Livermore Valley Winery Tours

Only 30 miles east of the city of San Francisco is a slice of California wine country that is woven into the fabric of the suburban East Bay area. Visitors to Livermore are often surprised to find more than 40 wineries here and a winemaking history that dates back to the Spanish mission system of the late 18th century. The Livermore Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) became an official appellation in 1982 and the unusual east-west orientation of the valley combined with gravelly soils makes it a good spot for viticulture.

Perhaps what is most unique about this valley is the dominance of two large wineries, Wente and Concannon. Wente is California’s oldest continuously operated family winery. For five generations the Wentes have made wine in Livermore and they now ship to over 140 countries around the world. The 3000-acre site is a veritable tourist magnet with everything from an 18-hole golf course to a top-flight concert venue, restaurant and two tasting rooms.

Down the road, neighboring pioneer winery Concannon has been making wine since 1883. Concannon was responsible for important early winemaking contributions such as developing the two popular Cabernet Sauvignon clones that were the backbone of Napa Valley’s plantings. Between Wente and Concannon, these two wineries own more than two thirds of all the vineyard land in the valley and produce over 600,000 cases of wine per year.

Santa Cruz Mountains Wine

Heading south and west from San Francisco, the appellation known as Santa Cruz Mountains encompasses a 100-mile stretch of rugged, mountainous country that borders Silicon Valley towns on the east, stretches to the coast at Santa Cruz on the west and south all the way to Watsonville. In this vast expanse only about 1300 acres of grapes are planted but some excellent wines are made here by approximately 60 wineries.

The Santa Cruz Mountain appellation became an official American Viticultural Area in 1981 and encompasses a variety of climates from the cool, foggy coastline and mountain ridges to the warmer inland regions. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well in the cooler areas and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel predominate in the warmer areas.

Most wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountain area are family-owned and visitors will enjoy a variety of tasting room experiences that are low-key, friendly and offer a fun adventure for those who like to drive mountain roads. Some very good wineries to visit in this area include Thomas Fogarty, Mount Eden, Fleming Jenkins, David Bruce and Big Basin. Two very well-known wineries are Testarossa and Ridge. The Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is recognized the world over as a stellar example of what this grape can achieve in California. The city of Santa Cruz has a nice collection of wineries, the most notable of which is the quirky and delightful Bonny Doon.