I’ve had the opportunity to visit a lot of wine regions and when I think of “hidden gems” or “the best kept secrets” it comes down to more than just the wine. There is a sense of community which includes the history, the people and connections. Visiting Livermore Valley for the first time checked all the boxes. Spring is a beautiful time to visit Livermore. Driving into the valley, I felt like I was in a different country. Bare vineyard vines, in their slumber, with lush green rolling hills in the distance. The landscape has definitely benefited from all the California rain this year.
The wines were outstanding, don’t worry, I’ll get to that in a bit. But, the Tri-Valley has so much more to offer. Nicknamed “The Sunny Side of the Bay” the Tri-Valley is just 35 miles southeast of San Francisco. The perfect road trip retreat…home to over 50 wineries, contemporary cuisine and endless biking and hiking trails to discover via the East Bay Regional Parks. To make it easy, I’m going to break this up into three categories: things to do, wineries to visit (from my personal experience) and places to eat.
If you are anything like me, balancing a weekend wine trip with a little exercise is the perfect pairing. The East Bay Regional Park District is full of parklands where you will find endless trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding. There are plenty of camping options available as well. For that type of adventure, plan ahead, as they do require reservations. Want to get in a day of golf? You are in luck, Lake Chabot and Tilden have beautiful courses ready to make or break your day.
For a leisure day, I’d recommend heading into downtown Livermore or Downtown Pleasanton. Historic Downtown Livermore is recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, look for the signs throughout the town. They have also received the Great American Main Street Award, which is a nonprofit program that has been helping revitalize older and historic commercial districts for more than 40 years. Take a stroll throughout the area, where you will find plenty of charming boutique stores, local restaurants, wine bars, breweries, theaters and museums.
Want to add a little adventure to your wine tasting? I highly recommend doing a bike excursion with Pedego Electric Bikes. They are located in downtown Livermore. You have the option to do a self-guided ride or you can book a guided wine tour, where you will bike from one winery to the next. Planning on buying wine and not sure where you’ll put it? They have insulated wine packages available that hook to the back of your bike. If you end up purchasing more than a few bottles, they will take the wines for you and safely transport them back to their downtown location where you can pick them up once your bike tour is completed.
With over 3,000 acres planted with grape vines and 140 years of history, Livermore Valley knows a thing or two about making world class wines. Home to 44 wineries, the valley is a wine lovers dream, ready for exploration. I had the opportunity to visit 11 wineries during my stay, each having a unique story to go along with their phenomenal wines.
Garré Vineyard and Winery dates back to the early 19th century when the Molinaro family, living in San Francisco at the time, would transport red grapes from Napa to the Livermore Valley where they would crush and ferment the grapes, blending in their Italian heritage into each wine. Garré Vineyard and Winery has grown into a beautiful venue, including a café, plenty of space for hosting weddings and events and a quaint tasting room which offers inside and outside seating, where you can take in the panoramic views while tasting through a range of Italian varietals.
Steven Kent Winery is surrounded by vineyards with lavish green hills in the distance. Specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a MUST to taste through The Lineage Collection! Elegance meets complexity, in the best possible way. I don’t normally call out favorites in these types of posts, but these wines stole my heart from the beginning. The grapes are harvested from some of the finest vineyards around the Livermore Valley. From there…Winemaker, Steven K. Mirassou, lets the fruit begin their journey to world-class wine, with little intervention. The tasting experience begins with a unique sparkling Barbera and includes small bites from local restaurants to pair with each wine. It has it all; ambiance, breath-taking views and phenomenal wines.
Many wine enthusiasts are familiar with Wente Vineyards, yet I am not surprised when many of them say they were not aware that they are located in Livermore. Wente Vineyards is the longest family-owned and operated winery, in the United States, dating back to 1883. Wente Vineyards is famous for bringing Chardonnay cuttings from a well-known nursery in France, F. Richter Nursery, to the Livermore Valley. Today, the ‘Wente Clone’ makes up over 75% of ALL Chardonnay planted in California! Wente Vineyards is a spacious estate, including a chic tasting lounge, where you have the luxury of tasting through a variety of red and white wines. Enjoy the serenity one sip at a time.
Darcie Kent Estate Winery is in the heart of Livermore, where you get a bird’s eye view of rolling hills and boundless vines. With plenty of outdoor seating, you can settle in with a nice glass of wine and enjoy the ambiance. Darcie Kent, is a fifth-generation vintner and artist! She captivates both talents in making family owned, estate wines and uses her original artwork for the wine labels. The sparkling Gruner Veltliner was a favorite and the Pinot Noir is a must sip!
McGrail Vineyards & Winery really stood out for me. Perched at a bit of a higher elevation, you are surrounded by vineyards and get spectacular 360-degree views of your surroundings. We were warmly greeted by Heather McGrail, President of McGrail Vineyards, who took us on a bit of a tour while sharing their story of how they got into wine. Back in 1999, the family were farmers and sold all their Cabernet Sauvignon fruit to Steven Kent Winery. It wasn’t until 2005 that they decided to venture into the production side of wine and grow grapes for their own winery. At McGrail, their goal has always been to take the “snobbery” out of wine tasting and showcase the terroir that contributes to their small lot wines. In 2012, the McGrail Cabernet Reserve won the Best Red Wine in the United States at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. This recognition put McGrail Vineyards and Livermore in the spotlight, where they are now recognized as producing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley. If you want a winery that has a relaxed setting, genuinely friendly staff and fantastic wines that you can enjoy with a view…this is it!
Wood Family Vineyards is the ideal winery to visit if you are looking for a little liveliness to go with your wine tasting! They certainly know how to throw a party. After a long week, stop in and enjoy “Fun Fridays” at the winery with live music and food trucks. If you get a chance, say hello to the owner, Rhonda Wood. She has a great story to share on how she got into wine. The wines are great and the energy that goes along with them makes the perfect pairing!
