The vineyards here benefit from a climate that is similar to that of Napa, with daytime highs that often match those of St. Helena or Calistoga, though the late afternoon and evenings tend to be cooler. To the east of Livermore lies the Central Valley and as that heats up during the day, and heat up it does, it creates an updraft that draws in cooler air from the coast. Some of that air comes rushing through the Golden Gate gap flows down the path of I-580, and courses over Livermore valley. The results are harvests that typically follow those of Napa valley by about a week or two, even though flowering occurs at roughly the same time in both valleys. Extended hangtime, and the ripe flavors and soft tannins thus created, are one of the features of Livermore valley vineyards.
Another feature of the valley is the soil here. Gravelly and deep, well draining and rich with minerals. It’s a soil that recalls the great bages, or gravel beds of Bordeaux, and the wines bear the marker of this minerality. Dusty, firm and finely focused, the wines of Livermore bring more than fruit to the table. Fruit of course there is, this is after all still California, but there is some subtlety and nuance here that is increasingly hard to come by in some other famous growing regions.
And finally Livermore valley offers variety. I’ve gone over this before but once a region becomes well known for a specific variety that relationship tends to become more dominant over time. People are not planting Petite Sirah in Napa Valley, and why should they when they can earn such a premium for Napa Cabernet, even rather ordinary Napa Cabernet. Livermore on the other hand is not associated with any specific variety, and in fact seems to do a mighty fine job with many. Wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, to Petite Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot share the vineyards with Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional and Souzao!
It is a very exciting time to be learning about the wines of Livermore Valley. Cabernet is making a name for itself, though one might ask if Bordeaux Blends might not be a better choice. and who knows what the Spanish, Portuguese and perhaps Italian varieties may develop into. Early signs point towards great successes, and paying attention today can only yield great dividends as the region finds its way. Could the future of Livermore be in unorthodox blends? Will Grenache, Petite Sirah and Syrah live happily together?
Stay tuned. Or even better stop by for a visit. I did and spent a great day learning about the region. There are plenty of wineries worth taking a look at. With my limited time I opted for two big players, and one very small operation though there remain many wineries that I hope to visit soon. On this trip I stopped by Wente, the largest winery in Livermore, the 26th largest in the state. Wente is, to many mind, Livermore wine. An important historical winery as well as a driver of today’s emerging market. Wente supports the Livermore brand in the marketplace, and local wineries as well, both selling fruit to and serving as a custom crush facility for these growing operations.