While the Napa Valley and Sonoma County wine regions of California are household names, I am partial to the lesser-known (yet still amazing) Livermore Valley wineries. Learn why and get recommendations from locals.
Moving during high school is rough. Moving 5,500 miles across an ocean in high school is really rough.
Wait, isn’t this article supposed to be about wine?
Let me explain…
A long time ago, in a year that started with a “1” my family moved from the Netherlands to the San Francisco area. It was in the middle of my freshman year, and it sucked. Because I had been living abroad for more than three years (and Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet), I was clueless about the life of an American teenager. I had no clue what MTV was, and I’d never eaten frozen yogurt. There’s also a good chance my hair wasn’t big enough. When I asked questions about these foreign concepts, my California born and bred classmates acted like I was from another planet.
At first, it was hard to make friends with kids who had known each other since elementary school. But extra-curricular activities helped. I met a lot of people by running cross-country and track. We regularly ran from Granada High School out to either the Concannon Winery (about a three-mile round trip route) or the Wente Winery (about a nine-mile round trip route). Back then, there were only a few wineries in the Livermore Valley, and the scenery was magnificent.
My family moved to the East Coast right after graduation. In the blink of an eye, decades passed, and I found myself back in the Livermore Valley for my high school reunion. The area has grown by leaps and bounds with more vineyards, homes, and development than I could have imagined. According to the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, Livermore is now home to more than 40 wineries.
To seed a self-guided winery tour, I reached out to fellow Granada High School grads. These fellow alums grew up in the Livermore Valley. All of them either still live near these Livermore Valley wineries or have families who do.
Pro Tip: Read more about Livermore’s original, “grande-dame” wineries that date back to the 1800s.
I paid full price for any expenses associated with these experiences at the Livermore Valley wineries and always share my honest opinions.
A Few Important Notes
- While I detail nine Livermore Valley wineries recommended by locals, you’ll only be able to visit about four in an afternoon of wine tasting. Yes, I was able to visit five wineries, but that’s because I’m an over-achiever when it comes to drinking wine!
- The Livermore Valley wineries with an asterisk indicate the places I visited during my self-guided wine tasting tour. However, I wanted to share the other recommendations so that you can mix things up as needed to suit your schedule and wine preferences.
- I’m far from a sommelier, like a galaxy away. My general approach is to try a wine and drink it if I like it.
- Really, this should go without saying, but never, never, NEVER drink and drive! Like most of California’s wine country, the Livermore Valley has many transportation services available, from town cars and limousines to chartered buses.
Pro Tip: The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association lets you build your own itinerary on their website. I thought it was a cool feature, but found it easier to just use Google Maps.
Recommended by Sandra L, GHS Class of ‘74
Nottingham Cellars was our first stop, partly due to its location and partly because it opens at 11:00 am, an hour before most Livermore Valley wineries.
For a $15 tasting fee, we got to sample five wines, two white and three red. I tend to always prefer red wine, but really enjoyed Nottingham Cellar’s 2015 Coco Blanc and 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. Their Cabernet Franc was my favorite, and several bottles became the foundation of the box I checked in as my second suitcase. (Thank you Southwest Airlines for bags that fly free! Depending on where you live, shipping a case of wine home often costs at least $50.)
Emma took fantastic care of us during our Nottingham Cellars experience. I especially enjoyed seeing their flowchart that details how wine is made, whether it’s red, white, or rose that’s being crafted.
Visit Nottingham Cellars at 2245 S Vasco Rd. They are open daily, Wednesday through Sunday, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Pro Tip: If your travels take you further northeast, be sure to check out these Lodi wine tasting tips.
Wood Family Vineyards*
Recommended by Bob M., GHS Class of ‘83
Making wine since 1996, Rhonda Wood is one of the area’s few female winemakers. While I find that quite impressive, I would imagine that Rhonda doesn’t give it much thought. After all, her initial career was as an airline pilot where, decades later, women still only make up 5% of the global workforce.
While also serving a large group celebrating a milestone birthday, the team at Wood Family Vinyards took great care of us. Rob walked us through their $10 wine tasting, and Harrison gave us a tour of the fall harvest being turned into delicious wine. From more than 15 different vineyards, all of the grapes used to make Wood Family wines are grown in the Livermore Valley.
We had a fantastic experience at Wood Family Vineyards, and I added their Grenache, Malbec, “Big Wood” Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon to the box.
Visit the Wood Family in their beautiful, new tasting room at 2407 Research Dr. They are open Thursday through Sunday and by appointment.
Fun Fact: Later that evening, at my high school reunion, a classmate asked me what winery I enjoyed most. When I mentioned how much fun we’d had at the Wood Family Vineyards, she mentioned that Wood Family oldest son, Harrison, was one of her students back in his elementary school days.
Recommended by Lindsay W., GHS Class of ‘01
This family-owned vineyard and winery specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorite! So it was with a heavy heart that we had to skip it this trip to the Livermore Valley’s wine country. There just aren’t enough hours in a Saturday to visit every one of these outstanding wineries. Plus, we noted increasingly large crowds as our day continued as folks originally destined for Napa sought other tasting experiences due to the horrific wildfires.
