Friday, October 21, 2016

Livermore Valley West Side Wineries

Livermore Valley Wine Country, the closest wine country to San Francisco offers wine lovers a chance to sample fine wines without the crowds of areas such as Napa and Sonoma.  This region has been growing greatly over the last decade with new wineries added every year.  

Livermore Valley has been a winegrape growing region since the 1880s and is now home to some of the oldest wineries in the country including Wente Vineyards and Concannon.  Innovations in Livermore Valley have been important to wine regions throughout the country.  Here was the first varietally-labeled bottling of Chardonnay and Petite Sirah.  Much of the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines throughout California are descendants of vines first planted in Livermore Valley.

With over 60 wineries in the valley visitors will need to be selective on those wineries to visit on your next trip to Livermore Valley.  On the west side of this wine region you will a collection of wineries that offer a wide selection of wines for your enjoyment.

Fenestra Winery
Fenestra Winery – This is one of the oldest wineries in Livermore Valley, first opening 40 years ago.  When it first opened in 1976, by then San Jose State chemistry professor Lanny Replogle, there was only 5 wineries in Livermore Valley. In 1980 Fenestra moved to the century-old George True Winery building on Vallecitos Road. That old building adds to the charm of Fenestra with the feel of a rustic barn – yet on the roof is a brand new solar power system providing 80% of the winery’s power needs!  Fenestra always has a wide variety of wines to taste.

Dante Robere Vineyards
Dante Robere Vineyards – Dante Robere was founded by Dan (Dante) Rosenberg and Bob (Robere) Bossi.  They have been friends for more than 30 years and enjoyed drinking fine wines.  Dan moved to Livermore and got the "wine bug" things began to move fast. In 2007, they planted a small zinfandel vineyard in Dan's backyard. They began making wine at home and volunteering time assisting various Livermore Valley winemakers in an effort to learn the winemaking process.  Their tasting room/winery is one of the newest in the valley and the large tasting bar welcomes wine lovers.

Las Positas Vineyards
Las Positas Vineyards – Las Positas Vineyards began when Lothar and Lisa Maier purchased a 20 acre vineyard on Kalthoff Common in the southern end of Livermore Valley in 2006.  A couple years ago they moved into their new facility on Wetmore Road, a 30 acre dream vineyard at the corner of Wetmore and Arroyo.  This same land was the same land that Charles Wetmore grew wine that won the 1889 Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition, the first California winery to win such an award, almost 100 years before the Judgment of Paris featured in the movie “Bottleshock”.

Wente Vineyards Vineyard Tasting Room
Wente Vineyard Tasting Room – Wente is the oldest and largest winery in Livermore Valley with the fifth generation of the Wente family in charge.  While the main tasting room is on Tesla Road at the winery, they do have a tasting room at the Restaurant/Golf Course for your pleasure.

Cuda Ridge Wines
Cuda Ridge Wines – This small boutique winery has been producing some great Bordeaux style wines for several years from wines from the premier vineyards of Livermore Valley.  The wines are handcrafted, produced in small lots and primarily aged in French Oak barrels.  You will usually find the owners Larry and Margie Dino working the tasting room on the weekends and they will be glad to share some of their wines.
Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery

Rodrigue Molyneaux - This winery and vineyard is owned by Garry and Nancy Rodrigue where they hand-craft fine wines in a California country-style ranch in Livermore Valley. The estate is a perfect place to stop by to sample some wines and even enjoy a picnic on the grounds while experiencing California wine country.  

For more information:  Livermore Valley Wine Country

Lanny Repogle of Fenestra Winery

Larry Dino of Cuda Ridge

Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery
Livermore Valley Wine Trolley

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut for Champagne Day

Today, October 21, marks the seventh annual Champagne Day, where wine lovers around the globe raise a glass to the quintessential wine of celebration, good cheer and toasts everywhere: Champagne. Champagne Day offers wine lovers an opportunity to enjoy the sparkling wine that only comes from Champagne, France both online and at in-person events throughout the country.

