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New Traditions in Livermore Valley

New Traditions in Livermore Valley

Livermore Valley, 40 minutes east of San Francisco, is a wine destination that offers incredible wines with family-style hospitality. The region also manages to do so at reasonable prices, a feat that seems to have become increasingly difficult for the neighboring wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. 

Livermore Valley wine country dates back to 1880 and is famous for both the Wente and Concannon names. In fact, the Wente Chardonnay clone is the source material for over 80% of the Chardonnay grown in the United States, while Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon clones are the source material for 80% of Cabernet Sauvignon grown in California*. 

What Livermore Valley is About

Photo courtesy of Livermore Valley AVA.

The Livermore Valley AVA, in the shape of an oval, is approximately 25 miles long and 18 miles wide, with 4,000 acres under vine. The soils are varied with a high gravel content, which decreases vine vigor, thus concentrating flavors in the grapes. This, coupled with a wide diurnal range that can reach a 40-degree spread in one day, ensures that Livermore is a quality wine-growing region for both red and white wines. Maritime breezes and extensive morning fog from the Pacific greatly help to moderate the hot summer temperatures in the Valley.  

With approachable price points (the average tasting room flight is $20) and a casual wine tasting atmosphere, the region is primed to welcome young and more diverse consumers. At the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in late January, it was reported that by 2040, 55% of 30-year-olds in the US will identify as multicultural (Census Bureau US)***. The diversification of the wine industry is happening, and offering tasting experiences that cater to changing demographics is key. 

Livermore Valley: The OG of California

Photo courtesy of Livermore Valley AVA.

Livermore Valley, one of California’s oldest wine regions, played an important role in shaping California’s wine industry. Robert Livermore planted the first commercial vines in the area in the 1840s. While both Wente and Concannon founded their wineries in the early 1880s, fifth generation grape growers exist alongside new members of the Livermore Valley wine community, which now totals 50 member wineries. 

With its 140-year wine history, Livermore Valley is steeped in tradition but by no means change-averse. In Livermore, you can still enjoy quality wines but without the hefty price tags; tastings don’t need to be booked weeks or months out; and, very often, the winemaker may be the one pouring your wines. This is the case with Rosie Fierro of Rosa Fierro Cellars in the Vasco Row area of Livermore, who opened her tasting room in March of 2020, the first month of the pandemic. “I pour the wines myself, so my customers really get to know me and learn about my story, the stories behind my wines, and the winemaking process directly from the owner and winemaker,” says Fierro. ”“The Livermore wine community was very supportive, and sent a lot of customers my way for tastings, which really helped me build my customer base.”

Lanny Replogle and his wife Fran started Fenestra Winery in 1976 when there were only five other wineries. Fenestra, a micro producer with a 3,000 annual case production, focuses on making world-class wines from all Livermore fruit. Replogle reminds us, “In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this was an important wine producing area.” At the time there were over 50 vineyards and wineries in Livermore, but Prohibition would stall further growth. 

The Tasting Experiences of Livermore Valley

Photo courtesy of Livermore Valley AVA.

Phil Long of Longevity Wines in the Vasco Row area confirms the importance of Livermore Valley to California’s wine history. “I think one of the little-known facts about the Livermore Valley is just how old the Valley is as a wine region,” he notes. “It’s one of the oldest in California. Napa won the Judgement of Paris in 1976, but the Livermore Valley won the Grand Prix at the International Paris Exposition in 1889!” 

Long, a Black vintner, is one of the key faces and voices for diversity in the US wine industry, where only 1%: of wineries are Black-owned**. Long is also the president of the AAAV (Association of African American Vintners), a prominent role both for him and for Livermore. Longevity leans on experiences to ensure people feel the approachability and “no pretense” vibe of the tasting room. They host live music, food vendors, and magicians, and have robust private event bookings. 

3 Steves Winery is speaking to the modern wine consumer through the wines that they pour. In addition to classic wines, they’re also making interesting wines that would appeal to this demographic, such as concrete-fermented wines, chillable reds, and wines from obscure grapes such as Cabernet Pfeffer, which they source from a local vineyard. “Even if no one in Livermore knows what Cabernet Pfeffer is, the stories of how we came to make it and the excitement we have talking about it, is what we find people love the most,” says winemaker Alex Wolfe. “We try our best to ground every wine and make it relatable to the everyday consumer, and that philosophy has been paying off so far! The interesting and different wines we make are at, or near the top, of our best-seller lists year over year.” Because of this, 3 Steves just grafted one acre of Cabernet Pfeffer vines to their estate vineyard and plan to add an additional acre next year. 

Innovations in Livermore Valley

Photo courtesy of Livermore Valley AVA.

Wente Vineyards, founded in 1883, is the country’s oldest continuously-operated family-owned winery, and is currently celebrating its 140th anniversary. The Wente brand did well during the pandemic because people bought what they knew on wine shelves. Wente wines are widely available at major grocery stores and retail outlets around the country.  Aly Wente, 5th generation winegrower and vice president of marketing and customer experiences, recently sat on a panel at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, discussing how the Wente brand has hit the proverbial goldmine by successfully bringing in younger consumers while also nurturing their boomer base.

“We have made a concerted effort to share our story in a way that is meaningful to younger consumers,” explains Wente. “As an example, over the past few years, we have started sharing more in-depth information on our sustainability practices—we have leveraged data and key initiatives to share how we prioritize sustainability across the organization.” While Millennial and Gen-Z consumers tend to champion eco-friendly practices in most sectors, Wente believes that demonstrating the winery’s commitment to sustainability efforts resonates with both young and mature demographics. “I think our boomer consumers have also found interest in learning something new about Wente Vineyards,” she says. “For our core boomer consumers, we like to make sure they still feel connected to the family and consistent quality we have delivered over the years.”***

Photo courtesy of Livermore Valley AVA.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wente’s tasting experiences shifted to seated tastings only, with no bellying up to the bar, as was done previously. This allowed tasting room associates to spend more time with each party, and created a better environment in which to promote the wine club. This “quality not quantity” trend has been seen in wine regions throughout the United States. 

Livermore Valley’s approachability and distinct character ensure that it is a wine region poised to succeed as we look to the future. Aly Wente says it perfectly: “We make quality wines and provide experiences that allow consumers to engage with our wines. While many wine regions continue to elevate price points to speak to niche audiences, I hope to see new consumers discover the approachable nature of Livermore Valley Wine Country.”




*** Quotes transcribed from speakers at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium or pulled from slides displayed at the symposium