Livermore Valley Wineries – Picks for Red Wine Fans

The Livermore Valley wineries are just an hour away from about anywhere in the greater Silicon Valley area. So it’s a great destination for an afternoon getaway of red wine tasting. It’s not a Sonoma, Napa or Paso Robles experience, but there are quite a few competent reds to experience.

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California Wine Fan on Steven Kent Winery lawn and patio tasting area

Steven Kent Winery is head and shoulders about the rest. For over 20 years, the owner and winemaker, Steven Kent Mirassou, has been making excellent single vineyard cabernet sauvignon wine, as good any anything you will find in Napa. This past week, he released three 2008 cabernets made from local estate grapes — Smith Ranch, Home Ranch and Ghielmetti Vineyard — all at $60. As usual all these wines will age well. The Ghielmetti Vineyard cab was most approachable and CWF’s favorite. Tastings at Steven Kent run from $10 to $20 depending on what is being poured. As another option across the driveway is La Rochelle Winery, Steven Kent’s foray into pinot noir using grapes from Monterey, Sonoma and other regions. Tastings can be pricey for some of these very low volume pinots.

Concannon modern patio for lunch and tasting

Concannon modern patio for lunch and tasting

CWF recommends Steven Kent as a first stop in the Livermore Valley. You might as well experience cab heaven while your palate is fresh. Then, if you need lunch, across the street and down the road 1/2 mile is Concannon Winery, a large bulk wine producer. The wine is just OK, but the sleek modern outdoor patio set alongside an emerald expanse of lawn is wonderful for a light lunch.

Having made the drive, you will want to fill out your afternoon with more wiinery visits. Behind Steven Kent and up the hill are several wineries. Our pick is McGrail Vineyards and Winery , for it’s nouveau Tuscan tasting room, it’s view of the valley, and it’s quest to make beautiful cabernet sauvignon. The owner-winemaker Joe McGrail played one season with the NFL’s Buffal0 Bills.  He joins Terry Hoage among the exclusive group of former NFL players that have made the transition to winemaking.  Hoage played 13 seasons, including a year with the San Francisco Forty-Niners in 1993.

Nearby is Murietta’s Well, owned by volume wine producer Wente. The historic winery has been artfully restored with a modern aesthetic. The boutique wines include some more unusual Italian and Spanish varietals. This is were CWF first encountered a California tempranillo. The tasting menu is broad and visitors can select from several flights.

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California Wine Fan at Nottingham Cellars storefront

Low on architectural appeal, but higher on wine appeal is Nottingham Cellars. It’s located in a business strip mall and can be hard to spot from the road. Watch for the A-frame signs and flags. The tasting room is comfortable and intimate with a tasting fee of $10. Their red blends are competent, but are way are more affordable that most. Their reds were interesting, but need some aging. CWF bought their viogner and steel-aged chardonnay.

At the Cuda Ridge Wines tasting room

At the Cuda Ridge Wines tasting room

About a mile away is Cuda Ridge Wines. The tasting room is located in a ranch barrel room, with horses and tractors outside, now surrounded by a new upscale suburban development. Lawrence Livermore Labs is just down the road behind a lot of chain link fence and threatening signs. The winemaker’s passion is Bordeaux style blends — cab with merlot, merlot with cab, all spiced up with cab franc, petit verdot, etc. He also makes an “American” single vineyard cab and some nice whites. Flights from $5 to $10.

Wineries close starting at 4, latest close 5. Got more time?

CWF suggests Page Mill Winery — it looks like a farm, but inside the tasting room is a decorating surprise. Lots of different reds and whites to taste here. Or, on the way out to the road back to Silicon Valley, check out Thomas Coyne. This really is still a farm. You can usually see plenty of sheep and other livestock. The view of the valley is pretty, so if it is not windy, this is a welcoming place to have a rustic picnic lunch in their picnic area. The owner-wine maker hails from Pennsylvania, is a Penn State Nittany Lion fan, and makes an eclectic menu of red and white wines.

Let us know how these wineries worked for you. Or if you know of other Livermore wineries CWF should “pick” please let us know.




Steve Kent Wine Club – Who knew? Cabernet Heaven in Livermore

Relax — this isn’t a “I got it and you can’t have it” message.  Consider it a recommendation for wine clubs and for the Steven Kent wine club in particular if you like big cabs.

Over the hills in the Livermore Valley lies the Steven Kent Winery.  The owner is Steven Kent Mirassou — yes, that Mirassou family — so he has good winemaking genes.  Actually, “genius” is closer to the truth.  The wines this guy is producing out in the Livermore Valley are incredible.

It happens that the winery has several wine clubs.  One is the “future release” club.  I belong to it.  I get two bottles of a wine about four times a year.  A couple of days ago two bottles of merlot arrived.  “Who should we foist these off on?” I asked Norma.  We made no decisions, but last night (June 25 for those who care) we decided to open a bottle based solely on our faith in Mr. Mirassou.  It was the single most amazing merlot we have ever tasted.  Forthwith, details.

Steven Kent Winery, 2005 Merlot, “Central Coast.”  304 cases produced and distributed exclusively to members of the future release program.  It helps that the wine is 15.4% cabernet sauvignon.  In the tasting notes Steve describes cleaning out his grandfather’s cellar and discovering a “jar of cherries he had soaked in brandy.”  He equates the aroma of this merlot with the taste of those cherries.  We can’t disagree.  Steve’s tasting notes include the words “sweet oak, truffle, black raspberry, subtle olive, and loamy earth.”  He adds the wine has “substantial tannin and acid backing…”  We actually would disagree — the tannins are very soft and incorporated very nicely into the wine.

So here’s the point.  When you find a small winery you like, join their wine club.  Not only does it help keep them in business, it guarantees you access.  Some wineries have converted to the “wine club only” model.  More will do so in the future.  If you find a winery you like and they seem to consistently produce wine you like, join their club.  That way you’ll be able to buy the Best Wine You Can’t Buy.