#WhereDoYouThink? Exploring close to home, Livermore Wine Touring

Saturday, we took time to experience our own backyard, visiting several local wineries with friends.  Before we get into that, I’d love to give you a little background on the area that we call home.

If you’re not familiar with it, Livermore, California is on the east end of the San Francisco Bay area, and is one of the original wine countries of California, with the first grapes planted here in the 1840s.  Today, Livermore features more than 50 wineries of varying sizes, styles, and atmospheres. If you’re looking for a more low key, relaxed California wine tasting experience, I encourage you to consider giving Livermore a try.  While hotel and bed & breakfast accommodations are catching up to other wine tourism areas, Livermore offers some amazing wines, great food, and excellent hospitality.

When we moved to the Bay area from North Carolina about ten years ago, Livermore quickly stood out as the place that we wanted to call our home.  While retaining some of it’s more rustic, western cattle ranching heritage, that is juxtaposed with the growing prominence of wine, with hills and valley floor increasing covered in gorgeous vineyards, and a downtown and main street (First Street) lined with unique shops and a great variety of restaurants.  When asked, I do enjoy living in the Bay area, and I like knowing that I have access to San Francisco just a quick drive, or more like BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) ride away, but I cherish the fact that I don’t have to deal with big city traffic and problems on a daily basis. Rather, we love our community, our local restaurants, and particularly the breadth and beauty of the many wineries just outside our front door.

After taking advantage of visiting local wineries for the first several years living in the area, back in 2012, we met two gentlemen, well, more specifically two guys named Steve, that inspired us to take the next step in our passion for wine.  While wine tasting at one of our favorite places in Blacksmith Square, we noticed a sign for a new tasting room called “3 Steves Winery.” Initially thinking, “who would name a winery 3 Steves?” we soon found two-thirds of the answer to that question.  Steve Burman and Steve Ziganti introduced themselves and poured us their chardonnay, starting a friendship that continues to grow to this day, connecting over their passion for wine. witty banter, and tremendous hospitality.  It also helped that their wines were also pretty good. Fast forward a year, and the expansion of their business and eventual move to 5700 Greenville Road and their own property, we joined them as part of their tasting room staff. To this day, both my wife and I look to provide every customer that comes in with the same experience that we had the first time we met the Steves back in 2012.  

Fast forward to Saturday, we joined our friends Susan, Bob and Jeff at Cuda Ridge Wines (cudaridgewines.com) for their latest wine club release.  Founded & operated by Larry & Margie Dino, and named after Larry’s purple Plymouth Barracuda, they produce a number of Bordeaux style wines, with a few other new world style wines with a total production around 2100 cases annually.  Tied with their quarterly release, we had the opportunity to try their new wines, paired with pizzas from Rustic Roadhouse, a mobile kitchen run by chef Alberto Vilchis. On this occasion, we sampled and picked up their latest Cabernet Franc, consistently one of our favorite wines of Larry’s, paired with a wood fired prosciutto pizza.  Next, we moved on to one of the non-Bordeaux wines, the Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, a new-world California cab with bolder, fruit forward flavor, today paired with the Rustic Roadhouse supreme pizza. Last, we moved back to the Bordeaux style with a varietal version of Petite Verdot, accompanied by a pepperoni pizza. Overall, it was a great experience, and showed Larry & Margie’s commitment to their wine club, closing to the public on a Saturday afternoon, and bringing in a great pairing, under the Livermore sunshine on their outside patio at Cuda Ridge Wines on Arroyo Road, just up the hill from the more famous Wente Winery & Golf Course.

