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Roots run deep in Tri-Valley; one of California's oldest wine regions

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Livermore Valley Wine Country is home to more than 50 wineries.

livermore-wine-country.jpgWineries range from small family-owned operations to historic leaders of the California wine industry. You can enjoy handcrafted wines in an intimate, authentic setting in Livermore Valley.

The difference.
Unlike other wine regions, with long lines, large crowds, and expensive tasting room fees, most of our wineries still offer a complimentary tasting and a homespun atmosphere. We warmly welcome wine enthusiasts and novices alike. The neighborly ambiance of our tasting rooms will never make you feel like a tourist. We treat our guests like old friends, creating a one-of-a-kind experience. Meet the winemaker, get a private tour, barrel taste, and get a firsthand account of the wine-making process.

The experience.
There are several types of wine-tasting experiences in Livermore Valley wine country, from tasting rooms in downtown to no-frills country wineries and historic tasting rooms. Downtown Livermore's Blacksmith Square has several tasting rooms offering local wines, with restaurants and shopping nearby. Taste in an old barn while the winery owner's dog naps at your feet. Picnic in the countryside at a winery where the owners greet every visitor personally. Sip wine on the lawn, and play a relaxing game of bocce ball. For an upscale experience, with a touch of history, celebrate over 125 years with Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards. Hungry for more? Livermore offers everything from picnic fixings to award-winning fine dining at several wineries throughout the region.


Mendocino County: A 'Grape' Cinderella Story

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mwd_MendoArticle.jpgOne of the original counties of California, Mendocino County is located on California's north coast above San Francisco Bay Area and west of the Central Valley. Most notable in Mendocino are the distinctive Pacific Ocean coastline, Redwood forests and quality wine production.

Mendocino's history in winegrapes began following the California Gold Rush in the 1850's. Immigrant farmers, in lieu of riches in gold, turned to farming; choosing the slanted, roughed up, sun-drenched hillsides for winegrape growing. Production started small and then grew with successes.

The more southern markets of Napa and Sonoma proved to be tough competition. Their proximity to distribution channels in larger cities like San Francisco gave them an advantage over the locally sold Mendocino wines. Then, during Prohibition, wine production all but stopped in Mendocino. Only one small family vineyard kept production alive, until the 1960's. Mendocino winemakers had their work cut out for them!

Wine Tasting in Santa Ynez

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Sunstone Vineyards

Image by nicadlr via Flickr

by Robert P. Farmer

Sunstone Winery & Vineyards

With its picturesque setting overlooking the Santa Ynez River and mountainous backdrop, Sunstone feels like a bit of Provence in Santa Barbara County. The winery's reputation for big, beautiful reds doesn't hurt the illusion, either. The award-winning lineup of fully organic wines includes wonderful reserve Pinot Noir and Syrah.

The grounds feature sprawling picnic grounds and vine-covered walls. It's a slice of French Countryside life, without all the fussiness. The tasting room is welcoming and the unpretentious staff is eager to discuss the day's pouring, or the weather, or most anything at all.

Tasting fee: $10
Tasting room open daily: 10am-4pm
125 Refugio Road, Santa Ynez, CA
(805) 688-9463
www.sunstonewinery.com

With Respect: Wine Tales of the Decade

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robertmondavi.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Props to Sasha Paulsen over at the Napa Valley Register for penning a spectacular piece on the top trials, travails and triumphs of the last ten years in wine. Beginning with a nod to the two economic downturns that "bookended" the decade, Paulsen explores everything from the departure of legends (RIP, Robert Mondavi) to the erection of Tuscan castles to a move towards producing wines with environmental and sustainable cues in mind.

Pinot.com

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pinot.jpgIf you love Pinot (and all it's variations), then Pinot.com is the site for you.

Discover the "sensuality" of Pinot Noir  . . .

Plan to attend upcoming Pinot wine events around the country....

Pair some of your favorite dishes with Pinot...

Read recommendations on what Pinots to buy and drink...