"As Champagne is a wine that evokes enduring memories when enjoyed among family and friends, it is often the drink of choice to mark joyous occasions," said Jennifer Hall, Director of the Champagne Bureau, USA. "Champagne Day is the ideal occasion for all who love this one-of-a-kind wine to pop open a bottle and celebrate life while remembering that Champagne only comes from Champagne, France."

Veuve Clicquot is a Champagne house that was first founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot a member of a family of bankers and textile merchants.  Madame Clicquot took over the business when her husband, Philippe’s son died.  She became one of the first businesswomen of modern times.   She created the first vintage Champagne in 1810.  Some of the innovations of Madame Clicquot included the invention of the first riddling table in 1816 and creation of the first “Rose d’assemblage” in 1818.  In 1986 Louis Vuitton acquired Veuve Clicquot and the following year Moet-Hennessy – Louis Vuitton (LVMH) was founded.

The Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut has been the symbol of the Veuve Clicquot house since 1772; it is a perfect balance between power and finesse with a complexity from the major use of Pinot Noir grapes.  Champagne lovers will enjoy the fruity flavors of Peach and Pear along with vanilla and a smooth toastiness.  This wine is great with seafood and duck dishes.

For more information: 

There are safe wines and there are Wines of Danger

At the Wines of Danger tasting held at Mission Rock Resort recently, I met 18 hardworking individuals who have set their goals in achieving their dream as a winemaker. Over the years, this reporter has run into many winemakers who have the passion but lack the marketing sense that achieving this goal requires people to actually purchase your wine.  And here in California, particularly Northern California, the competition is huge.  There are almost 4300 wineries in California according to the Wine Institute.  How do you make your wines stand out from the other wineries?  The winemakers of the Wines of Danger are impressive in that they do realize what is necessary to meet that challenge.  Whether it is the varieties they choose, the appellations, winery name, wine brand name, promotion, or the right representative, each of these winemakers are taking the steps towards making their wines stand out!

The winemakers in the “Wines of Danger” realize that hazards they are facing but are willing to face the danger to achieve their passion.  In many cases the winemakers already are winemakers for other larger wineries, or they have a “real” job where they make money so they can then spend their weekends and evenings crafting their wines, or they have an understanding working spouse to help put food on the table while they pursue their passion.  But in several cases they are succeeding and the winery is their sole source of income as the try to grow their business while meeting their financial requirements.

Each of the wineries at Wines of Danger showed the quality that can be produced by small winemakers with a passion for their craft.  

Mikami Vineyards – The Mikami family emigrated from Japan to California in 1896, and have been growing premium wine grapes in Lodi ever since.  This grape growing tradition was only interrupted once by the family internment during WWII.  Now as they go into the second century as grape growers, current owner Jason Mikami, a high tech veteran, is putting in the hard work, passion and perseverance necessary for success.  He has been recognized by Wine Enthusiast as a “trail blazer” in artisan winemaking.  His wines have earned multiple 90+ point scores from Wine Enthusiast as well as awards from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  The 2013 Mikami Vineyards Zinfandel exhibits aromas and flavors of ripe red fruit with a complexity of spices and a toasty note.  I won Double Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  The price is $39 per bottle.

2880 Wines
2880 Wines – This is a family owned and operated adventure with mom, dad, son and two daughters producing about 600 cases of Napa Valley wine with the help of winemaker Peter Heitz.  The name is from their address of 2880 Foothill Boulevard in Calistoga.  This family has a passion for the wine and the Napa Valley, focusing on Rhone varietals.  The 2013 Twenty-Eight Eighty Red Wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah grown in their “Backyard” estate vineyard.  There is a beautiful complexity to this wine with a mixture of aromas and flavors of both fresh red berries and dark fruits, combined with spices, tea and even a bit of citrus rind.  

Cuvee Wine Cellars
Cuvee Wine Cellars – Paul Rogerville was a business man and owner of a successful construction company who developed a passion for wine experimenting as a home wine maker.  This passion took him away from the construction business to become a full-time vintner opening Cuvee Wine Cellars with his friend Patrick Smith who is his winemaker along with Thomas Pitchon.  At the Wines of Danger tasting he showed us several of his wines including a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cab.  One that really stood out was the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from Oak Knoll Vineyard in Napa.    