We had a lovely evening tonight learning about the different characteristics that French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels impart on wine at our Oak 101 educational class. Thanks to all who attended! Cheers! 🍷🍇#McGrailVineyards #LivermoreValley . . . . . . . . . . #Livermore #California #Pleasanton #PleasantonCA #DublinCA #TriValley #BayArea #SFBayArea #EastBay #Wine #WineCountry #WineLovers #WineLover #Winery #WineTasting #CabernetSauvignon #LivermoreWineCountry #HolidayintheVineyards
Visit McGrail Vineyards at 5600 Greenville Rd. Thursday through Sunday between Noon and 4:30 pm.
A long-standing personal favorite
One of the Livermore Valley’s original wineries, Murrieta’s Well has been growing grapes since the 1800s. The estate’s first vineyard was planted with cuttings from the famed Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards in France, a “bloodline” that carries through to the wines produced today. The estate was purchased by the Wente family in the 1930s, and Murrieta’s Well was established its own winery and label in 1990.
Visiting the winery today, you’ll find a magnificent outdoor area where you can enjoy wine and soak up the sun. Being outside was especially delicious for us Midwesterners where the weather was already turning cold and dreary back home.
After discovering that we were visiting from Kansas City, the woman who greeted us at Murrieta’s Well ensured that Missouri native, Megan, served us in the tasting room. Megan delightfully walked us through our $25 tasting experience that featured five wines. A bottle of Zarzuela and The Spur were purchased, and an extra taste of port was savored.
Visit Murrieta’s Well at 3005 Mines Rd. on Fridays and Saturdays between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Steven Kent Winery*
Recommended by Steven B, GHS Class of ‘01
Traffic was really picking up in the Livermore Wine Valley by the time we reached the Steven Kent Winery. While the wines were enjoyable, uncharacteristically large crowds made it impossible for our tasting guide to give us the same level of personal attention we’d received at the other wineries earlier in the day.
The Steven Kent tasting flight we experienced was $15 and featured four delicious reds: a Semillion, a Merlot, and two Cabernet Sauvignons. However, the winery frequently offers special flights that you can find posted on their social media accounts.
Visit The Steven Kent Winery at 5443 Tesla Rd. between Noon and 4:30 pm daily.
Pro Tip: Looking for more to do and see along America’s West Coast? Check out this USA West Coast Road Trip itinerary.
Recommended by Marian J, GHS Class of ‘03
I could tell you that the Mitchell Katz Winery is committed to producing single vineyard wines that bring out the personality of each unique vineyard. But what I’d rather tell you is that they have a tawne port that is truly out of this world. I would honestly consider giving up desserts for the rest of my life if I could instead have a pour of this nectar of the gods. Yes, it’s that good!
If the most amazing, liquid caramel on the planet isn’t your thing, then you can enjoy a classic flight of Mitchell Katz wines for $10 every day of the week.
Visit the Mitchell Katz Winery daily between Noon and 5:00 pm at 2481 Buena Vista Ave.
Recommended by Nick L., GHS Class of ‘95 and Joe Y, GHS Class of ‘78
This family-owned winery planted the first vineyards back in 1976. By the time Robert and Gloria Taylor were ready to produce wines commercially and open their first tasting room in 1983, Retzlaff Vineyards was one of just five wineries in Livermore, California. Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, the Retzlaff Vineyards have been certified as organic since 2006. That means their grapes are grown “old school” without pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.
Pro Tip: Food is limited at most Livermore Valley Wineries. Offerings range from small, pre-packaged nibbles (think cured meat and cheese from a case) to nothing at all. Retzlaff Vineyards offers a beautiful space to enjoy a picnic, so plan ahead. You won’t want to miss an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful grounds and get a bit of food in your tummy to power you through the rest of your wine tastings!
Enjoy the Retzlaff Vineyards daily (except Wednesdays) between Noon and 4:30 pm at 1356 S Livermore Ave.
Recommended by Denise C., GHS Class of ‘76
While I’m sad that I didn’t have a chance to personally visit this small, boutique winery, I wanted to be sure to include it on this list. It appears to be a great, up and coming winery in the growing Livermore Valley, and I will certainly fit it into my next trip to the area.
Located at 3053 Marina Ave. Rodrigue Molyneaux is open on Saturdays and Sundays between 12:30 and 5:00 pm.
Las Positas Vineyards
Recommended by Sandra L, GHS Class of ‘74
Rounding out my locally-sourced list of Livermore Valley wineries is Las Positas Vineyards. This family-owned winery got its start in 2006 when Lisa ad Lothar Maier purchased 20 acres in the southwest corner of the Livermore Valley. All of the existing vines were pulled, and the land was replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay and other grapes.
Inspired by the Livermore Valley’s history, the Maiers followed in the city’s namesakes’ footsteps. The name Las Positas is Spanish for “little watering holes”, and it honors Robert Livermore’s Rancho Las Positas. He named his homestead in the valley that now bears his name after the many streams and watering holes in the area.
Enjoy the Las Positas Vineyards at 1828 Wetmore Rd. between 11:30 am and 4:30 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
What about you?
Have you toured Livermore Valley wineries or tasted the wines produced in that region? What did you think? Share your experience in the comments section below!