Remember...there can "Pinot" no others!

www.pinot.com

Ghost Wineries

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by Robert P. Farmer


Stroll on any afternoon through the Vintage 1870 shopping complex in Yountville and you'd never know ghosts surround you. The shops, restaurants, and art galleries give little hint of the building's past. But the structure is actually living its second life. As the name implies, the first life was in the late 1800s--more than 130 years ago. Back then, this building contributed to Napa Valley's original winemaking boom. Today the old winery enjoys a reincarnation, its winemaking past gone but not forgotten.

A Pairing of Wine and Livermore

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livermore_TastingRm2.jpgBy Jessica Beck
As submitted by Tri-Valley CVB

A relationship has transpired over the years between Livermore and the full and vigorous wines of the area. The Livermore Valley serves California as its oldest wine region but what is even more unique and special about the area lies in the connection between the two. Over the decades, a rapport has developed in which one supports the other and one in which each would not be what they are without the help of the other.

In 1997, the city of Livermore adopted the South Livermore Specific Plan which to date has permanently preserved over 5000 acres of vineyards. Livermore has supported the wineries over time and is very proud of the resulting outcome that is now the Livermore Valley Wine Region.

Krug Pops Cork on New Era

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krugwinery.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Happily, the more things change in Napa, the more things stay the same in Napa. And so it goes that as one legendary winery changes ownership hands, another emerges from the chrysalis to spread its wings anew.

In September, the Mondavi family will celebrate the renewal of the Charles Krug Winery--officially unveiling an $8 million restoration to the two historic national landmark buildings at the winery while also honoring the patriarch, Peter Mondavi.

A New French Paradox

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chateaumontelenaroom.jpgBy Robert Farmer

There are more than a few ways to interpret the news from Napa. You might think it ironic. You might think it sad. Or you might think it adulation. And that's the way I chose to interpret the recently announced news that Chateau Montelena was purchased by Cos d'Estournel, one of Bordeaux legendary winemakers.

Deep In the Heart of Texas

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texaswine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Texas has long been known for many things - BBQ, the Alamo, Dynasty, a fantastic music festival called South By Southwest (to name just a few) - but until recently something the Lone Star State most certainly was not known for was its wine.  On the heels of this year's well-attended Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival (texaswineandfood.org), however, that's all changing.

The Making of a Legacy: Tracing Robert Mondavi's Rise

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rmondavi2.jpgby Courtney Cochran

The recent passing of the man who was widely known as the patriarch of California wine caused us to reflect on just what it means to have been Robert Mondavi.  Frequently described as larger than life, the Minnesota-born son of Italian immigrants was a marketing mastermind who can be credited not only with putting California on the global wine map, he also with leaving an indelible mark on the American wine scene. Read on for highlights of Mondavi's most significant contributions to wine as we know it.    

Toast to Mr. Mondavi

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Robert_Mondavi_1984.jpgBy Robert Farmer
If you enjoy or even appreciate a little, California wines, then Robert Mondovi has impacted your life. It may not be in an obvious way, but the legendary vintner and wine-making pioneer has left his mark so indelibly upon the California wine industry that even a casual fan of wines from the Golden State has been influenced in some way by the man.


So as an industry offers an ongoing toast in honor of the late Mondavi, who passed away recently at the age of 94, I encourage everybody to raise a glass and salute him in their own unique way and honor one of life's true visionaries.

Robert Mondavi: Farewell to a True Pioneer

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robertmondavi.jpegBy Robert Farmer

Without the life of Robert Mondavi, one could strongly argue, the California Wine Industry would not exist in its current form. And so it is more than appropriate in light of his recent passing, that the praise being showered on the man in his wake be commensurate with his lasting impact. Perhaps no single person had such a pronounced impact on California Wine Country. With remarkable vision and diligence Mondavi steered the current irresistible force that is California Wine.

It was Mondavi who led California wine producers out of their mass-production jug-wine mentality and into the light of quality, limited-yield wines that would ultimately be judged on par with the great vintages of Europe.

Cinematic Splash: Top Films for Wine Lovers

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by Courtney Cochran

film.jpgIn most films, the cast is comprised of seasoned actors who possess a vibrant screen presence and innate ability to charm the audience.  But for a handful of movies in which wine itself plays a major role, we might as well add "mouthwatering" to the list of qualities a cast may claim.  Encompassing major motion pictures, documentaries and even a mockumentary, our list of top films for wine lovers covers lots of territory - affording viewers plenty to digest when it comes to wine and the silver screen.

