There is something very charming going on in Livermore, California and it’s a secret that locals guard very closely. When thinking of a weekend getaway in California’s wine country, Napa Valley is probably the first place that comes to mind. However with more than 50 wineries, the nearby Livermore Valley is earning quite a reputation for not just good wine but also shopping and dining that rivals its northern neighbors.
My first visit to Livermore Valley was on a weekday and after years of frequenting Napa, my expectations for ‘the new wine country’ were very basic. I just planned to eat and drink (err, I mean taste) as much wine as possible. Instead, my visit proved a true experience. I had such a good time that I returned the following weekend when it was guaranteed to be crowded to make sure the Livermore Valley magic was not a fluke! Needless to say, it was not.
And to think, as a native Californian, I thumbed my nose up at the not-so-new Livermore Valley wineries. So whenever you’re in the Bay Area and want a quick getaway, the grapevine says that Livermore is the place to be. Here are my tipsy tips on expanding your palette in this Golden State hot spot. ¡Salúd!
WHERE TO STAY
The Purple Orchid Wine Country Resort and Spa is your best bet if you want to lounge and cupcake with a significant other all weekend. Located on an estate vineyard, everything you need from massage pampering to wine tasting and great dining is on the property. With only ten suites to choose from, the resort is quiet and privacy. Given its picturesque views of the vineyard and olive groves, this resort is in high demand during wedding season. Needless to say, book your stay well in advance.
WHERE TO SIP
Concannon Vineyard is one of the properties I visited twice. If you’re looking to get schooled about must-see locales, then go during the week. The staff is knowledgeable about a bit of everything, including where to eat and other wineries to visit. Weekends are hopping, and fortunately the Concannon Vineyard wine room is spacious enough to easily accommodate a crowd. There is also a wine bar, Underdog, adjoined to the tasting room and serves small pairing plates. However, it is highly recommended to make reservations for the bar on weekends, especially if your party is sizable. Tours of the estate are also available at an additional cost by reservation only.
Wente Vineyard is by far the most scenic with lush greenery, an outdoor patio and bar serving wine by the glass, and a live band, the perfect setting for warm weather lounging. The tasting room is a bit on the small side but offers a choice of two flight sets at differing price points. Weekends are busy, so your sommelier will determine the extent of the chit-chat and background info you learn on the wine variations. However, if there is no interest in either of those things, then by all means sip away.
Murrieta’s Well is one of the smaller of the properties that I visited, but worth a stop nonetheless. Full of history, the property was acquired by the Wente family in the 1930s and transformed into a winery in the 1990s. The grandson still resides on property and has helped to resurrect Murrieta’s Well to a well-respected estate with its own proprietary blend of wines, separate from the Wente brand.
Tenuta Vinyards is the last, but certainly the greatest of all of the vineyards that I visited. Everything from the wine to the staff to the estate, which is nestled in a vast residential neighborhood, was outstanding. Tenuta stood out as having the most lively and genuinely warm atmosphere among all of the estates. Site tours are free and the staff specializes in a good time, especially the resident guide who disarmed my friends and I with his wit and charm. Just before closing time is when things really turn up with music, impromptu dancing, and of course, the wine. If you’re like me and enjoy the sweet decadence of port wine, their Black Mamba is a sure winner. The only downside is, if there is one, Tenuta is only open Friday-Sunday, but the upside is they also keep late hours. And by late, I mean 6 p.m.—so get it in early.
*Word of Advice: Be sure to note hours of operation and which vineyards are only open on weekends. Plan accordingly to avoid disappointment and keep tabs on local wine events here.
WHERE TO EAT
Strizzi’s Livermore: What goes better with wine than pasta? After a long day of sipping vino, the staff at Strizzi’s is warm and welcoming. The ambiance is lively and much like you’re enjoying a large dinner party with friends even if it’s just two in your party. Do not be daunted by a long quoted wait time without a reservation, it’s highly unlikely to be a long wait.
WHERE TO SHOP
Paragon Outlets: Since its inception, this premier outlet mall has drawn crowds every weekend-- and for good reason. With stores like Barney’s, Bloomingdale’s Outlet, Prada, Theory and Elie Tahari, who can resist? Located only a few exits from downtown Livermore, this outdoor shopping extravaganza is worth dropping a shiny coin or two.