By Laura Ness
There are so many wineries making great wine in Livermore these days, it’s almost overwhelming. But if you take a geographical approach, you can carve out several strategic day trips to this amazing area and find yourself becoming surprisingly well-versed in the wine world beyond the founding pillars of the region, Concannon and Wente.
Enoteca 5, Where Winemaker Chaulkey’s Wines Sing
This westside day trip visits wineries just off Highway 84 and Vallecitos Road, where the views are just as superb as the wines. First stop is Enoteca Five, located on Kalthoff Commons, at the first traffic light you come to on 84, just before the Vallecitos Road turnoff. Turn right, go up the hill and keep going til you come to Tenuta. You’ll need to make an appointment in advance (925-852-1861), but winemaker, Michael Chalkley, a singer who performed with The Carpenters as a youth, will happily take you on a backstage tour of his barrels.
You’ll begin with a 2013 Rosé of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot he calls “Judy,” in honor of his late Mom. This cranberry-raspberry, cinnamon-apple beauty will be bottled this spring in time for Easter and Mother’s Day. Next up is the 2011 Reserve Cab Franc from Silvaspoons Vineyard (Lodi), rich meaty and dense, followed by a 2012 Malbec from Aguirre Vineyard (Livermore), zippy with sour cherry, pomegranate and sandy tannins, and a 2012 Silvaspoons Cab Franc, brimming with chocolate and coffee and superbly impressive in texture. Also noteworthy is the 2012 Petit Verdot from the Ripken Vineyard, also in Lodi, with its massive nose of cigars and black raspberry jam. The finish is exquisite. It’s available for futures purchase at $36 per bottle, $42 on release.
The cream of the crop, though, is the 2013 Petit Verdot, also from Ripken, intriguingly filled with white pepper, juniper and incense, so spicy, soft and elegant, amazing in its youth. Fabulous!! Get in on the ground floor, as this guy is going places. His current release of 2011 Cabernet Franc from the Alegria Vineyard in Napa just scored 90 points in Wine Enthusiast.
Las Positas Winery with Standout Wines and Valley Views
You’ll make your second stop at Las Positas Winery, where winemaker Brent Amos is shepherding some wonderful wines to completion from two different vineyard properties on the westside of Livermore, one of them on Kalthoff Commons, the other across the street from the winery. Standouts here are the Pinot Blanc from Sunol, the estate Barbera and the two dessert wines that former winemaker, Charlie Kidd, put together. The views from this place are amazing, and it’s no surprise that so many weddings take place at this well-appointed venue with built-in gourmet kitchen and a state-of-the-art pizza oven.
Lunch Time at The Restaurant at Wente
Now it’s time for lunch, so head to The Restaurant at Wente, on Arroyo Road, just minutes from Las Positas. The cuisine here is amazing, and the dining experience, especially if you sit outside, will be unforgettable. Much of the food comes from local purveyors, including their onsite garden. There’s a Wente tasting room right on property here if you want to check that out. And, there’s a Greg Norman-designed golf course here as well, if you feel like teeing off.
Next stop, Cuda Ridge
But let’s proceed with our wine tasting adventure, shall we? The next stop, Cuda Ridge, is a mere four minutes from the Wente restaurant, right on Arroyo Road: you’ll spot it on the right as you get to the end of the first large vineyard planting after the stop sign at the Olivina gate.
Winemaker Larry Dino moved here in 2013, and is known for his straightforward execution of Bordeaux varietals that has garnered him much acclaim. The winery is named for a stunning purple Plymouth Barracuda that Larry ended up buying after his dream of finding a vineyard property in Sonoma went bust. Instead, he planted vines on his home property in Livermore, and seeks out fine fruit from other growers to create some really special examples of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. These are his stunners, although his Merlot and Black Label Cabernet can prove awesome as well.
Delight in Italian Blends at Rodrigue Molyneaux
Last stop is Rodrigue Molyneaux, just two minutes from Cuda Ridge on Marina Ave., a right turn off Arroyo. This totally charming spot, accented by a gorgeous farmhouse, quaint barn and unpretentious tasting room, has one of the prettiest settings in all of Livermore. The views of the surrounding hills and Mount Diablo in the distance are truly breathtaking. Right next door are stables with handsome horses, and you’ll find yourself wanting to linger to take in the incomparable serenity this place exudes.
Here, you’ll delight in creatively tasty Italian blends, among them, Il Segretto and Cabiovese, both made from different combinations of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Nebbiolo. The labels are fanciful and create a mood of either Italy or France, as the winery specializes in these two schools of wine thought.
Don’t miss the 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 100 percent, aged in American oak, which is as breathtaking as the scenery. The captivating 2011 Petit Verdot will reinforce why Livermore is simply one of the best growing regions for this varietal, oft used as a blending grape. Here, it’s powerful, athletic and amazingly agile, attacking your palate with the precision and ice-in-the-veins proficiency of a professional hockey player.
Until next time, enjoy the ride home as the sun turns the Livermore hills a dusty shade of rosey purple.
Enoteca Five: By appointment, (925) 852-1861; enoteca5.com
The Restaurant at Wente: Lunch Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Sunday Brunch, 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Dinner from 5 p.m. daily. (925) 456-2450; wentevineyards.com
Las Positas: Friday through Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m. (925) 449-9463; laspositasvineyards.com
Cuda Ridge: Friday through Sunday, 12 – 4:30 p.m., or by appt. (510) 304-0914; cudaridgewines.com
Rodrigue Molyneaux: Saturday and Sunday, 12:30 – 5 p.m. (925) 443-1998; rmwinery.com
Featured Image: A Livermore west side view. Photo by Denise Donegan.