Friday, January 21, 2022

California’s Historic Livermore Valley Continues To Pioneer Exceptional Wine

Livermore Valley wine continues to make history.

To some Livermore Valley is known as a bedroom community for San Francisco, but to the knowledgeable, the region is well-regarded for its long history of winemaking. It’s one of the oldest wine regions in California and is recognized for introducing grape varieties from Italy, Germany, France, and Spain.

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Its story began in 1844 when English sailor Robert Livermore planted the area’s first vineyards. Charles Wetmore, then state secretary of viticulture, opened Cresta Blanca winery in 1882. He recognized the valley’s terroir as being similar to the premier vineyards of Bordeaux. In 1889, a dry Livermore Valley white wine from Cresta Blanca won the Grand Prix award at the International Paris Exhibition, becoming the first California wine to win a wine competition in France.

Chardonnay, Cabernet Greatness Starts In Livermore

Two wine pioneers made important contributions that rippled across Livermore Valley, California, and the country. Carl H. Wente and James Concannon purchased prime acreage in Livermore Valley. Wente Vineyards and Concannon Vineyard were established in 1883.

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Wente Vineyards is recognized as the pioneer of California Chardonnay. With fruit from the 1936 vintage, Wente released the nation’s first bottling with the varietal name Chardonnay printed on the label. Today Chardonnay is the number one white grape in California and the majority of grapes are Wente clones.

Concannon Vineyard is recognized as the pioneer of California Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. In 1961, Concannon introduced America’s first varietally labeled Petite Sirah. Concannon Cabernet clones helped California Cabernet achieve international recognition and are the most widely planted Cabernet clones in the state

Livermore Valley is the closest wine region to the Bay area airports – about an hour away. The AVA also benefits from the cool coastal breeze. That ensures a crisp acidity and allows the grapes to ripen slowly, resulting in good sugar, color, aroma, and flavor complexity.

Livermore Valley Winegrowers Today

Today industry leaders like Wente and Concannon are joined in Livermore Valley by boutique wineries like Omega Road Winery, which produces less than 1,000 cases a year. Alexandra Henkelman, winemaker at Omega Road, describes the appeal of this unique region.

“Livermore is pretty incredible because if you ask all the winemakers here what grows best almost every person will have a different answer because so many things grow so beautifully here in the valley,” said Henkelman. “There's a lot of winemakers who lean towards the Rhone styles versus the Bordeaux styles but again they all have incredible representations.”

We recently sampled two wines from Omega Road and were impressed by the quality. The Omega Road keeps the focus on a fun and enjoyable wine experience. Their lineup includes some unconventional blends and uncommon grapes.

The 2019 Gratia is 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Chardonnay, and 6% Torrontes. It is bright and refreshing with stone fruit notes and floral highlights.

We are huge Petit Verdot fans. The 2019 Omega Road version is 100% Petit Verdot flows with dark fruit flavors of blackberry and blueberry. Dark chocolate touches make this a delightful glass.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

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