The OTHER wine country in California…
Well, actually, just one of several other wine regions in the golden state. This one is located in the foothills near Livermore, California less than an hour from San Francisco.
I never thought much about wine years ago as I drove the highways from the Central Valley to the Bay Area (San Francisco Bay Area). I was always in a hurry to get to wherever I was going.
In the meantime, a few wineries in the area I drove through were starting to get serious about growing grapes and making wine.
About six years ago, a friend and business colleague from Hawaii came to SF to help his son pack up after his first year of college. We wanted to get together but time was short so what to do. Only one day so too far for them to rent a car and drive three hours each way and likewise for me. Ah, lunch in the TriValley (Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton) area would work. They would take BART to Pleasanton where I would pick them up, we’d catch up over lunch, and I’d drop them back off at the BART station so they could return to SF. We had several hours between the train times and I wondered what we could do. These were guys so shopping was out.
Then I remembered hearing a little buzz about the wineries opening up in the area. I surfed the ‘net looking for some info and there appeared to be some small wineries in the area. I took down some notes and addresses headed out.
After lunch, we’d headed for Tesla road and a couple of wineries which were out there. I don’t remember the name of the first winery we visited but it was tiny, with a gift shop/tasting room smaller than my living room. But, it was fun and we were talking “wine” to the grower who was also the winemaker. Then, we went to another winery, a little bigger, called Garre Winery, a short distance away. What a disappointment – everything thing was closed (this was Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend) – the cute café, the gift shop/tasting room, the bocce ball court, and no cars. We had started to drive out when my friend’s son spied a sign that said “barrel tasting” and a partially opened door.
We stopped and entered a barn like building lined with wooden casks (we learned later they were made of oak) and a long table where a gentleman was serving wine to two other people. Serving wine, in what, to me, looked like a long, glass turkey baster. They had opened their merlot for the first time that day (hence, the barrel tasting) and it was being tasted for the very first time. Delicious! I was driving so I had to settle for a very small glass. Bill ordered a bottle of the wine to be shipped to him when it was finally bottled.
Next, we went to the White Crane Winery where we visited with the same visitors that were at the first winery. This tasting room/gift shop was even tinier than the first winery and we had to take our samples outside. I remember sipping their Petit Sirah as I enjoyed the lovely view of foothills and vineyards. I returned to the White Crane Winery last year and it didn’t seem like the same place. Cars were parked helter skelter in the driveway because the dirt parking lot was full, and throngs of people were milling around sipping wine and munching on appetizers under the shade of brightly colored umbrellas. It was a special tasting and tickets were $25. Since I had a long drive home, I waited ten minutes or so until I could turn the car around (it was that crowded) and took off. Obviously, this winery had gotten a little bigger in the four years since my first visit.
I didn’t know the name of the last winery we stopped at on that first trip to the regions wineries but it was the only one that reminded me of the big, commercial wineries in the Napa/Sonoma wine country in northern California. There, we paid to sample the wine, very reasonable – $5 for four glasses of wine and the wineglass, there was a big gift shop, restrooms and maybe even a café. Well, it was one of Wente locations but not the vineyards at the golf course; this one was very close to town.
Now, I go to the Livermore area on business and pleasure a couple times a month because my parents have relocated there. There are more vineyards, more wineries and they’re getting bigger. Me, I kind of missed the very small wineries where you ran into the same guests at each winery.
Wente is the grandfather of all the wineries in this area and I’ve been out to the golf course twice. Last spring we took my dad there for his 91st (yes!!! And still working!) birthday lunch – he ordered a hot dog and we enjoyed lunch at their grill restaurant at the club house on the golf course. Prior to that we had stopped at their tiny gift shop/tasting room to sample some vino. We walked around and looked at their event center – they do LOTS of weddings and other events and checked our their bar and dining room. The menu changes daily and you can dine indoors or al fresco on their lovely patio. Afterwards, we drove to the club house where we had an excellent lunch, including one hot dog, They also have several outdoor concerts out there – this year Willie Nelson and Ringo Starr were only two of the names I recognized.
I’ve returned to Garre Winery also. They’ve added an event center and are pretty well booked up weekends for the next year or so. Weddings in the vineyards and wineries have become very popular and most of these venues are a little less expensive than the Napa/Sonoma area. Garre Winery also provides lunch and dinners on the weekends but be sure to call first to verify times.
One of my favorite places is not a winery at all. It’s the Purple Orchid Inn and Spa – a delightful bed and breakfast located. No vineyards on the property but there is an olive orchard where they have outdoor weddings. They also have ten guest rooms and a spa. They have special events and wine dinners there and many, many weddings also.