Livermore Valley Wine: A Blend of History and Family Winemaking

California’s Livermore Valley AVA is situated about 35 miles east of San Francisco Bay. The valley has an unusual east-west orientation within the Coast Range that allows cool, maritime breezes to be funneled inland through the valley from the bay. The region is still quite warm with ample sunshine and cool nights. Valley floor and mountainside vineyard locations boast well-drained soils of sand, loam and gravel. Livermore’s wine history began with small, family plantings and has mostly remained so.

It’s been a bit since we’ve tasted Livermore Valley wines, but thanks to Livermore Valley Vintners & Growers we have four wine samples to taste and share with you. But, first, a little background.

Livermore Valley History

Prior to sea voyages that landed along the coast beginning in the 1540s, and land exploration in the 1760s, the East Bay region, now Contra Costa County and Alameda County (where Livermore is located), were inhabited by Ohlone, Bay Miwok and Delta Yokut peoples. Permanent Spanish missionary settlements had the first devastating impact on these native peoples, followed by Mexicans and ultimately Californians. Their numbers dwindled due to mistreatment, disease and loss of free movement with the seasons that was essential to their survival. It wasn’t until 1917 that some California native people achieved citizenship and took until 1924 for all to gain citizenship.

The valley is named for British-born Robert Livermore who by the early 1830s was raising cattle in the valley and prospering. In 1839 Livermore and a partner, José Noriega, received a land grant called Rancho Las Positas. Following California statehood in 1850 Livermore bought out Noriega and by 1857 owned 48,000 acres. 

Although grapes were first planted in the general area in the 1700s by Spanish missionaries, Robert Livermore is credited with planting the first commercial vines in Livermore Valley in the 1840s. The earliest winemakers, C. H. Wente, James Concannon and Charles Wetmore founded wineries in the early 1880s. Wetmore won the Grand Prix at the International Paris Exposition for his dry white wine in 1889 — the first California wine to a competition in France. Wente and Concannon continue operating today, but Wetmore’s Cresta Blanca closed in 1965. Wente acquired the historic property.

Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in Livermore Valley

Beyond their longevity, both Wente and Concannon have left a lasting impact on California winemaking. C. H. Wente’s son, Ernest, brought Chardonnay cuttings from the University of Montpellier in France to the family’s Livermore vineyard in 1912. In the following years he selectively chose vines with small clusters and intense flavors to develop the Wente Chardonnay Clone. There are now multiple Wente Clones. According to Wente Vineyards, more than 75% of California Chardonnay vines come from the Wente Clone. In 1936 Wente was the first to bottle a varietally-labeled Chardonnay in the United States.

The Concannon family made a significant contribution to the development of several Cabernet Sauvignon clones. After founding Concannon in 1883, James Concannon brought Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings to Livermore from Château Margaux in Bordeaux, France. James’ son, Captain Joe Concannon, kept the winery going during Prohibition by making sacramental wines. He was among the first to bottle a varietally-labeled Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1920s. Jim Concannon, the third generation, collaborated with Dr. Harold Olmo and Curt Alley of UC Davis in 1965 to develop the Concannon Cabernet Clones 7, 8, 11. The source for those clones was a single vine, called the Mother Vine, propagated from those original Château Margaux cuttings. Concannon Vineyard estimates that 80% of California Cabernet Sauvignon comes from one of the Concannon Clones.

Livermore Winemaking Today

Livermore Valley AVA was officially designated on October 1, 1982, making it one of the earliest AVAs in California (Napa Valley was the first in February 1981. That seems so recent!) The region is 25 miles long by 18 miles wide. Of the total 259,000 acres, approximately 4000 acres are planted to vines. 

Livermore Valley AVA is home to more than 50 wineries today. Annual production ranges between 500 and 400,000 cases per winery. Many wineries are small, family-run operations. Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Merlot are the most-planted red varieties. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the main white grapes planted. A diverse list of other red and white grape varieties make up the total plantings in Alameda County.

A Taste of Livermore

Photo of wine bottle label 2021 Wood Family Vineyards Para Mas Amigas Chardonnay, Livermore Valley
2021 Wood Family Vineyards Para Mas Amigas Chardonnay, Livermore Valley

2021 Wood Family Vineyards Para Mas Amigas Chardonnay, Livermore Valley — light golden with toasty, grapefruit aromas. Flavors are mostly toasty with a bit of spice that lingers along with citrusy flavors supported by good acidity. The wine is a bit round with a clean finish. 819 cases made. 14.6% abv. SRP $34 (price for the 2022 vintage available on the winery website).

Chardonnay is sourced from Wisner Vineyard (75%) on the valley floor and 25% from Block 12 Vineyard located in the hills. The wine was barrel fermented and aged on the lees for 10 months in French oak.

