The history of wine in the Livermore Valley spans 250 years. Spanish missionaries planted the region's first grapes in the 18th century, and Robert Livermore sowed the first commercial vines in the mid-19th. These early efforts led to America's first international gold medal for wine at the 1889 Paris Exposition, when California grapes beat out bordeaux in the annual race to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The guides at Livermore Valley Wine & Cycle Tours lead cyclists into this historic, scenic valley in which some 40 wineries currently reside. Rides between them follow moderate routes, letting peddlers soak in views of the canyons and ridges that rise and fall between the clustered rows of vines.
Casa Flores crafts a menu of traditional Mexican entrees that can quell even the most persistent hunger mobs. Guests can choose from more than 20 combination platters, in addition to a savory selection of fajitas, seafood, and chef's specialties.
In the years following World War II, Dutch immigrant John Van Ruiten sought to fulfill his dream of owning a vineyard. With a simple handshake as his contract, he purchased the land that would help him turn that reverie into a verdant realty. More than a half-century later, the wine empire spawned by that handshake continues to sprawl as quickly as the vines of its zinfandel grapes. These grapes and more now stretch across the 800 acres that Van Ruiten Family Vineyards call home, earning the winery high accolades—including a nod in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming their 2007 old vine zinfandel among the top 12 wines in the world in 2009.
In Van Ruiten's tasting room, guests can sample the winery's signature zinfandel, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon–shiraz blend before retiring to shady corners of the courtyard or an outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards. Among the vines, nesting boxes house owls that—as an alternative to pesticides—hunt down rodents and use their bright eyes to scare away enterprising grape thieves.
Woodbridge Winery's tastings and tours enroll ordinary laymen in a day course that unleashes the close-kept secrets of liquefied grapes. Tipplers start off in the Woodbridge tasting room, where they can sample a rotating quartet of wines typically not available in stores as smiling sommeliers guide untutored taste buds around every flavor note. After a boxed lunch of sandwiches and chips, curious quaffers follow experienced vine wranglers on a one-hour tour of the winery grounds. Like a peek behind the curtain of a magician’s workshop or a trip into the depths of a Wonkaian lollipop mine, the visit includes a look at the pressing operation and the red barrel-aging room.
For four generations, the Watts family has been growing grapes beside the Mokelumne River, and their fresh and fruity wines have drawn accolades at state and county fairs across the country. They began by simply growing grapes for other wineries and their pet bats before their first efforts at fermentation, and their long experience in viniculture show in a fruit-focused philosophy that seeks to draw out the best properties of their riverside microclimate. An intimate, recently built tasting room done up in vernal green welcomes oenophiles to try the latest blends or a sip from the Butterfly line, whose proceeds help support pediatric-cancer research.
Borra Vineyard's third-generation grape gurus summon succulent spheres from the California soil to ferment spirituous batches of distinctive sippables. Along with reducing the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer, drinking certain wines can enhance meals and conversation skills. Sample a featured selection of winery libations inside the cozy cropland tasting room, a rural retreat for thirsty tongues, which boasts a brick façade and shaded porch. As a memento of wine-swishing safaris, visitors take away a bottle of liquid lusciousness to practice newfound gargling techniques in home
tasting rooms. Bottled on-site at Borra's Gill Creek Ranch vineyard, the ambrosial 47.5° Syrah 2007 Limited Release teases taste buds with hints of boysenberries, plums, and molasses while providing the courage necessary to ask a stranger to dance, even in the absence of music.
Boasting a bevy of organic wines within its solar-powered vineyard, The Lucas Winery welcomes wine enthusiasts to train their palates with taste-toning sips of chardonnay, zinfandel, cabernet, and rosé. Over the course of the 45-minute tasting, guests will swirl glasses, waft wine, and elegantly tipple a minimum of five sippables (a $10 value per person).
Since 2004, Super Jet Limo's smartly dressed chauffeurs have transported clients in a fleet of stylish town cars. They drive travelers to and from San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. In addition, they facilitate sightseeing tours and provide transportation for special events, such as proms and weddings. In the case of the latter, they'll even outfit limos with customized Just Married signs.
It's a daunting task to visit all the wineries in the Napa/Sonoma region—there are more than 900 of them. Luckily, Stacy's Wine Tours is up to the challenge. They whisk visitors to a wealth of boutique wineries and vineyards during customized wine tours aboard a fleet of luxury vehicles. Guests can cruise through the grape-dotted countryside inside a stretch limo or opt for a basic designated-driver service.
They can also skip the wine tastings and head out on a brewery tour via Tap in Tours. A tour bus described as an "Irish pub on wheels"—though it's missing drunken novelists and poets—ferries passengers to various microbreweries along the 121 and 101 corridors, including Lagunitas, Hop Monk, and Petaluma Hills Brewing Company.
Northern California Travel and Tours books trips with Delta Charter Bus to get people to and from local casinos such as Jackson Rancheria Casino. The buses stop at 11 prearranged locations and drop people off at the casino. After five hours, the bus makes the return trip.
An enormous redwood wine tank stands at the heart of Oak Ridge Winery. At one point it held 50,000 gallons of zinfandel, but these days the barrel echoes with laughter and clinking wine glasses. Inside, at a red-brick bar top, winemaker Rudy Maggio and his partners Don and Rocky Reynolds introduce customers to the flavors in their hand-crafted wines.
To craft their specialties, the trio carefully tends aisles of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc grapes. However, they take particular pride in their 120-year-old zinfandel vines, which have gnarled, weatherworn features and no patience for kids these days. The wines of these grapes—including Moss Roxx Ancient Vine Zinfandel and OZV—consistently take medals at international wine competitions.
At Wines of Wine OT’s polished, granite-topped wine bar, wine connoisseurs pour small sips of vintages from Six Hands Winery and Sorelle Winery. Catering completely to diehard oenophiles, the storefront stocks a vast inventory of handmade wine-barrel furniture. Artisans dismantle barrels and reassemble them into Adirondack chairs, cocktail tables, and fire pits. Additionally, they stock hundreds of white oak wine barrels, which customers can repurpose as home decor or fish-shooting galleries.
Since arriving in California in 1938, the Weibel family has produced rare and celebrated varieties of wine. To accomplish this, they draw from three generations of family experience—both in their ancestral home of Switzerland and in the fertile valleys of Mendocino County. Today, Fred Weibel, Jr. continues the traditions of his grandfather and father before him by growing, brewing, and bottling delicious wines such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, or the vineyard's signature sparkling whites.
The Serpentarium Retail makes caring for pet snakes and reptiles easy with a vast stock of habitats, decor, and food. The team can furnish all of your needs, starting with a terrarium and bedding for comfort, misters to keep the air moist, and canned crickets that make healthy snacks.
Casual visitors to Harmony Wynelands Winery might be forgiven for thinking the vineyard’s name derives from its perfectly balanced wine selection, but a surprise waits in the blue and white barn amid the rows of grape vines. There presides owner Bob Hartzell’s prize possession: the 2/11 Robert Morton organ that was originally installed in the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The winery satisfies music lovers with regularly scheduled concerts, enophiles with on-demand tasting experiences, and both at the same time with finger-licking wineglass players. The musical theme is also reflected in the vineyard’s Orchestra wine club, which fans can join at a Soloist or Maestro level to receive wine shipments and special offers.