Corked

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Corked-Homepage3.jpg

Blame it on Ravenswood. With their irresistible Zinfandel, Cab and Chardonnay flowing freely, the audience was well primed for 'Corked', one of the 75 films featured at this week's 11th Annual Sonoma Valley Film Fest.  Created by local winemaking millennial/GenXers Russ Clendenen and Paul Hawley, Corked leaves no stone unturned in a hilarious spoof on the wine industry.  While Sideways took aim at the wine tourist, this little gem nails the insider's perspective.

Eco Touring at Kunde Estate

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By Robert Farmer

kunde_ecotour.jpgWhen it comes to sustainable wine practice there are those who talk the talk and there are those who walk the walk. For those interested in know more about the latter, there is  Kunde Estate Winery & Vineyards (www.kunde.com). The winery that has been a staple in California's Wine Country for a century has also been farming sustainably for five generations. And they are more than happy to show you how it works.

P.S. I Love You

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by Courtney Cochran

psleaf_logo_100.jpgOnce upon a time, there was a wine so big, so bold and so outrageously outsized that its fans felt ashamed admitting it was their favorite. "Oh no," naysayers would insist, "a wine that big just can't be good with food. Why, it's so ridiculously over the top as to hardly even resemble what I think of as a wine."

Despairingly, lovers of Petite Sirah would retreat to enjoy their prodigious darling in the privacy of their own homes, away from the prying eyes of fellow drinkers who insisted that a wine must have impeccable balance - meaning it could harbor neither outsized fruit nor high-octane alcohol - in order to be enjoyed.

Jessie's Grove Vineyards

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Ancient Vines Still Growing Strong in Lodi

Though they're gnarled and twisted with age, a little hunched over and not at all interested in new-fangled ideas like, say, trellises and grafting, there's still plenty of life left in the wise, old vines of Jessie's Grove. They've made it 115 years, after all.

Given names like Yoda and Royal-tee, these relatively ancient vines are the oldest in Lodi--and among the oldest in the state. Planted in the late 1800's, not long after the madness of the Gold Rush and some of the earliest plantings by the viticultural Johnny Appleseed of the California's Central Valley--Captain Charles Weber--the vines continue to produce intensely flavored, highly prized Zinfandel and Carignane wines.

Nearly Native Son--Zinfandel is as American as Fine Wine Can Get

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Dry Creek Zinfandel RecommendationsZinfandel's more passionate adherents got some wind knocked out of them in 2002, when the premium wine grape they described as "America's own" turned out to be European - and from a never-heard-of-it neighborhood to boot.

In the years leading up to this discovery, Zin fans had become increasingly creative in defense of their chosen vine. When a southern Italian grape called Primitivo turned out to be genetically almost identical to Zinfandel, some Zin fans came up with a "reverse immigration" theory: the American grape was so good, they said, that Italian-Americans must have exported it back home to their winemaking cousins. (As if Italy, with more than 2,000 indigenous grape varieties, needed another one.)

Syrah Shows That Change Is Intrinsic to American Wine

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Centuries of wine tradition are ending in a single generation. In just the past few years we've been given premium wine in boxes and cans, $160 Cabernet with screwcaps and imported wine named for small marsupials - and it's all wonderful. Wine is good for us and the earth, and today's trends toward an easier, friendlier wine experience are all positive.

But just a short time ago, almost none of them were on the horizon. In fact, some of the grapes we now take for granted were still struggling for a place in American wine.

Take Syrah. In the early 1970s, there were a few Syrah vines scattered here and there in northern California, but they were usually mixed in anonymously with other varieties. No one made anything with "Syrah" on the label. The University of California at Davis had vines which it had propagated from cuttings taken from a famed French vineyard in the northern Rhône Valley, but the faculty was divided on whether Syrah was worth planting in California. So the vines remained in the university's teaching vineyard.
SteveReynolds_winemaker.jpgFor generations around the world, families made their own wines, sometimes tending small vineyards behind their homes or just checking on a ceramic crock of fermenting juice hiding in a closet. It was a tradition for everyone--from mom and dad, to the smallest children--to be involved in everything from growing the grapes, to crushing and bottling (or jug-ing, perhaps) these rustic wines. Today, many small-production, boutique wineries continue that tradition in Napa.

