Livermore Valley - A Hidden Gem You Need to Know About - Discover California Wines (2024)

Travel, Wine

Livermore Valley is a few miles from the California coast, directly east of the San Francisco Bay and home to some of California's oldest vineyards.

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Livermore might only be on your radar as a commuter town, but it’s also a historic wine region worth discovering. Home to some of California’s most iconic and oldest vineyards, the Livermore Valley (also known as the tri-valley area) is right in the Bay Area’s backyard. It’s easy to get to and a beautiful place to visit where you can enjoy relaxed, intimate tastings, often with the winemakers and owners themselves.

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California’s Old School Wine Region

Long before Napa Valley rose to fame, Livermore had firmly established itself as a thriving wine-growing region in California. Spanish missionaries planted the first winegrapes there in the 1700s, but it wasn’t until the 1840s that Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines. Soon after, Charles Wetmore – Secretary of the California Viticultural Commission, James Concannon and C.H. Wente followed suit.

In the mid to late 19th century California’s wine scene could be considered nascent at best, but they were already making great wines. In 1889, Wetmore’s “dry white” won the Grand Prix at the International Paris Exposition. It was the first, but definitely not the last California wine to win an international competition. You’ve probably heard of the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976 where a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet were both recognized as best in class in a blind tasting that shocked French judges. Both of those varieties got their start not in Napa but in – you guessed it – the Livermore Valley.

Like other wine regions throughout the state, Prohibition, lasting from 1920-1933, put a damper on production and put many winemakers out of business. But a few Livermore Valley winegrowers were able to weather the storm and kept their vines alive and businesses afloat by making “sacramental” wines. Just three years after Prohibition ended, Wente released the first bottling of a California Chardonnay in 1936.

Two of the three original wineries in Livermore Valley remain today, Wente and Concannon. Cresta Blanca, founded by Charles Wetmore, closed in 1965 and Wente eventually acquired the historic property.

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Respect Thy Mother (Vines)

Fun fact: Concannon planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon and Wente planted the first Chardonnay grapes in the Golden State. Today, more than 80% of Cabernet and Chardonnay grapes can be traced back to their original clones. In addition to the first Chardonnay, the Livermore Valley was also the first to label Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Sirah.

By 1981 the region had formed its own Winegrowers Association and in 1982 The Livermore Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) was formed, among the first in the state. When you visit, you’ll find fifth-generation vintners running historic wineries alongside up-and-comers with limited-release wines you’ve probably never heard of – but should.

What Wine is Livermore Known For?

Like Santa Barbara County, Livermore Valley is a transverse valley, meaning that it runs from east to west instead of the more typical north to south valley orientation. Because of that, there is a pronounced coastal influence. So what does that mean for the wine? Coastal fog and marine influences cool down the valley temps making for warm days and cool evenings. This allows for perfectly ripened fruit and well-balanced flavors.

Top grapes of the tri-valley area include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Sirah, all four of which have a long history in the region. You’ll also find Petit Verdot and warm climate Italian, Rhône and Spanish varietals.

What Wine Region is Livermore CA?

Livermore Valley is located within the San Francisco Bay appellation and is part of the larger Central Coast winegrowing region that stretches from Santa Barbara County to the San Francisco Bay. The valley runs 15 miles long and 10 miles wide and is surrounded by coastal mountains and foothills.

Its unique gravel-based soil and maritime influences give the wines their distinct terroir or unique characteristics of taste and flavor. Grapevines in the tri-valley area are somewhat restricted in growth due to the challenging, rocky soils there. But that’s not a bad thing – grapes from Livermore Valley tend to be lush, concentrated and well-balanced. The cool ocean breezes help preserve the grapes’ acidity.

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How Many Wineries are There in Livermore?

There are more than 5,000 acres of winegrapes planted in the valley and about 50 wineries. Check out this Livermore Wine Country Map. Most of the wineries are in close proximity to one another making it an easy and convenient place to visit.

Where to Taste Wine in Livermore Wine Country

It is so easy to get to Livermore Valley that it’s the perfect place for a day trip from pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area. In fact, you can even get there on BART and get around town on your bike. Live further away? Make it a weekend. Easy access, plus a super chill vibe make visiting a no-brainer when you’re looking for your next wine-tasting getaway. See our list of Livermore wineries here.

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Things to Do in Livermore Wine Country

Livermore has grown up a lot in the past several decades, but it still retains its small-town, Americana style charm. There is plenty of fun to be had. Here are some of the top attractions to visit in Livermore:

  • Take a hike – there are several places you can stretch your legs and enjoy beautiful vistas while your at it. Del Valle Regional Park has hiking trails and also campsites if you’re so inclined. Sycamore Grove Regional Park has hilly hiking, biking and walking trails and an amazing view from the top. You can also hike or bike Brushy Peak Regional Preserve, a 1,702-foot landmark at the juncture of the San Francisco Bay Area, the California Delta and the Central Valley.
  • Go to the theater – the Bankhead Theater is an intimate visual and performing arts theater with music, comedy, dance and cultural events offered year-round. In summer, they can lift two sides of the theater walls giving it a true indoor/outdoor feel.
  • Take a trolley – If you’re there with a group, or looking for a more lively experience, the Livermore Wine Trolly is a fun (some might say rambunctious) ride to some of the areas best wineries. Choose from a variety of tour options which include food and wine pairings, historic tours, and even a sip and paint experience.
  • Rent a bike – as Livermore has grown from a sleepy ag town to a more bustling suburb, city planners were intent on keeping it bike-friendly. The Livermore Winery Trail is a 5.2 mile loop with lakeside views, vineyards, and most importantly – delicious food and wine. Make it easy on yourself and rent an electric bike from Pedego Livermore. Better yet, leave the planning to them and join one of their tours.

Restaurants in Livermore Wine Country

Livermore has a quaint and very walkable downtown district with several restaurants to enjoy. From fast casual to lively and family friendly to chef-driven, farm-to-table, you’ll no doubt be able to find something that suits your taste and budget.

The Livermore Valley has a rich history with high quality wines that also happen to be competitively priced. You’ll love its small-town charm, big hospitality and beautiful setting. Spend a day or the weekend getting to know this hidden gem and enjoy relaxed tastings of classic California wines.

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About the Author

From an early age, Alison Needham has been pondering life's one big question — what's for dinner? She's been a content creator, recipe developer and food photographer for more than two decades. Alison lives in Southern California with her husband, an assortment of quirky pets and occasionally one (or all three) of her young adult children.

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