Find more for less in Livermore wineries
Special to the Sierra Sun
The oldest wine growing region in California is the Livermore Valley, located less than an hour east of San Francisco, in Alameda County. Concord grapes were first planted there by Spanish missionaries in the 1760s, to produce ceremonial wines for the church.
Then Robert Livermore, an Englishman, planted the first-known vineyard in the valley in 1846 from rootstock obtained from nurseries in the east, and brought around the horn on sailing ships. By 1882 growers in the valley had planted more than 1,000 acres of grapes, and over the next three years 2,400 more acres of grapes were planted in Livermore Valley. In 1883, Carl Wente bought a 28-acre vineyard, and James Concannon, who was a rubber stamp salesman at the time, purchased 47 acres in the valley. Both of these historic wineries are still in existence today. International recognition came to the valley in 1889 when another pioneering wine maker, Charles Wetmore entered the 1889 Paris International Exposition with his Livermore Valley Sauterne, and won
America’s first international gold medal, the prestigious Grand Prix award, brought international fame to the region. The Livermore Valley was becoming California’s premiere wine growing region; unfortunately, Prohibition dealt a crippling blow to the region. The 50 wineries in operation there prior to Prohibition dwindled to only a few because the land became more valuable for suburban housing than for farming.
While across the bay and up north, the Napa Valley real estate remained very affordable for farming, and grape growers were buying up the farm land there and leaving the area for the more reasonably priced lands of the Napa Valley.
The Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle varietal labeled Chardonnay, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc. Early wine makers from this area developed many innovative grape cultivating techniques, still used today. Mechanical harvesting, overhead irrigation and roller crushing in the vineyard are a few of the early Livermore viticulturist contributions to the wine industry.
In addition, nearly 80 percent of California’s Chardonnay vines growing today are from the Wente Clone first planted in the Livermore Valley by the Wente family in 1916.
Livermore and Napa have a very similar in temperature gradient; both have hot summer days, cool evening breezes and some evening fog.
One would think, that with the similarities in the climate of Napa and Livermore, that wines produced in this region would have had a more prestigious place in the wine world today. But a marketing agreement may have damaged the region’s image. When wine production started up again after prohibition, Wente, in all probability the most well-known producer from this area had a marketing agreement with Louis Martini in Napa Valley that specified Wente would only produce and sell white wines, and Martini, would sell reds. This agreement has led to the idea that Livermore did not produce good red wines, which it does, including some fine Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mouvedre’, Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In fact, the Livermore Valley grows more than 23 different grape varieties of both red and white grapes. Grape growers in the Livermore Valley sell much of their grapes to producers from outside the area who generally will label the grape source as central California, which Livermore is recognized as being part of this AVA.
For those of you exploring more reasonably priced wines, look for wines from this region. The fact that the majority of Livermore wines do not have a high sticker price allows the consumer a chance to enjoy some pretty good wines at reasonable prices. Grapes produced in the Napa Valley sell for about three times the price of grapes produced in Livermore.
Today there are approximately 5,000 acres of vineyards in Livermore Valley, with 24 wineries, 22 tasting rooms, and 62 growers.
Make sure to catch Janice’s next column in the Tahoe World starting April 8.
Janice Jones is a Truckee resident and wine consultant. You may reach her at email@example.com.