Stephanie Trotter Zacharia
of Trotter 1/16 Winery
Trotter 1/16 Winery – Owner/Winemaker Stephanie Trotter Zacharia has been living and working in Napa Valley for over 22 years working vineyards and tasting rooms until in 2011 with the help and encouragement of friends, she started making her own wine.  She is one of 16 children of the Trotter family and the only winemaker, thus the name of the winery.    Her 2013 Trotter 1/16 Winery Cabernet Sauvignon is an exceptional wine and exhibits all the qualities you expect for a Napa Valley Cab.  You will enjoy the aromas and flavors of black fruit including black cherry and blackberry, with a nice mixture of spices and a layer of orange zest.

Other members of Wines of Danger include Blair Estate, Calstar Cellars, De Tierra, Halcon, Idle Hour Winery, Odonata, Onesta Wines, Peoples’ Wine Revolution, Poundstone Wines, Scratch, Tedeschi Family Wines, Three Clicks Wines, Vinemark and Waxwing.
Idle Hour Winery
Odonata Wines
Blair Wines
Three Clicks Wines
Peoples Wine Revolution (PWR)

For more information:  Wines of Danger
Vinemark Wines
Tedeschi Wines

Winemaker Sabrine Rodems
Scratch Wines
Onesta Wines
De Tierra Winery

Urbano Cellars - an urban winery in Berkeley producing award-winning wines

Urbano Cellars is located on Fourth Street in Berkeley, near I-80 and University.  Like many urban winemakers, Bob Rawson and Fred Dick got started as home winemakers and they started Urbano in 2006 and moved into their current location at 2323B Fourth Street in 2012.  

They produce a wide range of award-winning wines from smaller growers that subscribe to sustainable growing practices.  Their wines demonstration a nice balance and character and focus on pairing nicely with foods.  Some of the major varietals found at Urbano Cellars include Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Barbera, Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.   Most of their grapes are sourced from smaller growers who maintain sustainable growing practices.  

The 2015 Viognier from Bokides Ranch in Clements Hills Lodi has a beautiful golden color and intense aromas of citrus, floral and honeysuckle.  As you taste the wine you will enjoy the citrus and peach flavors along with lychee and a touch of apple.  Urbano Cellars suggests you pair this with steamed mussels, a lobster roll or roasted chicken.  The price is $19.

The 2013 Sangiovese uses fruit form the Arbor Vineyards in Lodi.  The climate and sandy soils of this area produce grapes much like they do in Italy.  The wine has intense aromas and flavors of red raspberries and cherry with a touch of strawberries, topped off with hints of mint, oregano, spice and leather.  Urbano Cellars suggests you pair this with a margharita pizza, pasta dishes with tomato sauce or even a steak.  Price is $23.

The 2013 Cote du Clements is a beautiful red blend of Grenache (34%), Syrah (33%) and Mourvedre (33%) from the Clements Hills region of Lodi.  This is a nice blend exhibiting the black cherry, raspberry and blackberries of Grenache, the violets, spice, cloves and cinnamon of the Syrah, plus the mushrooms, earthiness of the Mourvedre.  Urbano Cellars suggests pairing this with a herb crusted lamb or pork, or with cheese.  The price is $23.

The Urbano Cellars tasting room in Berkeley is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.  You will usually find Bob or Fred there and they will be glad to tell you more about Urbano Cellars.

For more information:

Chilean Wines - fine wines from South America

Chile can be seen in many ways as the California Wine County for the Southern Hemisphere.  Much of the same geography and climate exists in Chile as we see here in California.  Much as the 

California current brings the cool moist weather from Alaska to California, the Humboldt current brings the Antarctica moist weather to Chile.  In California, we see vast fertile valleys between the lower coast range and the tall Sierra Nevada, while in Chile; the central valley is bound by the coast range and the tall Andes.  In Chile, you see the hot Atacama Desert to the north and the weather gets colder as you move south towards the tip of South America.  In California, we see the Mojave Desert to the south and the weather gets colder and wetter as you move to the northern part of California.

