The Winner's Circle and Livermore Valley

With a winegrowing history that dates back to the mid- 1760s, Livermore Valley is one of California’s oldest winegrowing regions. 

Published: 6/24/2014

With a winegrowing history that dates back to the mid- 1760s, Livermore Valley is one of California’s oldest winegrowing regions. Although it was first approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1982, it remained in the shadow of its northern neighbors for decades. Until now, that is. Over the past few years, more and more Livermore Valley wines are making it to the winner’s circle in the nation’s wine competitions.

Bob Foster has been judging wines in California for more than 30 years and participated in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. “There has been a major jump in quality of these wines in recent years,” he says. “Many of them are top notch! More and more I find I am awarding gold medals in blind tastings to the wines of this region.”

Located just 30 miles east of San Francisco and the same distance north of San Jose, it’s an easy region to visit and conduct tastings of one’s own. Tim McDonald has judged for the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition since the mid-1990s and currently serves as Director of Judging for the San Francisco International Wine Competition. “Livermore Valley has dozens of great wineries to visit and hundreds of terrific winners to cellar or simply enjoy,” Tim says. “The wines of Livermore Valley are a discovery or a secret find. It’s such an amazingly beautiful place to grow some of the best winegrapes that produce delicious wine year in and year out.”

Perhaps it’s less of a secret find since Wine Enthusiast named Wente Family Estates the 2011 American Winery of the Year. “Anytime one of the wineries within the Livermore Valley appellation receives an accolade or award on a local, national, or international scale, it has impact on recognition and awareness for the region,” says Fourth Generation Winegrower and Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Wente. “When this specific honor was announced, Wente Family Estates immediately saw a lift in sales nationally and internationally, and the halo effect continued easily for the two-year period following the recognition. It is very prestigious to be considered for the award, let alone to have it bestowed. We were the 10th winery overall to win the award and were honored to be included in an elite group of American peers. It is something that we can continue to point towards in terms of excellence in all that we do.”

Not far away, Fenestra Winery has been collecting multiple awards for many years. “It is fun to get accolades for the work we do and restaurants and retailers like to offer award-winning wines, but it is only a piece of the puzzle of creating a successful winery,” says Winemaker Meredith Miles. “In our experience, awards might get more people in the door, but it’s the wine and the tasting experience that makes them returning customers.”

Six Livermore Valley Award Winners

Best Red Wine: 2011 3 Steves Cienega Zinfandel
The Wine: This is a full-bodied Zin with intense red fruit that comes from 110-year-old ancient vines. In addition to the massive fruit, there are hints of chocolate and pepper in this wine’s gentle finish.
The Winery: “It is impossible to make great wine without first getting the best fruit. We are fortunate to have a long-term relationship with the premier Zinfandel growers in the Cienega Valley and possibly the state. Their endless attention to detail in the vineyard is what makes this wine a clear favorite of our customers.”
On Livermore Valley: “We are extremely honored to be part of this great wine-making appellation. Once here, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the charm and quality of Livermore Valley.”

Best of Class: 2011 Murrieta's Well Los Tesoros Petit Verdot
The Wine: Tantalizing aromas of anise, sage, licorice, and black olive. Ripe black cherry flavors play up this well-balanced wine, and medium tannins round out the finish.
The Winery: “This is a huge honor and it helps put a spotlight on our Small Lot program here at Murrieta’s Well, as well as directly on our Petit Verdot.”
On Livermore Valley: “Any honor like this creates awareness for our winery and the Livermore Valley as a whole. Awareness is key and we are happy to welcome visitors into our beautifully unique valley. There are a lot of great wines being made out here.”

Double Gold: 2011 Caddis Tempranillo, Livermore Valley
The Wine: A vibrant Tempranillo with aromas of blackberry, black plum, black pepper, and smoke. It has an easygoing mouthfeel with light tannins and fresh acidity, making it the perfect partner to food. Spicy clove and black pepper provide a bold finish.
The Winery: “Our 2011 Tempranillo was an unexpected bonus during the 2011 harvest. I’m told another winery backed out of the grapes and the grower came knocking on the door a week before harvest. These grapes were handpicked by my friends and family.”
On Livermore Valley: “I believe this award, in addition to awards some of the valley’s other awesome wineries have received over the last few years, will help draw people from outside the valley.”

Double Gold: 2011 Wood Family Vineyards Livermore Valley "Big Wood" Zinfandel
The Wine: Dark, ruby red-purple, this wine is classic Zinfandel— berries, berries, and more berries. The palate is all berry jam with notes of dulce de leche and bitter, black licorice note to keep things interesting. The finish is sweet, ripe berries on toast.
The Winery: “Our friend Phil Wente first suggested the name ‘Big Wood.’ We loved it and created ‘Big Wood’ Zin. We continue to make this big style Zin ourselves in very small lots.”
On Livermore Valley: “There are so many wonderful wines produced in Livermore Valley and we believe this recognition is bringing new fans to the Livermore Valley to visit the 50+ wineries and to many new fans returning.”

Double Gold: 2010 Nottingham Cellars Awakening
The Wine: Big, opulent fruit aromatics and flavors rush the senses. Intense black berry, raspberry, and plum pop forward with layers of cocoa, vanilla, and allspice; bright, piercing red fruit nuances; and a distinguishable Italian blood orange undertone.
The Winery: “Receiving accolades the past few years has been a tremendous catalyst for growth. Having third-party professional tasting panels and wine critics consistently score our wines at the top, we feel like it is a reassurance to us and our customers that the quality of the wines is up to par. The awards have also opened many new doors to expand our reach and grow.”
On Livermore Valley: “Around the valley, each vintage is surpassing the last in terms of overall quality. All segments of our market are feeling the need to continue to drive quality in order to stay afloat. What this means for wine drinkers is consistently better wine across the Livermore Valley.”

Best of Class: 2009 Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Smith Ranch
The Wine: This Cabernet is typified by black cherry, earth, and a well-shaped, somewhat austere, mid-palate structure. Smith Ranch Cabernet is perfect for those who love structure and length in their wines.
The Winery: “More important than the honor for that individual offering, is the growing realization among wine lovers that the Steven Kent Winery is producing Cabernet of equal quality to any winery in California and that we are cognizant and careful stewards of the historical reputation of our appellation.”
On Livermore Valley: “I am excited that this honor will help continue the upward trajectory of the reputation of the Livermore Valley. Memories are often short, but the Livermore Valley was the first great wine region in California, prior to Prohibition, and to be part of the renaissance is very gratifying.”

Steven Kent Mirassou, a sixth-generation member of a famous California winemaking family, has dedicated his career to raising the quality and awareness of Livermore Valley wines. “I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish thus far,” he says, “yet I personally have not approached the level of quality I ultimately expect from myself and my growing area. This realization is what gets me up excited, every day.”

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2014 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.