by Laura Ness
Note: Ideal for Weekdays
An easy trip you can do pretty much any day of the week begins right at the intersection of Highway 84 (off 680) and Vineyard Avenue, at Ruby Hill Winery. Open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, here, you’ll be treated to a vast selection of mostly estate grown wines, lovingly and well-made by the talented Chris Graves, winemaker, who cut his teeth at Wente, and keeps on winning award after award for his amazing collection. Enjoy the fabulous selection of retail items and choose from the wide array of cheeses and salamis in the case to make your visit more delicious.
The Peackock Patch Zinfandel and Petite Sirah are the real stars here, although the Cabernets and Chardonnays are all pretty solid, too. If you call ahead (925/931-9463), you can schedule a “Mielo Cielo” bus tour, usually conducted at 11:30 and 2:30 p.m. This is a great way to tour the Ruby Hill estate vineyards, taste some wine as you visit the vines they came from, and then enjoy a bit of cheese and wine pairing afterwards in the old water tower. You’ll get an entirely new perspective of Livermore, and you’ll really appreciate that East-West airflow that funnels cooling breezes from the Bay directly through the Ruby Hill gap. Tours are $25 per person.
Head up to Rubino Estate next, if you’re in the mood for Italian varietals, also well-executed by Chris Graves, or save this stop for an on-your-way-home exit strategy. They’re open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
A good follow up to Ruby Hill is Concannon Vineyards, an historic landmark open daily, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., where you’ll enjoy the well-crafted Assemblage Blanc, a stunning blend of Livermore-grown Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and Conservancy Chardonnay, deftly made by winemaker, Julian Halasz. The winery excels at Petite Sirah, and you really can’t leave without a bottle or two of Captain Joe’s, as well as the highly popular “Crimson and Clover” blend, which son John, made in honor of his father, Jim Concannon’s, 80th birthday. This year is the 130th anniversary of Concannon planting Cabernet Sauvignon, and they are honoring the Mother Vine that helped replant most all of Napa Valley after phylloxera wiped out their vines in the 1960s and 70s.
Few people know that the budwood from the louse-free own-rooted Concannon “Mother Vines” were propagated and became one of the most widely planted clonal selections of Cab in California. Tours of the property, including the Mother Vine block, are available by reservation at $20 per person. Call 800-258-9866.
It’s time for a quick lunch, still on the grounds of Concannon, at the Underdog Wine Bar where the selection of small bites to share is amazing, and the slider trio is legendary. You’ll be very fond of the artichoke fondue, and the spiced cashews, and the citrus salad is refreshing with one of the Alsatian Rieslings, the Nottingham Cellars Viognier or the Darcie Kent Gruner Veltliner. The wine list is worldwide and wonderfully accented by local Livermore favorites, including the Picazo Merlot and the Wood Family Syrah from Madden Ranch, yes, that John Madden, the NFL coach and commentator.
Next, it’s on to Mitchel Katz’s new place on Buena Vista Avenue. He’s just getting started at this new location after vacating his former location near the Palm Event Center, now the site of the huge new Rubino Estate Winery mentioned earlier. Mitch excels at single vineyard wines that really reflect their sense of place, including Falling Star Merlot, (Gold medal winner at the 2013 SF Chronicle Competition), 2010 Shadow Hills Chardonnay (Gold Medal winner at the 2012 State Fair) and Crackerbox Sangiovese. Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
On the same side of Tesla, hit Crooked Vine and Stony Ridge, two wineries in one tasting room, and enjoy their Trifecta blend and their sunny Viognier, bright Chardonnay and their smoky Syrah. Open daily, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 12 to 4:30 p.m.
Probably time to head back home, but not before hitting Campo de Bocce for a quick refreshment and perhaps an appetizer or two. Or, make an evening of it and enjoy dinner there, or order some great food to go. The arugula salad with red peppers and parmesan cheese with pine nuts is delicious, you can’t argue with any of the pastas and the pizzas are pretty reliable and satisfying as well. Don’t forget: that was just the tip of the Livermore wine scene. You have to come back and at least spend a night to really do the area justice!