Las Positas Vineyards is more than just a winery, it’s an experience. Put this one on your list if you are a foodie and love to pair wines with small bites. Chef, Curt Pipes, has expanded a fresh new menu which includes small tapas, flatbreads, salads and more. Their focus is on old world, small lot handcrafted wines with a new world pioneer spirit. I’d say they are hitting that mark!
Looking for a history lesson on Livermore as a wine region? You need to visit Concannon Vineyards. They were one of the first wineries in the valley, dating back to 1883, when James Concannon started crafting Bordeaux-style wines in California after discovering the terroir similarities to France. He began importing Cabernet Sauvignon vines directly from the renowned Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux. Today, an estimated 80% of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon is planted with the Concannon Clones! The winery has transitioned over the last couple of years and has scaled down, focusing more on quality versus quantity. It shines through in the wines! We loved so many of them that we shipped a case home.
Longevity Wines is a family-owned, urban winery and minority-owned. They recently expanded their tasting room and production area, worthy of a visit. Owners Phil and Debra first started making wine in their garage before sharing their love of wine with the world. After the passing of Debra in 2019, Phil continues their love story which inspires him every day in his winemaking efforts. He has recently brought on his son Phil Jr., as assistant winemaker as they continue to cultivate and share their wines.
They have quite the selection when it comes to wine varieties. The wines we tasted were fantastic, I highly recommend trying their “pink” Pinot Grigio, made in the Italian ramato-style resulting in a beautiful copper hue and rich flavors of pineapple, pear & green apple. Bright citrus notes with a nice complexity.
Retzlaff Vineyards is a family-owned winery with a focus on organic farming. The winery has a beautiful outdoor space where you can grab a table, some food and relax while listening to live music on the weekends. I also love that it is dog-friendly. The tasting starts with their refreshing bubbly and goes into the other wines from there. The Sauvignon Blanc that is blended with a little Semillon was so good with goat cheese and Brie! The Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend was also a favorite.
Murrieta’s Well was our last stop of our trip. Another winery that is dog friendly with an expansive outdoor space. All wines are estate grown and are planted according to the various microclimates that they have on their property, bringing out the unique terroir characteristics that shine through in the wines. The wines were exceptional, I especially enjoyed the 2019 Merlot, 2020 Cabernet Franc and the 2018 Tempranillo.
Livermore has quite the gastronomy scene, I really didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised at the variety of restaurants in the valley and the quality and thought that goes into the dishes. For all the breakfast brunchers out there, I highly recommend Nonni's Bistro in Pleasanton. I loved the vibe here! Located on the quaint Main St. of Pleasanton, this place will make you feel right at home. Everything is made from scratch and they have bottomless mimosas. The big open windows in front make for great people watching, lots of bustling to keep you entertained while enjoying a divine meal.
Monica’s is also a great option for breakfast. A community favorite, Monica’s is located in what is formerly one of Livermore’s earliest wineries. The inside has a café style, where you can belly up to the bar area and eat there if you like. There is a strong emphasis on getting ingredients locally, farm-to-table style. Be prepared for a hearty breakfast, might want to share a meal or save the rest for later. You’ve been warned! They also offer plenty of sweet bakery delicacies and savory lunches as well.
Last but not least, The Press Artisan Café is a delicious breakfast place to add to your agenda if visiting the area. This place felt more like a local’s spot where you would meet up with your best friend to catch up on how your week was. They use natural, organic and local seasonal ingredients. The inside can fill up quite fast on the weekends, luckily, they have additional outdoor seating in the front.
First Street Alehouse is the perfect lunch spot located in downtown Livermore, especially if you are looking for a break from wine and want to enjoy a refreshing beer instead. They have plenty of space inside with T.V.’s around the bar, but if you are looking for a quieter setting, take a seat outside on their spacious patio. The restaurant is family-owned and operated. Fun fact, they have a beer can collection that reaches into the 6,000’s! Their focus is to be “home away from home,” making you feel welcome right from the first hello. I elected to go with a local IPA, which paired perfectly with my juicy jalapeno burger.
The dinner spots in Livermore were impressive! Our first night we dined at Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard, a family-owned restaurant located in downtown Livermore. They focus on using organic and sustainable ingredients, while sticking to traditional recipes with a modern flare. The signature steamed Dim Sum tray is a MUST, do not skip it, trust me. The Pad Thai was also amazing. They have a Wine Spectator Award winning wine list, something for everyone. We paired a Gruner Veltliner with on entrees, so delish!
Locanda Wine Bar is an Italian inspired restaurant with authentic hearty dishes, handcrafted cocktails and a wine list with a bit of an eclectic flare. I highly recommend the Insalate Locanda, filled with butter lettuce, artichoke hearts, watermelon, radish, oranges, toasted almonds, goat cheese and Champagne Vinaigrette. The Lasagna Della Mamma is also a must have, Mamma Carmela’s traditional Beef & Veal recipe. We paired with a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to complete it all.
Range Life is a quaint neighborhood restaurant & bar, located in a renovated 1800’s brick building. A cozy setting that is both rustic and modern. They focus on local and seasonal cuisine, everything from small bites to hearty entrees. Definitely start with a cocktail, that will create the perfect vibe before moving on to their wine list, which includes both local and imported wines from around the world.
When I visit a place like Livermore, sometimes I don’t want to share how wonderful it is, selfishly wanting to keep it a hidden gem. Livermore is too exceptional to keep a secret. The wines are wonderful, but it has so much more to offer. Next time you are planning a wine tasting trip, I hope you will remember this post, book a trip to Livermore and discover all it has to offer. And then report back, please.