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.
Ramon and Debra Rios are living the dream. On their vast tract of grape-blanketed land, the wine flows like Hi-C at a rich kid's birthday party as visitors taste the Rioses' expressions of chardonnay, pinot grigio, tempranillo, petite syrah, and port. The venue also provides a space for plenty of other activities—morning yoga in the lush green vineyards, evening cigar and wine tastings, and even the occasional live-music performance.
The inspiration behind Alebrijes Mexican Bistro is the stuff of nightmares—Pedro Linares’ nightmares, to be specific. At the age of 30, the Mexican artist fell deathly ill. As he lay in bed, unconscious, he dreamt of a strange world filled with brightly colored monsters—a donkey with butterfly wings and a rooster with the head of an eagle among others—all shouting “alebrijes, alebrijes, alebrijes!” When he awoke, he wanted to show his family and friends all that he had seen, so he replicated his first alebrije from brightly painted papier-mâché. To this day, his family still crafts these strange creatures to serve as unusual home accents.
Pedro Linares' monsters inspired Alebrijes Mexican Bistro's name, as well as its decor, which showcases brightly colored paintings of his nightmarish beasts. In 2012, the bistro also won the Lodi News Reader’s Choice award for Best Mexican Restaurant, thanks to its gourmet burritos and regionally inspired dishes such as oaxaca mole, guanajuato bacon-wrapped prawns, and guacamole prepared in the style of Mexico City. The restaurant also infuses their own tequilas.
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.
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.