. I have particularly enjoyed their Duetto, which is an assemblage wine from grapes in multiple spots, usually one of which is Mexico. As with many places of that type, if you can get a good rap going with a server and show interest, you’ll get to taste some of their better wines than the ones officially offered, which elevates the experience.
Have fun. Don’t expect a top-level serious tasting experience, but if you’re relaxed about it and going to explore and have some fun, Livermore can work.
And, I disagree with the Livermore Valley being “too warm to produce interesting wines”, I love the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc that comes out of Livermore, and have had on occasion, some interesting reds.
I like the Fenestra whites quite a bit, The White House had some interesting Rousanne and Marsanne, and really liked a winery called Livermore Valley Wine Company(?) that seems to have closed in the last couple years, was just surprised to see the same exact list of wineries that were there 10 years ago. Doesn’t look like anyone’s even changed their artwork on their labels.
Concannon was always a fun visit, but I think they’ve been bought by a big conglomerate, so I’m not sure if the tasting room or wines are the same. Their library petite sirahs have been enjoyable in the past.
Concannon is now owned by The Wine Group, which is one of the biggest producers in CA. However, the family is still involved. The Underdog Wine Bar is located at Concannon, decent food, and a lovely patio overlooking the Concannon estate vineyards. Service is slow, but if you’ve got a long lunch planned it is pleasant.
Thomas Coyne has a dizzying array of selections from all over California, some good, some not. I have also had good Fenestra bottles, though they are similarly diverse.
Under no circumstances should one visit the various “event center” wineries that are around without a specific recommendation. I’ve had some of the worst wines in my life there, and I’ve been wine tasting in Iowa!
Bodegas Aguirre is another good one, cab-focused.
I am probably not the best person to recommend whites, as I tend toward the high-acid, so most California whites are too alcoholic, or too low-acid, for my taste. I did serve Thomas Coyne’s Livermore pinot blanc at my wedding, so it’s not like there are none that I like, just not consistently.
I’ve had terrific wines from Wente. They’re sort of like Ravenswood in that the supermarket swill distracts from the high end stuff they make, but some of that high-end stuff is very very good (and reasonably priced, presumably because their estate vineyards were bought many moons ago when land was cheap).
RE: La Rochelle - i’m not sure if the entire operation has moved, but they do have a new tasting room in Kenwood (the old KAZ property) off of Highway 12. they may still have tours/tastings in Livermore though.
I’d say Thomas Coyne and Fenestra as well, both are pretty diverse with their selections. John Evans and McGrail also have some nice wines. LVC did close a couple years ago, I think it was related to the founder passing away.
Visited in '11 and stopped in at most of the wineries mentioned above. Really enjoyed the reserve tasting at Steven Kent. Another nice experience is John Christopher Cellars, downtown and just down the street from Uncle Yu’s.