Even history has similarities with the Spaniards first introducing grape growing to both California and Chile as the regions were colonized in the 1500s – 1600s.  Chile is known as a winemaker’s paradise with excellent growing regions and little risk of disease and pests.  Chile’s geographic isolation with the Pacific Ocean, Andes, Desert and cold south helped it remain as the only wine-producing country in the world that is completely free of the Phylloxera louse that destroyed vineyards in North America and Europe in the 19th century.

Chile has over 14 major wine growing areas from the far south to the north.  The primary wine regions are in the central part of Chile, not too far from Santiago and the major populations of Chile.  They have a total vineyard area of over 317,000 acres and red wine grapes are the most popular.    The primary varietals planted are Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Carmenere, but you will find other unique varietals as well.

For more information:

Murrieta’s Well renovated, retaining the historic character with enhanced tasting experience

This year Murrieta’s Well, one of California’s original wine estates in the Livermore Valley, experienced an eight-month renovation project with the goal of providing an enhanced visitor experience, yet still retain the historic nature of the winery. 

Murrieta's Well
As many of us have seen before, renovations to modernize a facility often results in a loss of its unique heritage.  Wente Vineyards and Murrieta’s Well did an excellent job in this renovation featuring expanded exterior tasting areas created to enhance the overall experience for Murrieta’s Well Wine Club members and guests. This includes the Club Lounge – located upstairs and available exclusively to wine club members, as well as an outdoor patio space located downstairs. Inside, the tasting bar was completely redesigned – maintaining the refined rustic charm of the original estate enhanced by more modern design elements. Guests can also enjoy sweeping views of the estate from the tasting bar’s balcony overlook.  Also a demonstration vineyard has been planted.
Wine Club Member Lounge

In addition, a full service kitchen was added, where the Wente culinary team creates seasonal small plates to accompany the Murrieta’s Well wine portfolio. Food selections are available to order in both the Club Lounge and Patio.

Wente CEO Carolyn Wente and
Murrieta's Well Winemaker Robbie Meyer
“We’re thrilled to unveil renovations to the historic Murrieta’s Well tasting room,” said Carolyn Wente, Fourth Generation Winegrower and CEO of Wente Family Estates. “These renovations not only enhance the visitor experience, but better represent the profound connection between the wines and the estate. Our wines reflect the best of our estate each vintage, so we created a superior tasting experience that complements what’s in the bottle. Our goal is to inspire guests to think about where our grapes are grown, and help them to experience that connection when they visit the Murrieta’s Well property.”

The historic tasting room was originally constructed as a gravity flow winery in 1884 by pioneering winemaker Louis Mel. Later that year, Mel planted the property’s first vines with cuttings from famed Chateaux d’Yquem and Margaux, and descendants of these vines continue to grow on the 500 acre estate today.  Murrieta’s Well has been part of the Wente family since Louis Mel sold the property to his friend Ernest Wente in 1930.

Winemaker Robbie Meyer
Led by acclaimed winemaker Robbie Meyer, Murrieta’s Well produces premium estate small lot wines sourced exclusively from the estate. Dedicated to small lot winegrowing and winemaking, Meyer crafts wines that are a beautiful survey of the estate each vintage.  In previous articles this reporter has noted that Robbie probably has the best winemaker job in the valley.  The two most popular wines are creative blends, The Whip, a white wine blend, and The Spur, a red wine blend.  I picture the winemaker in his lab, like a chef in the kitchen, adding a dash of this, a pinch of that until the result matches their goal.  The Whip is composed of great collection of varietals on the estate, including Semillon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli and Viognier.  This easy drinking wine has won many awards.  The equivalent red wine blend, The Spur, is created with Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.  The rest of the Murrieta’s Well collection small lot limited production wines calling upon the wide variety of unique varietals found on the estate.  Robbie and his team work their magic to produce great wines.  And all of this unique style has the backing of the largest winery in the area, Wente Vineyards.
Murrieta’s Well is open to the public, with regular tasting hours seven days a week.  For more information, including how to book an appointment, visit