Reason #1: Discover Livermore Valley Wine Country
Livermore Valley is a hidden gem among Northern California wine regions. Sure, Napa Valley and Sonoma are more famous. But several of the 50-plus Livermore wineries gained fame before those areas. The broad array of Livermore wines and tasting opportunities are well worth the hour or so drive southeast of San Francisco.
To orient to the region’s rich wine history, consider that the first California wine to win an international prize was awarded to a Livermore Valley winery in 1889. Wente Vineyards purchased that winery’s historic vineyards and renovated the facility several decades ago. The Wente family established the site as a premier wine country destination with a tasting room, The Restaurant, a renowned fine dining venue, the Summer Concerts venue, and the 18-hole, Greg Norman-designed Course set among the vineyards.
Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards has shaped Calif. wine history. The oldest winery in the U.S. with continuous production under one family’s ownership, the winery’s signature wine is Chardonnay—most Calif. chardonnay comes from the original Wente vine cuttings.
Second generation Ernest Wente was the first American winemaker to label wines with the name of the grape. Choosing chardonnay or sauvignon blanc seems obvious now but was unheard of before the Wentes took this risk-taking step in the 1930s. American wines become more approachable—no more racking your brain over which French villages made chardonnay or merlot.
Ernest Wente purchased a Livermore vineyard property in 1933 from a French-born neighbor who had planted vine cuttings from two famous Bordeaux chateaux. The natural well on the property was attached to the legend of Joaquin Murrieta, the Gold Rush cowboy who discovered the scenic locale and watering hole during his Robin Hood-style adventures.
In 1990 fourth-generation vintner Phil Wente renovated the historic winery building purchased by his grandfather and opened Murrieta’s Well. His partner at the time was Sergio Traverso, a well-known Argentinian winemaker. They built a ski lodge-style tasting room above the cellar and added Spanish and Portuguese vines to the estate.
Reason #2: Experience Murrieta’s Well Gourmet Food and Wine
While respecting the warm, wood décor of the tasting room and stone wine cellar built into the hillside, the Wentes renovated the property in 2015. An expansive patio opened at the entrance, and an outdoor tasting area was added upstairs. A new, gleaming kitchen launched gourmet wine and food tasting experiences. The winery chef taps into The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards for their house-cured charcuterie, but displays his creative culinary talent with the new Wine and Food Experience.
The essence of the new Wine and Food experience is a restaurant-quality lunch accompanied by six Murrieta’s Well wines in a private corner of the historic cellar. A dedicated wine ambassador, aka personal winery sommelier, guides you through the pairings during the 1.5-hour meal available Thursday through Saturday.
At an autumn pairing, we were welcomed with a glass of Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé to sip with a gougère amuse bouche—a wine country version of the round French puff pastry filled with pancetta, pickled mango, whipped cream cheese, and mint. The refreshing grenache rosé with its hint of fruitiness played with the appetite-teasing gougère with its creamy, salty, sour, and herbal notes. A “pasta” course of zucchini ribbon “linguini” with goat cheese, tomato oil, and toasted pine nuts was a lovely match for the winery’s highly acclaimed, single vineyard sauvignon blanc.
Murrieta’s Well winemaker Robbie Meyer personally likes the medium-bodied sauvignon blanc that he selects from the best vines. Meyer oversees each vineyard block as if he will bottle each grape variety on its own. But Meyer is a master blender and especially enjoys crafting the winery’s signature white blend called The Spur and the signature red blend, The Whip. “I optimize the blend to enhance the aromatics, the mouth-feel, and the pairing capability with food.”
Meyer’s attention to detail is evident in the pairing of salmon brandade in a pink pepper sauce with the balanced complexity of The Spur. Our ambassador then poured The Whip, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, other Bordeaux varietals, and petite sirah. The Whip’s intensity matched the deep body and flavors of the rich, black pepper filet of beef polpettine (meatball) with gouda mashed potatoes and sauce au poivre. This out-of-the-park pairing was the crowd favorite.
The dessert brownie with intriguing fig jam with Murrieta’s Well port sparked several guests’ interest in the world of fortified wine. Due to a pregnant guest who substituted the wine experience for a charcuterie and cheese plate, we also enjoyed the tangy blue cheese she shared with the rich but not-too-sweet port.
Reason #3: Explore More Murrieta’s Well and Livermore Tastings
Other tasting opportunities at Murrieta’s Well present an excellent introduction to the wines and most offer well-curated bistro plates.
The patio area overlooks the historic, stone-fronted well, and a cornhole pit and giant jenga game create a convivial atmosphere. Open in warm weather, patio tastings are by the glass or bottle with several menu items for purchase: The “Market Fresh” board with veggies, crackers, and house-made hummus, the charcuterie and cheese board, and house-made “barrel bites,” fresh pieces of flatbread served with a savory mustard dip.
In the upstairs tasting bar, a wine ambassador guides guests through several wine flights. The ambassador shares background on the wines and history of the estate. The balcony offers views of the estate vineyards and the Livermore Valley countryside. The historic barrel room in the wine cellar offers by-the-glass wines or bottle service with the same menu options as the patio.
Like most wineries, Murrieta’s Well offers special club member tasting options and discounts. In the upstairs club lounge, members enjoy complimentary flights and purchase wines by the glass or the bottle. The full lounge menu includes the items available on the patio and cellar as well as rotating options such as salads, flatbreads topped with mushroom and pesto or smoked chicken, and pork Bolognese on polenta.
In addition to the Murrieta’s Well venues, Wente Vineyards offers three venues for tastings, vineyard tours, and other options including a “Winemaking Blending Experience” where you take home a bottle of your custom blended wine.
There are many more Livermore Valley wine adventures from the hip Concannon Vineyard wine bar and BoaVentura Vineyard tastings within a converted barn to a block of high caliber wineries anchored by Nottingham Cellars in an unlikely office park. Close to Bay Area cities, this wine country destination is full of surprises, friendly vintners, good wine, and good food.
More information is available on Murrieta’s Well tasting experiences here. https://murrietaswell.com/experience/visit
Learn more about the Wente Vineyards tastings and tours here
Full information on events and wineries in Livermore Valley here