Category Archives: livermore valley wine growers

Livermore Taste of Terroir

A couple weeks ago I went to the Thursday night kick-off four day event of the Livermore Taste of Terroir. It was held at Casa Real Winery in Livermore. My friend Marybeth and I arrived at 5:00 for the one-hour VIP tasting hour before the doors were open at 6:00 to those who bought tickets to the event. When we went into the large room there were 17 different stations set up with local wineries pairing their wines with either restaurants or caterers from the East Bay. There were mostly red wines there but a there were some white wines as well. We got a sheet with a list of the wineries and food establishments so we could keep our personal score.

We sampled 8 red wines and 4 white wines in the three hours we were there. It was challenging to take notes and eat and drink all at the same time. We were given a plate with a cup holder for the wine glass. Most of the dishes were user friendly and we were able to pick them up with our fingers, some we had to use a fork. The challenging part was holding onto my notes and pen which ended up getting stuffed under my arm. They had some tables that we could stand at so we could actually put our wine glass down, eat the food, sip the wine and write up our notes.

Some of our favorite pairings of the night were: Longevity Wines was serving a pink Pinot Grigio paired with 1300 on Fillmore’s bbq shrimp n’ creamy grits. We each gave it a 7+. We also liked Page Mill Winery 2013 Vintner’s Select Chardonnay paired with Handles Gastropub’s roasted zucchini, corn and jalapeno potato cake topped with chipotle aioli. I gave it a 6+. The Wente Vineyards 2012 The Nth Degree Syrah was paired with The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards bbq Wente Estate beef and Emigh Ranch lamb sausage sandwich with a smoked eggplant aioli, cilantro and syrah pickled onions. I gave it a 7. And our personal favorite was Wood Family Vineyards which served their 2012 Big Wood Zinfandel paired with First Street Alehouse Mole’ pulled pork tacos with chipotle lime slaw. I gave this a 9. This was hands down our favorite pairing. We voted for Wood Family for our favorite red and Longevity Wines as our favorite white.

When you arrived at the event you were given two corks. These corks were to be used to vote for your favorite white and red wine and food pairing of the night. Around 7:45 they announced the winners. The peoples choice awards went to Longevity Wines pairing with 1300 on Fillmore for the whites and to Wood Family Vineyards with First Street Alehouse for the reds. As for the judging awards, (the judges were Nicholas Boer, food editor, Diablo Magazine; Rocky Fino, chef and cookbook author; and Sara Schneider, wine editor, Sunset Magazine) the first place went to Vasco Urbano Wine Company for their 2012 GSM “The Sheriff” paired with the Zephyr Grill and Bar house cured lamb bacon BLT. Second place went to Cuda Ridge Wines 2012 Cabernet Franc served with Posada Restaurant braised boneless pork ribs simmered in a tomatillo-cilantro sauce topped with charred creama. Third place went to Garre Vineyards and Winery with their 2010 Profound Secret served with the Garre Cafe all natural short rib papa rellenas; tomato and olive braised beef short rib encased in buttermilk whipped potatoes, deep fried with panko crust and finished with a Profound Secret gastrique.

We met all sorts of nice people, and we had the opportunity to sit outside for a while and listen to the live music and just watch all the people enjoying the event. There was a silent auction going on and there was a separate dessert room with items such as cupcakes on a stick, chocolate dipped strawberries, fresh berries, brie and assorted cookies. There were four wineries in the room serving ports and sweet wines to go with the desserts. On the patio there were some wineries serving their wines and sparkling wines as well, just not paired with any food.

This was a very fun evening. I would highly recommend this event for next year, it’s a great way to sample some of the best wines of Livermore Valley and have some great food paired with it.



Livermore Wines; Old Friends

We went wine tasting in our backyard last weekend.  Provided that we can define our backyard as our home territory, otherwise known as the Livermore Valley.  The first winery we went to was Cuda Ridge, which we hadn’t been to since they moved into a new facility in Livermore a few months ago.  Cuda Ridge specializes in Bordeaux varietals, and they do a pretty good job at it.  We really liked their Petit Verdot, which is the fifth red Bordeaux grape, after Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.  It’s usually used just for blending, but this was really nice on its own.  

More important than the fact that we hadn’t been to the new Cuda Ridge tasting room was that they were having music there.  The guy with the guitar, Tim Gomes, was one of my friends at UC Berkeley, eons ago.  And now, like me, he has children; his daughter Audrey (now a sophomore in college) came and sang with him.  Fortunately, she didn’t ask me for any stories about her father, and even more fortunately, she didn’t ask Tim for any stories about me.  Tim can play the guitar really well, but it gets a lot better when his daughter accompanies him.  She’s got a great voice.  We also got to see Tim’s wife Nancy, who was a classmate of my brother, also at UC Berkeley.  Doesn’t get much better than a beautiful day, a nice glass of wine, and shooting the breeze about ancient history.  

Another winery that has recently changed locations is Mitchell Katz Winery.  This is another case of ancient history, although not quite as ancient, as Mitch and I used to play pickup basketball together a couple times each week, early mornings before work.  That was before knees started getting a bit less reliable.  Mitchell Katz Winery is one of the relatively older wineries in the Livermore Valley, at a ripe 15 years now.  And Mitch has an even longer history in winemaking, having helped his grandfather make wines.  

My consistent favorite from Mitch is the Sangiovese.  He just seems to have a nice touch with this wine.  He know regularly makes two different single vineyard Sangioveses; we went home with a few bottles of the Crackerbox Vineyard version.  Easy drinking, nice balance, good fruit, works with food, and a good value too.  Can’t ask for anything more than that.  

One more thing about Mitch and his winery:  great customer loyalty.  Customers keep coming back, whether to talk to Mitch, or because they have a favorite wine (we also liked the Merlot, the Zinfandel, and the nonvintage sparkling on this last visit), or because they just like the vibe and want to hang out there.  It’s great to see a friend be successful in something as tough as the wine industry.  



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!