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The East Bay's Unexpected Wine Country

The East Bay's Unexpected Wine Country

If you think you need to go all the way north to Napa Valley to experience California's great wines, think again. Believe it or not, it was a wine from Livermore in the East Bay – rather than Napa or Sonoma – that won a gold medal at the 1889 Paris Exhibition. Wines from this underrated and relatively unknown area still win awards frequently. The East Bay can be an oenophile's paradise, with enough wineries and tasting rooms to justify several trips back. So plan your day to visit the best wineries in the East Bay.

Livermore Valley

Livermore Valley is the vibrant hub of the East Bay's wine scene. Its combination of fog and sun makes it the perfect place to grow world-class grapes. In fact, Robert Livermore, the man for whom the valley is named, recognized this ideal climate and began growing wine grapes here in the mid-19th century. This area was once California's leading wine region. Today, that historical legacy lives on in the 50+ wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms in Livermore Valley.


As you would expect, the region produces some of the wonderful zinfandel, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon wines for which Northern California is so well-known. However, that isn't all it can do. Livermore Valley also offers a wide range of less stereotypically Californian wines. You'll be able to taste (and buy) a wide range of other types of wine including everything from albariño and carignane to trebbiano and touriga nacional. To find these particular types of wine, visit En Garde Winery for albariño, Eckert Estate Winery or Thomas Coyne Winery for carignane, Tamas Estates for trebbiano, and Bodegas Aguirre Winery, Fenestra Winery, or Murrieta's Well for touriga nacional.


Those on a budget will appreciate the fact that many of Livermore's wineries do not charge a tasting fee – and many of those that do will either waive the fee with a purchase or apply the fee to any wine purchases you make.


While you're enjoying the wine in Livermore, don't miss out on the food. As you would expect from an area with such emphasis on quality, many of the restaurants located at the wineries offer food that's as good as the wines. The array of locally sourced dishes rival anything you would find in San Francisco.

Other East Bay Options

Depending on where you're staying and how much time you have, a trip to Livermore might not be an option. Don't worry – that doesn't mean you have to miss out on the world-class wines from the area! The Berkeley/Oakland/Alameda area offers several wineries. Thanks to their urban location, it's impractical for these places to grow their own grapes. Instead, they purchase them from vineyards in the surrounding regions. The grapes are then transformed into wonderful – often award-winning – wines in warehouses or other urban spaces.


Some of these wineries in the inner East Bay offer tasting by appointment only, but quite a few others have regular tasting hours. These include Urbano Cellars Winery in Berkeley, Rosenblum Cellars and Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda, and Irish Monkey Cellars and JC Cellars (among several others) in Oakland. The tasting hours at many of these relatively small wineries tend to be limited – such as five hours per day on the weekends only – so check online or give the winery a call before your visit.


While you won't enjoy the full experience of gazing out over rows of scenic grape vines, these wineries do have some advantages over their Livermore counterparts. Their location makes them more easily accessible for those staying in the inner East Bay. Also, they give you the opportunity to try wines made from grapes from other locations. If you have your heart set on tasting wines made from grapes grown in Napa, Sonoma, Monterey, or other California locations, you'll have the chance at these urban wineries.


—By Gretchen Holm
Gretchen Holm, a Bay Area native and major foodie, is the Guide to Oakland for About.com, a New York Times company. See her website at http://www.berkeleywriter.com.

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