Instead of the usual trip north to Napa or Sonoma, why not head east to the Livermore Valley for a day of good food, delicious wines and great golf? It’s often overlooked as a destination, but should be high on anyone’s list of Bay Area getaways — even if it’s just for a day. Not too long ago, my husband and I drove for about an hour from the Northside to this verdant region.
There is plenty of history here: Robert Livermore, for whom the town was named, was as interested in growing grapes in the 1840s as he was in raising cattle and horses. Wente and Concannon vineyards date to the early 1880s. And the Livermore Valley was the first in California to label Petite Sirah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as varietals. As soon as we exited the freeway, the landscape changed, and farmland and pastures quickly came into view. We cruised through the center of town on our way to the scenic Tesla Road area — most of the vineyards either line this road or are a short distance from it.
Set amongst vines and flowers the 1889 stone winery building houses the modern tasting room with its exposed beams and high ceiling. Local timber and gravel from a nearby creek were used in its construction. Highlights of our visit included the 2008 Anniversary Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo) and the Touriga Nacional 2009 (Touriga Nacional, Petite Sirah, Barbera) from the Los Tesoros de Joaquin label. The Spur (red blend) and the Whip (white blend) are the only two wines sold outside the winery.
The epicurean experience started with the lively Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco (one of Underdog’s emerging brands). With the stunning Ahi tuna tartar tower (served with cucumber, avocado, radish, cilantro, and wonton chips), we paired the 2007 Darcie Kent West Pinnacles Pinot Noir. And for dessert the Concannon Petite Sirah Port was extraordinary with the Valhrona chocolate tart with coffee bean caramel and grey salt.
Our final stop for the day was Wente Vineyards where sustainability is integral to all of its operations and the smart way of doing business for the fourth and fifth generations of the family. I tasted wine at the Vineyard Tasting Room and my husband played the Greg Norman-designed golf course. We then met up for dinner at The Restaurant.
Here’s the report from The Course: The layout has everything — long holes, intimate three pars, doglegs, uphill treks, and downhill glides. From several points on the course, there are wonderful views of the surrounding vineyard. Perhaps most notable is the 18th hole, which features a double fairway, spliced by a stream, followed by a carry over more water to the green. The key to full enjoyment at Wente is to play from the right set of tees, and there are six different tee boxes on each hole. The course stretches from just under 5,000 yards (red tees) to almost 7,200 (black). The conclusion: The Course should be on your list whether you are a serious golfer or a golfer who is serious about good wine.
In the intimate tasting room I tried one delicious wine after another. Favorites include the 2008 Reliz Creek Pinot Noir, the 2007 Small Lot Syrah, and both the Nth Degree label 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Livermore Valley is down to earth, it’s friendly, and it’s close by. The October weather is usually beautiful, and the food and wine are always tempting. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Livermore, Calif.: about one hour east of San Francisco via Interstates 80 and 580.
Tourist Information: www.trivalleycvb.com, www.lvwine.org, www.sustainablewinegrowing.org.
WHERE TO EAT
The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards: 5050 Arroyo Road, 925-456-2450, www.wentevineyards.com/restaurant. Appetizers from $6, main courses from $18, desserts from $7, wines by the glass from $8.50.
Murrieta’s Well: 3005 Mines Road, 925-456-2390, www.muriettaswell.com.
Underdog Wine Bar: 4590 Tesla Road, 925-583-1581, www.underdogwinemerchants.com. Small plates and pairings from $8, Sugar and Spice from $7.
Concannon Vineyard: 4590 Tesla Road, 800-258-9866, www.concannonvineyard.com. Steven Kent Winery and La Rochelle Winery: 5443 Tesla Road, 925-243-6440, www.stevenkent.com, www.lrwine.com.
Wente Vineyards: 5050 Arroyo Road, 925-456-2405, www.wentevineyards.com. The Course at Wente Vineyards: 5040 Arroyo Road, 925-456-2477, www.wentevineyards.com/golf.
Vinturi: 877-846-8874, www.vinturi.com. Wine needs to breathe and Vinturi provides the right aeration. Travel size comes in a cool case. From $39.95.
Ballistic SG Phone Case: 954-832-3502, www.goballisticcase.com. This protective case has extra shock absorption at the corners; three layers of protection, and when set down, the screen never touches the surface. $34.99.
Clarisonic Mia Skin Brush: 800-962-4943, www.clarisonic.com. The one-minute brush uses sonic movements to cleanse your face gently and more effectively than with your hands; lightweight, compact. (It takes awhile to charge.) $149.
Shiseido Bio-performance Super Corrective Serum for Face: 866-758-5966, www.shiseido.com. Increases firmness, reduces signs of aging. $80.
Dr. H. Bellin Swiss Skin Care: www.swissskincare.com. A combination of over 40 ingredients including extract from edelweiss helps prevent and repair signs of aging for the face and eyes. From $95.
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