Residents of San Jose and Oakland may want to keep it secret, but they have a wonderful wine-country destination in their backyard. Although the Livermore Valley flies under the radar, it’s arguably the birthplace of modern California wine, and it continues to nurture boutique wineries that showcase estate-grown vintages.
The small, rolling valley sits just east of the main Bay Area hub and north of San Jose. Separated from San Francisco Bay by rugged hills, it benefits from the same cool maritime breezes as many other Pacific Coast wine regions. Close to San Francisco and Oakland airports, it’s served by two interstates and is less crowded and more affordable than hotspots in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
Two of its largest wineries, Wente Vineyards and Concannon Vineyard, have in-depth tours and restaurants. Visitors can admire some of the oldest vines in California. Chardonnay vines at Wente provided budwood for a majority of the variety’s current plantings, while Concannon did much the same for Cabernet Sauvignon.
The small city of Livermore retains an unspoiled-Americana vibe and growing food and craft-beer scenes. Visitors can take the sometimes-rowdy Livermore Wine Trolley to visit wineries and get lunch, too. Livermore makes outstanding wines that range from elegant Bordeaux-style blends at Steven Kent Winery to potent Petite Sirah at Ruby Hill Winery.
Luxury lodging can be challenging to find, but Livermore’s proximity to the Bay Area makes it an ideal day trip.
The Top Grapes of Livermore
Many Chardonnay vines planted throughout California trace their lineage to the Wente clone, which originated in Livermore. Several Chardonnays from this region can age and improve for years.
Another of the area’s heritage grapes, Sauvignon Blanc grown here makes wines with great acidity and tangy citrus flavors, often with a streak of minerality.
Full-bodied and tannic in texture, this notoriously dark-colored wine tastes meaty and blackberry-like, with clove accents. Petite Sirah as a varietal wine has a long tradition here.
The classic Bordeaux grape variety makes wines of power and midpalate finesse. Cabernet Sauvignon’s aromas of black cherry, cassis and tobacco usually lead to rich tannins and toasted oak accents.
This deep and dark favorite to blend with Cabernet is intensely floral on its own. Petit Verdot harbors dark plum and semisweet-chocolate flavors and a good, gripping texture.