Rhonda Wood, a retired airline pilot, is the winemaker and the one walking the vineyard on a regular basis. She began brewing beer before deciding to challenge herself to learn winemaking. Her husband, Michael, “helps out where he can”, according to the Wood Family Vineyards website. Their oldest son, Harrison, is Executive VP. Truly a family operation. See the Wood Family Vineyards website to book a tasting.

Photo of wine bottle label 2022 Longevity Pinot Grigio Buttner Vineyard, Livermore Valley
2022 Longevity Pinot Grigio Buttner Vineyard, Livermore Valley

2022 Longevity Pinot Grigio Buttner Vineyard Vintner Select, Livermore Valley medium coppery salmon with aromas of citrus, iron and earth. Flavors include citrus, stone fruit and iron all supported by juicy acidity. 14.8% abv. SRP $34 (price for the 2023 vintage available on the Longevity Wines website).

Pinot Grigio sourced from the Buttner Vineyard spends enough time on the skins to achieve its beautiful color. It is unlike many Pinot Grigios you’ve tasted.

Phil and Debra Long established Longevity Wines in 2008 when, according to the winery website, “their winemaking hobby outgrew their garage.” The Longevity name, a play on their last name, was chosen by Debra and Phil designed the heart that appears on the Longevity labels. Unfortunately, Debra was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016 and passed away in 2019. Just days before her death Longevity was named Livermore Valley’s Winery of the Year. Longevity is a member of the Association of African American Vintners. Phil’s son, Philip Jr., is assistant winemaker. See the Longevity Wines website to book a tasting.

In 2020 Phil Long and the Franzia family of Bronco Wine Co. established a partnership to enable national distribution of Longevity wines. According to the announcement of the partnership, Phil will continue to make the black label Longevity wines sourced from Livermore vineyards while also managing a new, larger white-label range made in Ceres at Bronco’s winemaking facility.

Photo of wine bottle label 2019 Cuda Ridge Wines Mélange d’Amis Reserve, Livermore Valley
2019 Cuda Ridge Wines Mélange d’Amis Reserve, Livermore Valley

2019 Cuda Ridge Wines Mélange d’Amis Reserve, Livermore Valleydark ruby with aromas of plums, black berries and hints of roasted red peppers. Flavors include red raspberries, blackberries and berry bramble supported by fresh acidity and grippy tannins. 73 cases made. 13.9% abv. SRP $61

The blend is Cabernet Franc (64%) sourced from the White Cat Vineyard, Merlot (30%) sourced from One Oak Vineyard, 6% Petit Verdot sourced from Smith Ranch. Both the White Cat Vineyard and One Oak Vineyard are located on Livermore’s east side. The wine aged for 17 months in French oak (33% new, 66% one-use).

Larry and Margie Dino established Cuda Ridge Wines in 2007 — another example of a hobby that got out of control. Their focus is on Bordeaux varieties, but you will find Sangiovese and Syrah as well. Larry sources grapes from a number of Livermore vineyards and prefers to pick on the early side as he and Margie favor an Old World style of wine. They describe their winemaking as small-lot and handcrafted. See the Cuda Ridge website for tasting room hours and directions.

Photo of wine bottle label 2019 Garré Profound Secret, Livermore Valley
2019 Garré Profound Secret, Livermore Valley

2019 Garré Profound Secret, Livermore Valleydark ruby with aromas of very ripe berries and alfalfa hay. Flavors include red and black berries, figs and berry bramble. Tannins are fine and a bit drying. 14.3% abv. SRP $32 (price for the 2016 vintage available on the Garré Vineyard and Winery website).

36% Merlot, 36% Malbec, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot were fermented as a field blend and aged for 20 months in new French oak (17%). All grapes are estate grown.

Garré Vineyard & Winery is founded on Molinaro family winemaking traditions brought with them from near Genoa, Italy. They make a wide range of wines including sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Bordeaux varietal wines and a Bordeaux blend, Tempranillo, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Syrah and a Port-style wine. Italian hospitality figures prominently in Garré Café menu and the Bocce Ball Courts. The winery also hosts weddings, corporate and social events. See the Garré website for details.

Thanks to Livermore Valley Vintners & Growers for providing the wines and background information and to 143 Communications for organizing our tasting. See the Livermore Valley Vintners & Growers’ website for a winery map and information to plan your visit. In general, wine tasting in Livermore Valley is still reasonably affordable with tasting fees waived on purchase of wine. Make sure you have a designated driver.



  1. Pingback: Afternoon Brief, June 26 - - Wine Order

  2. I thought I knew a fair amount about the Livermore Valley (when we lived in the Bay area, it was the wine region we were closest to…and the most visited),but I didn’t know about the Concannon/Bordeaux connection. In fact, when I think of Concannon, I think of Petite Sirah! And who knew about 80% of California Cabernet Sauvignon comes from one of the Concannon Clones? An excellent read!

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