The rolling hills in the Livermore Valley glimmered under the sun on a warm Saturday morning, the hills unfolded before us as my husband and I turned right onto Tesla Road. Green and purple grapes hung from the vines, waiting to be picked. The air was filled with the smell of grapes fermenting, the smell of vinegar and sugar mixed together.
Tesla, a two-lane road in the Livermore Valley lined with wineries, was abuzz with visitors. Cars were either going into a winery or going to the next one. I could barely conceal my delight as we approached one of my favorite wineries, Concannon.
The Livermore Wine Country is young but holds a lot of potential, some wines are already comparable with, if not better than, the wines of Napa. It is less crowded, a visitor gets better service, and the wine prices are more attractive to people like me who believe that price alone does not mean that the wine is superior.
The Livermore terroir is different than in the Napa Valley, meaning the factors that ultimately define the wine, such as soil, weather, wind, orientation of the grapes with respect to the sun are unique.It is hotter, making it a good region to grow, in my opinion, varietals such as Grenache, Malbec and some Cabernet. Having said that, I have tasted good Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah and Merlot as well.
Wine tasting is always a treat but I also forward to barrel tastings. Usually done in March, tickets can be purchased for $25 if you buy early and $30 on the day of. Hop on a chartered bus and be swept away by the view. Some wineries offer information sessions such as the types of barrels used, the varietals grown in the vineyards, and food and wine pairings. Others offer complimentary appetizers, discounted wines and merchandise, and live music.
I once purchased an outstanding case of Syrah for $60 (or $5 per bottle) and asked the winery to directly ship a case of wine to my friends in the mid-West. Several days later, wonderful thank you notes arrived with a request that I continue to send wines their way, which they are happy to pay for.
In the fall, when most grapes are ready (also called veraison) for picking, the Harvest Festival is in full swing. Around this time of the year, the grapes that will be transformed into wines have already been picked unless they are the ones that mature late into the season. For oenophiles, the small window of opportunity to participate in the wine making process is open. Some wineries will allow visitors to help remove the stems from the grapes and crush them. Crushing the grapes with the feet is still the best way to make wine although the wineries, for pragmatic and probably hygiene reasons, use stemmer-crusher equipments. Still, I think the experience of treading on freshly picked grapes and the exhilaration one gets from being part of a wine making tradition is well worth the grape juice stains.
My husband turned left onto the driveway of our favorite winery and found a parking spot. Our picnic basket was in the backseat, replete with two wine glasses, cheese, crackers, olives, and dark chocolate. I take one more look at the hills, breathed in deeply and smiled at my husband.
Some of the best memories in life are created in the wine country: weddings, picnics, birthday celebrations, wedding anniversaries, to name a few. And sometimes, the best memories come from the unplanned and spontaneous moments, a visit to a new winery on a whim, the spontaneous drive along the wineries, the chance encounter with strangers who turn into lifelong friends, the last minute picnic.--- CB
Last Updated (Monday, 29 November 2010 22:05)