From Cuda Ridge, we went to a very different experience at The Steven Kent Winery, joining our friend Michele who was working and leading the appointment-only Reserve tasting.  Reservations can be made at stevenkent.com, and using the link to go over to Cellarpass (or click here). The Reserve tasting features some of the best and highest quality (and price point) Cabernet Sauvignons in Livermore.  Starting with a Chardonnay, the tasting included a vertical tasting of their Premiere Cabernet Sauvignons, a 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Steven Kent Reserve Tasting Menu – June 22, 2019

We entered the Reserve Room to take our seats with the wines already poured and excellently presented.  To our surprise, seated at the second table for this tasting was Steven Kent Mirassou, the winemaker and founder, who joined us for the tasting. On several occasions, he joined Michele in presenting the wines, and talked about his approach, vision, and even the history of Livermore wines.  Steven comes from an extensive lineage of winemakers (the inspiration for his Lineage line of wines), and shared several stories about the founding of his Steven Kent label. Above all during this great experience, what stood out was his passion for building the Livermore wine region, not just promotion of his own brand and wines.  Extending beyond making great wine, Steven made it clear that he, along with several other winemakers, are looking to build the reputation, notoriety and quality of wines from Livermore.

Steven Mirassou at Steven Kent Winery

Working at 3 Steves, I’ve noticed and done my part to also do the same, and you’ll very frequently hear “thank you for visiting Livermore,” over “thank you for visiting our winery,” showing the community effort and feel to bring the name of the region to a growing number of people, and helping that name be synonymous with great wines.

We ended our wine tasting at Las Positas Vineyards (laspositasvineyards.com), a location that has recently burst onto the national wine map, while retaining it’s boutique winery feel.  One of my favorites for several years, we snuck in just before they were about to close for a wedding, taking advantage of Las Positas location on Wetmore Road, in my opinion as one of the most beautiful locations in all of Livermore Valley.  Speaking of notoriety of Livermore wines, Las Positas Vineyards owner Lisa Maier and winemaker Brent Amos recently took home some serious awards hardware, including Best in Show at the Trivalley Conservancy competition with their 2018 Verdelho (a white wine from the Portuguese varietal), and much more impressively, the Red Sweepstakes Award, essentially Best red wine at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition with their 2016 Malbec.  The SF Chronicle runs the largest wine competition in the US, this year including entry of over 6800 wines from over 1100 wineries across the country. For a winery to take home a sweepstakes award is a huge accomplishment, particularly for a region like Livermore. In fact, the win by Las Positas Vineyards was actually the third red sweepstakes award winner for Livermore in recent years, with McGrail Vineyards winning in 2012 with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and my beloved 3 Steves winning in 2014 with their 2011 Ancient Vine Zinfandel.  Today, we tried a number of their wines, with their Tempranillo best connecting with my tastes this afternoon, and for a refreshing summer wine on a hot day, I continue to love their estate Rose. Not typically a Rose enthusiast, Las Positas’ stands out, with a bit of sweetness, and as they describe it, flavors of strawberry, raspberry and pomegranate. It’s just an excellent summer time wine!

A long time from our Rustic Roadhouse pizza, we decided to end the night at one of our favorite restaurants, Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard (uncleyusvineyard.com).  Just off First Street on Livermore Ave, Uncle Yu’s features higher end Chinese food with a great environment both inside and outside, with a view of nearby Lizzie Fountain.  Served family style, we had several appetizers including excellent lobster shumai, hot & sour soup with seafood, and for the main course, we shared crab fried rice, beef tenderloin, tea-smoked duck, and honey glazed calamari, all paired with another Cuda Ridge Wine, their 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  

While featuring one of the best and most extensive wine lists in town with the expertise of sommelier Nick Liang (who on rare occasions may also wow you with his opera singing skills), on this visit we shared a bottle from Bob & Susan’s cellar. Further demonstrating the commitment of Livermore to develop and promote the wine industry, Uncle Yu’s offers free corkage for Livermore wines on Mondays, and a number of other locations in town offer similar value seven days a week, including my favorite, Zephyr.  

Overall, it was a fantastic Saturday with friends that provided another example of how great our backyard can be for food, wine, and friendship.  While we love to help you see the world, there’s a lot to see close to home and we’ll welcome you to our wine country any time. Hope to see you here soon!

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