I was recently made aware of a blog article written by Steve Heimoff, a writer with Wine Enthusiast Magazine, which was titled, “Trying to rescue a failing appellation.” It was not a flattering article for the Livermore Wine Country and in the course of the article Heimoff wrote off Livermore as being the weak link, unable to compete with the other California appellations. It was amazing to me that such a derogatory article could be written by someone who readily acknowledged that he had only limited experience tasting wine in the Livermore Valley. This article spoke less of journalistic integrity and more of the wine snobbery that has become so rampant with the success of Napa and Sonoma.
The thing that always amazes me is how people forget the past. I don’t pretend to be a wine expert, but I do know from history that 35 years ago the Napa Valley bore a remarkable likeness to the Livermore Valley of today. Back then Napa was made up of small wineries whose names and wines were unknown outside of the valley. There were no tasting fees and winemakers were happy to hang out with visitors and talk to them about their wines. The wine makers stuck together and supported each other because they knew that if one person succeeded, the valley succeeded. Napa is known throughout the world today because 35 years ago those wine makers didn’t listen to what the rest of the world had to say about how California wines couldn’t stand up to French wine. They worked hard to learn the craft and make the best wine they could. It is because of that hard work, disregard for the wine snobs, and great publicity that a few good wineries were able to push into being the Napa of today.
A couple of years ago I went with some friends and fellow wine lovers to the Napa Valley for wine tasting. We all live in Livermore, but the instinctual thing to do at that time was to go to Napa. I had previously enjoyed many fantastic wine excursions to the Napa Valley, but on this occasion it seemed that everything I tried tasted horrible. The taste of the wine and the pricey tasting fees left me more than disappointed the Napa Valley, which typically goes unquestioned for its taste.
Several months later, I found myself with those same friends talking about that Napa experience. That is when the question was asked. Why do we make the trek to Napa when we are surrounded by more than 50 wineries in the Livermore Valley? The answer was that Napa was known. It was a familiar habit. Everyone around me spoke praises about Napa so it only made sense that Napa was where I should go for the best experience. It was that summer evening that we made it our goal to learn what the Livermore Valley wineries really had to offer and to share our experiences with others. It was time to get away from the wine snobbery, forget about the price of the wine or the popularity of the wineries, and just find some fantastic wine.
Since that time I have had the opportunity to taste the wines of 45 Livermore wineries and I am looking forward to experiencing the wines of the few Livermore wineries I have not yet been to. I do not pretend to have the all-knowing palate, but I do know what I like and what I don’t like. I have had some bad Livermore wine experiences, some good Livermore wine experiences, and many more phenomenal Livermore wine experiences. I have made it my goal to share those good experiences with other wine lovers I come in contact with.
While looking through the comments posted on Heimoff’s blog it was nice to see the familiar names of some of Livermore’s best winemakers, Larry Dino (Cuda Ridge Winery), Chris Graves (Ruby Hill Winery), Mark Clarin (Picazo Vineyards), Meredith Miles (Fenestra Winery), Collin Cranor (Nottingham Cellars). If you want an example of why Livermore is not failing or in need of rescue, these are some of the people you should visit. Don’t stop with them. The list of Livermore’s great wineries is so much larger.
Virginie Boone, another writer for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, has taken over the Livermore Valley region from Heimoff. I hope she has the opportunity to experience the Livermore that I know. With her new assignment, she has inherited a writer’s dream. She has the opportunity to be the voice for the Livermore Valley that George Taber was for the Napa Valley back in 1976.
One posted comment on the blog made the statement that “If the wineries of the Livermore Valley want to be seen as important, they need to do more than sit back and tell the world that they are important.” I can tell you from my own experiences that Livermore isn’t sitting back and the outside acclaim Livermore wineries are receiving shows this. Livermore wineries both big and small have been putting in the hard work to make great tasting wine and are ready to make the Livermore Valley known.
California is blessed with an abundance of great wine regions. I don’t mind sampling wine from those other regions, but I will continue to enjoy researching all that the Livermore Valley (my backyard) has to offer and share those experiences with the world.