On the wine trail...

A tour of Livermore's wineries

Traveling the wine trail is always an adventure. Sometimes I compare it to traveling to an exotic destination. A wine region can posses such unique diversity that a nervous energy often flows through me in anticipation of beginning the taste and discovery process.

Livermore Grapes

So with sunny skies and lightly warm temperature, we set off for two days of wine tasting at the 24th Annual Harvest Wine Celebration over Labor Day weekend. With a trusty map in hand we planned the most efficient route for our Sunday sojourn. There were 24 participating wineries this year. For a $40 admission fee, you were good for Sunday and Monday. With this in mind we decided to try and visit 10 wineries the first day.

Patrons were plentiful, but not to the point of being too crowded, I thought as we made our first stop at Tenuta Vineyards. There we tasted barrel samples of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Feeling relaxed while sitting in the sun listening to live music, we talked about the expectations of the day. I'm sure we could have just sat there and enjoyed ourselves for hours, but being on the wine trail implies movement and it was way to early to get comfortable. Soon it was time to go we set off for the second winery on our list, Thomas Coyne Winery, which we
followed with Fenestra Winery.

Our stop at Mitchell Katz Winery at Ruby Hill was full of insight and delight. Wonderful live reggae music entertained the grass dwellers as we made our way inside the beautifully reconstructed Ruby Hill Winery. The original building was built in 1886 and burned down in 1989. We tasted white to red and by time we made it to the end of the tasting bar we had the pleasure of meeting Mitchell Katz himself. Gregarious in nature, he was happy to tell us about the history of the place as well as the wines he crafts. To our delight he opened a bottle of his 2002 Petite Sirah and his 2003 Sangiovese. Following up these two quality wines we finished our tasting with the 2002 Ruby Hill Zinfandel. With residual sugar at .75% and alcohol coming in at a whopping 16.5% this was a Zinfandel to be savored.

As always, we are discoverers looking for wine to not only add to our personal collection, but to review. Our first purchase was found at Livermore Valley Cellars. Aptly labeled Vino Rimanente “This, that, and the other thing” it is a non vintage blend of a hodgepodge of varietals. As they say “it doesn’t matter what’s in it as long as it taste good.” Well I have to agree in this case, so look for an upcoming review.

Livermore Grapes

As the day continued we enjoyed tasting wines at Concannon and Retzlaff. Feeling satisfied with our first day of tasting, we decided it was time to have dinner and plan our second day.

Day two again provided beautiful weather albeit a touch warmer. Our first stop was Eckert Estate Winery, where we enjoyed a very well made 2003 Semillon. Next stop was Stony Ridge Winery and the Crooked Vine Winery. Crooked Vine Winery is a higher-end wine that is a separate label from Stony Ridge. Our second purchase was found at Stony Ridge Winery - the 2002 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Juan’s Blend, which is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. Other notables were the Stony Ridge 2004 Chardonnay, the Crooked Vine 2004 Viognier and finally the Crooked Vine 2004 Zinfandel.

Next stop on the list was Murrieta’s Well. A beautiful place and one I already knew produces wonderful wines. Our first
tasting was the 2002 White Meritage, a delicious blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon. From there we moved to the 2001 Red Meritage, an outstanding wine consisting of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 8% Cab Franc and 5% Merlot. Rounding out our tasting was the 2003 Los Tesoros de Joaquin – 50% Semillon, 50% Chardonnay and the 2001 Zinfandel.

By now you can see how much work this can be! Trust me it can be tiring but we do find absolute enjoyment in the process. Also by this point you must have your spit etiquette down to an art – not to say ours is ever rusty. The day was moving along and we made stops at Rios-Lovell Winery, Cedar Mountain and Garré Vineyard and Winery. A notable stand out at Garré is their 2003 Cabernet Franc.

Livermore Winery

With a few more wineries on our list, our next stop was Wood Family Vineyards, where we were graciously welcomed by owner and winemaker Rhonda Wood. From airline pilot to winemaker, Rhonda without a doubt is following her passion. All of her artesian wines are crafted from Livermore fruit. Rhonda’s small production wines are an enjoyable experience. While at Wood Family Vineyards we had the pleasure to meet the folks from McGrail Vineyards. Accepting the invitation we stopped by their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard to admire the
wonderful job they, along with mother nature, are successfully accomplishing.

Leaving the vineyard we made a stop at Bent Creek Winery, White Crane Winery and finally Bodegas Aguirre. As the saying goes “save the best for last” could never ring more true. Bodegas Aguirre is owned by Dr. Aguirre whose winemaking craft could not be finer. Outside we tasted the 2002 Petite Sirah as well as the 2002 Merlot. I knew something was up when the Petite Sirah was poured – wine that could easily be mistaken for ink. While I was chatting about the wine, Dr. Aguirre was making the rounds to make sure all were having a good time and stopped by the table. After introductions we were invited to taste their reserve wines. I expected this to be a treat but little did I know how over the top it would be.

Livermore Grapes

Entering the small quaint tasting room, we found the place abuzz with giddy patrons. We squeezed into the end of the bar and our palates were treated to hedonistic delight. The powerhouse standouts are the 2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva and the 2002 Estate Castello Nuovo, which is a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. In addition, we tasted the 2002 Estate Petite Syrah Reserva and the 2002 Estate Trio which is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 20% Petite Syrah, which also offer sensous satisfaction. Having purchased all 4 of these wines we invite you to be on the lookout for upcoming PinoVino reviews of each of these outstanding wines. In the meantime run – don’t walk (but don’t tell everybody) – to Bodega Aguirre and buy these wines. With total production at 1500 cases they undoubtedly will disappear quickly.

In the two days we enjoyed a brief appetizer of what Livermore wineries have to offer. I saw plenty of wine loving people in each place I visited. If you seek fine wine in a relaxed country setting then you will enjoy – as I discovered – Livermore wine country. So long for now and we hope to see you out on the wine trail.