One afternoon = Five wineries in Livermore Valley

Last Saturday I had to go into work for a few hours.  I had Larry drive me so afterwards he could pick me up and we could go wine tasting in the Livermore Valley.  I work in Livermore and we really wanted to visit a few wineries that we have heard about but not visited yet.  So Larry picked me up and off we went into the city of Livermore.  The city, which is large in size but small in reality.  You will find the downtown area with cute stores and good restaurants on First Street.  There are about four to five blocks with all the activity, which makes it easy to take a leisurely stroll and check out the goings on.

The first winery we went to was Ryhan Winery.  I had been there before but Larry had never been and it was close to the two wineries that Larry wanted to visit.  Ryhan winery was very nice; they had a very nice staff and some foods to pair with their different wines.  They offered pepper jack cheese, mozzeralla cheese, homemade chili chicken, olives marinated in different herbs and spices, and some chocolates.  Being a foodie I won’t go into details of what I would have done differently, but they made a great effort.  I liked their raspberry sparkling wine.  Larry and I both had their Syrah, which was pretty good; they also have a Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gricio and many others.  This was strictly a tasting room.  Their tasting fee is $5.00 but if you buy wine they don’t charge you.  Their hours are Friday 12-5, Sat/Sun 11:30-5:00 or by appointment.

Right next door to Ryhan Winery in the same attached building was Cuda Ridge Wines.  Larry Dino the winemaker and owner was there pouring the wines.  This was the winery, cellar and tasting room all in one spot.  Larry’s specialty is making Bordeaux style wines.  Cabernet Franc is one of their specialties.  We also tried a Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Zinfandel that is on a different label.  All of their wines are made from grapes they get in the Livermore Valley.  They opened their winery in 2007 and their tasting room this past fall ’09.  They produce 1100 cases at the present moment.  They will also be offering a Semillon and a Malbec.  The surroundings were very comfortable and Larry and his wife Margie were very hospitable.

Our next stop was about 2 miles away.  These next two wineries are next to each other in a business park that fronts onto the main street.   The first winery we walked into was Occasio Winery.  They have a nice comfortable set up with a front room with the tasting counter, then behind that is a boardroom that can be used for a crowd up to 10 persons.  In that room they offer cheese and or lunch if you’re so inclined for your purpose.  Courtney was the person behind the counter pouring for us.  She was very nice and very knowledgeable.  We found out that the winery similar to Cuda Ridge had its first vintage in ’07 and opened their tasting room in the fall of ’09.  The owner and winemaker is John Kinney.  They currently are producing 500 cases of wine but very quickly will be up to 1,200 by the end of the year.  We got a small tour of the facilities.  They have a very nice sized laboratory.  Then the back area where the winery/cellar is was just the perfect size, room for growth yet small.  Back in the tasting room we tried a Pinot Gris ’08, a Sauvignon Blanc ’08*, a Rose of Zinfandel ’09* and a Zinfandel ’08*.  The future will be bringing a Petite Syrah, Fume Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend of some sort.  We really enjoyed the wines and bought 3 bottles*.  Their wine club membership is different where they give you 20% off all wine purchased.  Their tasting fee is $5.00 but that is taken off if you purchase wine.  Their hours are Friday 12-5, Sat/Sun 11:30 – 4:30 or by appointment.

Right next door was Nottingham Winery and Satyrs’ Pond Winery.  The winemaker/owner Jeff Cranor, makes the wines for both labels.  Justin and Chris helped us with our wine tasting experience.  Similar to Occasio the feel when you walk in was very comfortable.  Their tasting area was a bit more cramped.  But they also have room for you to wander around and look at the different artwork on the walls.  The owner’s brother Pat Cranor is a thriving artist in San Diego and he has quite a number of pieces for sale there.  Chris took us for a tour of the back, which is very large for their size winery.  They like to have enough room for their special events that they host.  We sampled the Viognier from Nottingham Cellars, which was floral but not overwhelming, as it can be.  Then we tried the Satyrs’ Pond Winery Lux Alba white blend, which is a Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend.  Then in a decanter we sampled Satyrs’ ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I really liked this.  Then in the next decanter we sampled Nottingham ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were very good, smooth but the Satyrs’ had more potential I thought to lay down for a few years.  At the end Chris opened up the Nottingham Ralphi’s Red Blend, which is Merlot from Napa and Cabernet from Livermore.  At first this wine fell flat on the tongue.  But after a bit of swirling and waiting patiently for it to open it did so in a big way.  We had to buy one of those.  They charge a $5.00 tasting fee, which gets reimbursed if you purchase any wine.

After all of this, and I was done, Larry said do you want to go visit Linda and Earl at Cedar Mountain?  I said sure as it was only 2 minutes away.  So we went to see our old buddies.  Unfortunately they were busy but we got to sample their Sauvignon Blanc side by side with their Sauvignon Blanc Reserve.  Quite a difference – I liked the reserve better.  Then I tried their Chardonnay of which I have always felt that they make one of the best in the Livermore Valley.  We both had to sample their Tortuga Royale.  This is a port made by co-fermenting Blanches Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with Scharffen Berger 70% cacao powder and fortified with fine Eau De Vie Brandy.  You can only imagine how amazing this was.  There was just enough of the chocolate aroma and flavor with the grape flavor of the Cabernet and the brandy for the alcohol and smoothness.  I could have continued drinking this all afternoon!  However, we had grocery shopping to do etc.  Next time I’m there I’m going to buy one of those for my liquor cabinet.  For $25.00 it’s a fantastic gift for any wine lover!

So this concludes another wine tasting experience in Livermore Valley.  There are over 50 wineries there now and more popping up.  It’s a great place to go and sample wines without feeling any pressure.  I feel very fortunate that I live 20 minutes away!

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