What makes for a perfect wine country destination? Breathtaking vineyard landscapes paired with delectable wines are a given. Certain regions like the Tri-Valley, California, are blessed with an ideal blend of qualities that set them apart from the ordinary.
Location, location, location
Who wants to spend a chunk of their valuable vacation time getting to where they want to go? The Tri-Valley personifies ‘easy-access.’ This laid-back destination, comprising the towns of Danville, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore, is a mere 17 miles from Oakland airport on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. Hop an Uber or rent a car, and you’ll be sipping a Chardonnay and soaking in vineyard views before you know it.
The town of Dublin offers super central accommodation at the new Aloft Dublin-Pleasanton. Cozy yet modern rooms, with speedy wi-fi and Alexa-enabled amenities, make a comfortable base for your weekend exploration.
Wine is the key
In the best wine country destinations, wine is the common thread, the key that links everyone and everything. In the Tri-Valley, that key is the Livermore Valley AVA. While not as famous as nearby Napa or Sonoma, this historic region has had a profound impact on American wine.
Robert Livermore planted some of the first commercial vineyards in the valley back in the 1840s. In the following decades, California wine pioneers (some now household names) made their marks.
Charles Wetmore opened Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 and became California wine’s first competition winner in 1889 awarded in Paris, no less.
Established in 1883, James Concannon’s winery was the first in the country to produce a single variety Petit Sirah in 1961 and was integral in putting California Cabernet Sauvignon on the map.
When Carl H. Wente, began planting his vineyards in 1883, he likely didn’t expect his legacy to have such a lasting impact. In 1936, third generation winemaker, Herman introduced a single variety Chardonnay, establishing a trend in wine labeling and making the variety the number one white grape in the country. Clones of Wente’s original Chardonnay vine are planted in vineyards throughout the state and beyond.
Livermore Valley Wine Country is 35 miles east of the San Francisco Bay. The high elevation (340 – 1,000 feet) valley’s unusual east-west orientation allows moist, maritime breezes to temper the often hot summer temperatures, making the area perfect for vineyards. You’ll find a variety of soil types, including loam, sand, and gravel, similar to many famous growing regions of the world, such as Bordeaux.
In Livermore, you’ll find a vibrant wine scene. There are over 50 wineries – from small cellars to famous names. They share a mutual respect for tradition blended with innovation, sustainability, and quality. Tasting fees are minimal, and the crowds, even on weekends, are small and friendly.
Many of the wineries are so close together, you can walk from one to another. Electric bikes are easy to rent and a popular choice – there are miles and miles of bike paths in wine country. Of course, you can always allow someone else to do the driving. Black Tie Transportation offers tours for two or more and is happy to help you plan the perfect wine country day or weekend.
It’s the winery experience:
Cuda Ridge Wines may be one of the ‘new kids’ on the Livermore Valley scene, but their style is all about Old World wine. Owner/Winemaker Larry Dino is committed when it comes to producing Bordeaux style wines but has a sense of humor, too. He named the winery after his other true love—a purple 1970 Barracuda!
If you’re looking for Organic wines, venture over to Retzlaff Vineyards & Estate Winery – the only certified organic producer in the East Bay. The vines are the original rootstock, planted by the Taylor family over 40 years ago. The varieties are Bordeaux, but the wines are all Livermore terroir. Grab a chair in the garden, beneath the century-old Pepper Trees and savor the real taste of Livermore Valley.
Fenestra Winery considered the region’s first family-owned boutique winery opened in 1976, but their buildings and vineyards go back to the pioneer period of Livermore Valley wine – 1889. Today, winemaker Aaron Luna oversees the 16 acres of Rhone varieties – Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Bring a picnic, purchase a bottle of True Red—their biggest seller, and enjoy the relaxed wine country life.
No visit to Livermore Valley is complete without stopping by Wente Vineyards on Arroyo Road (they also have a shop in town on Tesla Road).
Once the site of historic Cresta Blanca Winery, the Wente family (aka California’s 1st family of Chardonnay) bought the property in the 1980s, restoring and developing the land into a laid-back winery destination. Now operated by the 5th generation of the Wente family, the wines are crafted from 100% sustainably grown estate fruit, including their landmark Chardonnay.
Wine Country Cuisine
The Tri-Valley has a proud agricultural legacy that attracts creative chefs, innovative food shops, fresh Farmer’s Markets, and a myriad of foodie delights.
In Pleasanton, Bottle Taps takes the neighborhood brewpub to another level. They stock every conceivable style of beer you could imagine (owner Eric Wall is a Certified Cicerone) and pair them with California cuisine to delicious effect.
Nearby Sabio on Main whips up creatively crafty cocktails and seasonally inspired global cuisine. Chef Francis Hogan proudly scouts out the freshest local ingredients at Pleasanton’s Farmer’s Market and sustainable vendors.
The town of Dublin is renowned for its incredible selection of authentic, international restaurants. A perfect example is the Mayflower Restaurant. It may be located in a quiet strip mall, across from the Aloft Hotel, but book a table for Dim-Sum brunch, and you’d swear you’d been transported to Singapore or Hong Kong.
The charming small town of Danville is home to Danville Harvest. This popular local spot is all about farm to table meets comfort food—hush puppies, smoked ham eggs benedict, burgers, and salads all served up in a 1903 heritage house.
One of the valley’s newest and hottest dining adventures may be found at Range Life in downtown Livermore. This cozy spot is the creation of Sommelier Sara and Chef Bill Niles, who left their successful careers in the big city to pursue a Wine Country dream. Their passion shows in the creative menu and wine list.
Wine Country is more than wine
Sometimes even the most dedicated ‘wine-tourist’ needs a break, and the options are endless in the Tri-Valley.
If the outdoors are calling you, hike up to the top of Mount Diablo for a panoramic view from the Golden Gate to the Sierra Nevada range.
Regional parks and trails abound. Pleasanton has over 1200 acres of open spaces, and for the ultimate outdoor experience, majestic Yosemite National Park is only 3 hours away.
Looking for culture? Famous playwright Eugene O’Neil found inspiration in the Tri-Valley. He wrote many of his most revered works while living at Tao House, near Danville, and the site is now a National Historic Site.
The Black Hawk Museum, also in Danville, will amaze you with their phenomenal collection of antique and collectible cars and the inspiring ‘Spirit of the Old West’ exhibit.
Livermore is home to the Bankhead Theater, who hosts performing artists from all over the world. Catch a play, a blues legend, or Broadway musical.
And let’s not forget shopping! The luxurious San Francisco Premium Outlets and Black Hawk Shopping Center can satisfy the urges of the choosiest diva.
California’s Tri-Valley has it all—the Wine Country Trifecta: wine food, and fun.
Hilarie Larson was a guest of Visit Tri-Valley and the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association. All impressions, descriptions, and opinions are her own.
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