Though technology has made the process easier, and many hire some of the valley's most prestigious winemakers to help craft exceptional, rather than rustic wines, the homegrown feeling is much the same. Walking into tiny tasting rooms, often run by the family themselves, the air is less of a corporate machine, and more of an extended living room where visitors can casually sip a glass of wine while chatting with the folks who know the wine from the inside, out.

Seeking Closure

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A Bottle Top Overcomes Its Screwed Up Rep

by Robert P. Farmer

By now anyone who has been paying attention has heard the details in the discussion about screw caps. Once vilified in fine wine circles as the bellwether of bad taste, winemakers and wine lovers alike now embrace the ordinary screw cap. The reasons for this are myriad. But the practice, supported by evidence and sound science, still have yet to gain widespread acceptance in the wine industry.

Petite Sirah, The Not So Little Prince

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fa_little_prince.jpgIt's one of the most heart-warming wine stories of recent times: a tale of love and loyalty, family tradition, and the perilous passage through deserts of neglect to reach the lush garden of commercial success. The hero of this romantic journey? A forgotten prince known as Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah was born of French parents in the 1800s. His father was Syrah, long renowned for the famed red wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. His mother was the less noble but passing fair Peloursin. Yet somehow they abandoned or lost their offspring. He finally turned up in Livermore Valley east of San Francisco, planted by Irish immigrant James Concannon in 1883. But no one knew who he was.

Another Appellation for Monterey

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otr_another_appellation.jpgThe federal government late last year approved the establishment of the San Bernabe American Viticultural Area (AVA), located in southern Monterey County. Delicato Family Vineyards applied for the 24,796-acre area that includes its famed San Bernabe Vineyard property.

This is the "the world's most diverse" vineyard, according to Delicato. Almost two dozen grape varieties are grown there, including: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah/shiraz, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, barbera, gewürztraminer, white riesling, lagrein and valdiguié. More than 5,580 acres are planted to wine grapes, which is divided into 135 unique vineyard blocks, each farmed individually to maximize grape quality.
fw_winecellar_chardonnay.jpgChardonnay's attraction is like that of a movie star. It's the most widely planted premium wine grape in America, it has millions of fans and it shines in any setting--from backyard barbeques to presidential dinner parties. In fact, one of the surest signs that Chardonnay currently leads the fine-wine parade in that people are starting to jump off the bandwagon. While some of them simply seek a change (a trend known as ABC--"Anything but Chardonnay"), others have a bone to pick. Chardonnay, they complain, just doesn't taste like Chardonnay anymore.

Vigonier: An Exotic Alternative Alternative to Everyday White Wine

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There are some who think that Americans should get past an obsession with Chardonnay and start drinking other white wines, such as Viognier, as a white wine of choice.

Granted, many of the people who put this thought forward have a vested interest -- they make Viognier and would like nothing else than to be in the position of not being able to make enough of this wine, made from the white Rhône grape variety of the same name. But having tasted through a number of Viogniers from around the United States recently, I'm beginning to see the light as well.

Pinot Noir - If France is the Past, California is the Future

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PinotNoirArticle_LargePic.jpgPinot Noir may be one grape, but it has developed two distinct personalities in this country. They have as much to do with each other as a string quartet and heavy metal; both are music, but one was designed to decorate the status quo and the other to shake it up. That's how it is with Pinot Noir in America.

Judgment at Paris, Revisited

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73ChatMontChardonnay.jpg

Thirty years later, how do California wines stand up against their French counterparts? You make the call.

Thirty years ago, a young British wine retailer had the big idea to put a group of unknown Napa wines up against some the Grand-Cru wines of France in a blind tasting. So utterly outrageous was the premise that almost no one, but a single journalist from Time Magazine, bothered to even attend the event. At the time the idea that these young, New World vintners--including Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars--would even be considered in the same class as the Bordeaux and White Burgundies of  France was utterly implausible.  C'est impossible.

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