Sunday, May 31, 2009

Livermore Valley Wine Country and the South Livermore Valley Area Plan

Livermore Valley, just a short distance north of San Jose, is one of California’s oldest wine regions. Spanish missionaries were growing wine grapes in the late 1700’s. English sailor, Robert Livermore, jumped ship in 1844 and planted the first commercial vineyards. And major winemakers C. H. Wente and James Concannon founded their wineries in the early 1880’s. Prior to Prohibition there were over 50 wineries in Livermore Valley. And, long before Napa Valley wines were winning awards in Europe, Livermore Valley captured America’s first international gold medal in 1889 at the Paris Exposition.

Besides vineyards, Livermore Valley has long been an oasis of farms and ranches, countryside that residents of the growing cities around the Bay Area sought for tranquility. But in the early 1990’s, with the burgeoning Silicon Valley and the sprawling suburbs of San Jose and other cities around the bay, pristine Livermore Valley was facing intense pressure, forcing agriculture to sell out to developers, turning pastures and vineyards into housing tracts.

In 1993, following a five-year period of study and public workshops, Alameda County and the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore jointly adopted the South Livermore Valley Area Plan, a land use plan for the preservation of the 14,000 acre valley that confines urban growth to the adjacent cities. Working together with landowners, citizen groups, developers and viticulturalists, these government organizations formed the South Livermore Valley Agricultural Land Trust (now called the Tri-Valley Conservancy) to implement this plan. Its board consists of representatives of Livermore, Pleasanton, Alameda County and the wine industry.

The goal of the South Livermore Valley Area Plan was to preserve the remaining vineyards and wineries in the area and to enhance the wine country image of Livermore Valley. The agricultural land acquisitions are funded primarily by revenue from source-development fees placed on new homes in the area as mitigation for farmland conversion.

As a result of this joint government/industry/citizen plan, cultivated acres in the Valley increased from 2,100 to 5,000 acres within the first 10 years of its implementation. The South Livermore Valley Area Plan helped draw in new winemakers to work together with fifth-generation winemakers in the renaissance of Livermore Valley wine country. Over 40 wineries exist in the valley with friendly tasting rooms welcoming visitors from around the Bay Area.

For more info: Livermore Valley Wine Country

Sustainable farming practices in modern viticulture

There are many definitions but what they all have in common is that sustainable farming means:

  • Strong environmental health
  • Positive and viable return on investment
  • Friendly farming practices that nurture the human community

Twenty years ago in a California vineyard the area between the rows of vines was clean without a blade of grass or a weed, just knobby vines. The only way to achieve that was to damage the soil with rodent poison, spraying potent herbicides to kill unwanted foliage and applying powerful insecticides to vanquish the bug world

Today many vineyard managers utilizing sustainable farming methods, partner with owls, hawks, bats and other wildlife to protect their vineyards and use cover crops to encourage “good bugs” and protect the soil. They avoid use of insecticides, chemical fertilizers and rodent poisons.

Feathered Friends at Work
Erecting nesting boxes for owls and perch poles attract owls and raptors such as hawks that provide 24-hour patrol (hawks feed during the day, owls at night) that effectively keep the rodent population under control.

Bats and Birds
Vines like any agricultural crop are under attack by insects day and night. By erecting bat boxes, a vineyard can attract up to 1000 bats. Bats are big eaters, consuming anywhere between 15 and 25 percent of their weight per night as they cruise over the vineyards. Songbird houses throughout the vineyards attract insect eating birds such as swallows and bluebirds that feed during the day and thus provide for day and night protection.

Cover Crops
Another key part of farming sustainably is the use of cover crops. Today cover crops such as clover, vetch, oats and other vegetation create a lively habitat for the good bugs that eat the bad bugs. Specifically spiders and ladybugs naturally prey on vine-blighting insects such as leafhoppers and sharpshooters. The cover crops also control erosion and choke back the weeds that are not wanted. They also control the vigor of the vine and enrich the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients at the end of their lifecycle.
For more info:

California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wine regions within 50 miles of San Jose

San Jose is in the heart of a major wine making area with many excellent boutique wineries within an hour or so away! The primary appellations surrounding San Jose include Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Clara Valley, San Benito County, Livermore Valley and the northern portion of Monterey.

Santa Cruz Mountains – There are many boutique wineries found along both sides the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. More than fifty wineries operate here. Elevation, location (being on the cooler Santa Cruz side of the ridge vs. the warmer Santa Clara side), ocean winds and fog all affect the micro-climates of Santa Cruz Mountains.

Livermore Valley – Winemaking began here when an English sailor, Robert Livermore, jumped ship in 1844 and planted the first vineyards. Livermore Valley is one of the first designated appellations based on its unique gravel-based soils and marine winds drawn into the valley every afternoon, has more than 40 wineries.

Santa Clara Valley - The “Valley of Heart’s Delight” has a long rich history of viticultural dating back to the Gold Rush era. Urban sprawl has forced most of the valley’s wine industry to migrate to its southern extremes near Gilroy but there are still 22 wineries in this appellation. The valley is largely protected from the influence of the Pacific Ocean.

San Benito – Long the home of industry giant Almaden, San Benito shook when this winery sold out in the late 1980’s. Small boutique wineries have taken its place and there are over 300 acres planted now. The climate is moderate, cooled by the Pacific Ocean breezes that penetrate through the mountain ranges.

Monterey – Most of this massive appellation lies south of Salinas in the fertile Salinas Valley. A few Monterey wineries lie within the 50 mile radius of San Jose, in the area a few miles south of Salinas. This area has a moderate climate with fog cooling the air in the morning and a midday blast of air, keeping daytime temperatures in the 70’s.

For more information and lists of wineries:

California Zinfandels

Zinfandel is the second most widely planted red wine grape in California and more Zinfandel is grown in California than in any other region in the world.

Zinfandel wines are made in many different styles consisting of myriad flavors. Wines can range from light and fruity to concentrated with ultra-intense pepper and jam. Zinfandel vines love the warm valleys that are near the coast. As such, this varietal grows extremely well in Dry Creek Valley, the hills of Napa and Sonoma, as well as Mendocino County and Paso Robles. Old vine vineyards of Zinfandel can also be found in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills.

Galleron’s 2000 Aves Zinfandel from Napa Valley is deep purple in color, with intense black cherry and raspberry fruit and spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg tantalizing your palate. The medium to full-bodied Zinfandel is forward and smooth with integrated tannins that harmoniously blend with the velvety mouth-feel and enduring finish.

The 2006 Zinfandel from Christian Lazo Winery in Paso Robles is a bold rendition of Zinfandel, loaded with flavors of dark cherries, raspberries, dates, vanilla, fudge and butterscotch. Winemakers Steve Christian and Lupe Lazo have only been in this winemaking adventure since 2001 but have learned well the art of producing a tasty, fruity Zinfandel.

Aimee Sunseri, a UC Davis graduate and fifth generation winemaker, produces the 2006 Old Vine Aimee Zinfandel from Napa Valley with an intense nose of prune and dark cherry followed by a soft smooth palate of pepper, prune, jam, dark cherries.

Zinfandel pairs best with bold flavored foods like grilled steak, lamb, and dark chocolate. Lighter Zinfandels also pair well with rich, creamy pastas, grilled chicken and baked Italian dishes. Zinfandel’s berry flavors go well with berry fruits and also provide a nice contrast to salt.

For more info: