I was driving down East Avenue one beautiful winter afternoon when, as if by fate, the sight of fluttering purple and yellow flags caught my eye. A sign just below those flags indicated that Cuda Ridge Winery was open for tasting. I remembered seeing the Cuda Ridge name at the 2009 Livermore Harvest Festival, but at that time I did not have the opportunity to taste their wine.
I turned onto the gravel driveway with grape vines to my left and right. The driveway led me to the tasting room with the name Cuda Ridge prominently displayed above the tall wood double doors. I walked inside and was greeted with the wonderful aroma of wine barrels and fermenting grapes. The room was beautifully decorated with ornate artwork on the walls, the display of stacked wine barrels, and the fine granite table top on which were placed purple labeled wine bottles containing the selection of wines to be tasted.
It was on this day that I met Larry Dino, the winemaker and owner of Cuda Ridge Winery who met me with a warm, friendly smile. The tasting experience at Cuda Ridge reminded me of what I love about Livermore; the opportunity to have a one on one conversation with the winemakers to learn first hand about the hard work and care they put into their craft. Larry introduced me to his Bordeaux style wine. Each of the varietals I tried had a unique and wonderful flavor that I knew I would have to introduce the rest of the Bryersantís Family to. A short time later we had that opportunity and needless to say, Cuda Ridge has become one of our favorite Livermore Wineries and an easy choice for featured winery.
Jenny and I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Larry in his tasting room to get to know him and his winery a little better. I always find it fascinating to learn the history that goes into creating the masterpieces.
Larry shared with us that his winemaking adventures began eleven years ago. He and his wife Margie had a passion for wine and would frequently visit Napa and Sonoma for wine tasting and tours. In 1999 they decided to take the next step and try to make their own. In the garage of their Fremont, California home with grapes obtained from a friend in Sonoma they started on their winemaking journey. Unfortunately, with a lack of temperature control in their garage and only a basic knowledge of winemaking, they found their first attempt to be undrinkable. Larry and Margie did not let this failure stop them. They learned from the mistakes they made and tried again. The next year they found the wine was not exactly what they wanted it to be, but this time it was drinkable.
The Dino’s continued to practice and hone their home winemaking and in 2001 or 2002 decided they wanted to move to the wine country. They looked for homes in Sonoma where they could plant some vines to continue their home winemaking. When the offer they made on a home fell through, the course of events that led to the birth of Cuda Ridge was set into motions. It was on the way home from Sonoma that Larry saw an old 1970 Plymouth Barracuda sitting on the side of the road with a for sale sign. Over the next three years Larry worked on restoring the Cuda, the car that would bring a name and face to his future.
In 2003, the Dino family made their move to Livermore. Larry and Margie had been coming to Livermore and had made wine connections. They built a barrel room in the garage of their new home and started to ramp up their home winemaking. They had learned from the years of trial and error and now were able to control the temperature of the wine in their new barrel room. According to Larry, the wine started to get really good.
One day the Dino’s were bottling their homemade wine and were trying to figure out what to call it. Margie suggested, “Dino’s Vino” and as they were deciding that name might not work, one of Larry’s car enthusiast friends called out, “here’s to Cuda Ridge Wines.” With that statement, Cuda Ridge was born. The label took on the plum crazy purple that adorned Larry’s Cuda and the artwork on the label, that many mistake as rolling hills, is actually an artistic impression of the Cuda.
The Dinos were soon producing more wine than they could consume and the decision was made to start producing wine for the public. They moved the operation to a winery located at the home of their friends Mark and Marie Triska on Greenville Road and in 2007 started production of their first Cuda Ridge vintage. They were at the Triska property for the 2007 and 2008 harvest and moved to their current location (5385 East Avenue) in May of 2009.
Larry is a huge advocate for the Livermore Wine Valley and has made it a point that 100% of the grapes he uses in his wines are grown in the Livermore Valley from (mostly) smaller family owned vineyards. His focus is on the Bordeaux style wines, which typically in the Bordeaux tradition have lower alcohol and more balance. To do this, Larry tends to pick his grapes earlier than most wineries. He has gone from producing 700 cases in 2008 to 1100 cases in 2009 so there will be additional opportunities to enjoy Larry’s fantastic masterpieces. His attention to the process has brought about the creation of some award winning wines including the gold medal winning 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (SF Chronicle Wine Competition) and the bronze medal winning 2008 Petite Verdot (Alameda Best of the Bay and Orange County).
In the Bordeaux region there are two major white varietals (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and five major red varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, and Petite Verdot). With the upcoming release, all of these wines will be represented at Cuda Ridge. This is not just your typical release. When Larry does a release he goes big and will be featuring the following seven wines:
2008 Cabernet Franc
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2008 Small Lot Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2007 Bien-Amié Reserve
For those of you who have tried and loved the Cabernet Franc, that beautiful flavor continues with the 2008 addition. Anticipation has definitely built around the release of Cuda Ridge’s first Malbec, which is sure to be another medal winner. One of the things I am looking forward to with this release is the opportunity to taste, side by side, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2008 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. It is always interesting to find the differences between wines made from the same varietal.
Larry alerted me to the fact that the gold medal winning 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that was originally bottled had sold out. Luckily for us he held back one barrel, which he bottled for this release. A gold medal wine that has had the opportunity to mature one more year is sure to be a gem.
The Black Label is the Cuda Ridge indication for a wine that doesn’t follow the Bordeaux tradition. Although Larry specialized in the old world Bordeaux tradition, he is not afraid to venture outside the lines. Those of you who had the opportunity to experience the phenomenal and unfortunately sold out Renegade Zinfandel, know the treasures those Black Labels can contain. I cannot wait to taste what is in store for us in the Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon release.
The release wine I am most looking forward to is the 2007 Bien-Amié. This wine derives its grapes from the Dino family home vineyard, which is made up of 75 Cabernet vines and 50 Merlot vines. The Bien-Amié, which means beloved in French, is made up of a blend of 80% Cabernet and 20% Merlot.
The release for wine club members or Cuda Cadres as they are called, will be on Saturday June 26th. There will be an open house release on Saturday and Sunday July 10th and 11th, which will not only feature the wines, but also vintage cars, great food, fantastic music, and fine creations from multiple venders.
For further details on this event visit the Bryersantís Events page or visit the Cuda Ridge website.
Location: 5385 East Ave, Unit B, Livermore, CA 94550
– Phone: 510-304-0914
– Email: email@example.com
Tasting Room Hours: Friday – Sunday 12:00 – 4:30
Click on the link below for complementary wine tasting at Cuda Ridge