Livermore: The laid-back California wine country you didn’t know about

Anne Roderique-Jones

Picture this: A warm California afternoon that’s spent sipping wine among the rolling hills, dotted with rows of vineyards and rich farmland. It’s not Napa, Sonoma or even Paso Robles.

This humble hamlet, comprised of nearly 100,000 acres of grapes, is Livermore.

Situated just 40 minutes from San Francisco (and accessible by Bay Area Rapid Transit), it’s one of California’s original and oldest wine regions with more than 50 tasting rooms that flank the charming town. Unlike more popular wine destinations, the Livermore terroir benefits from the east-west orientation of the valley and a warm growing season that’s cooled by nearby San Francisco’s breezes. Grapes love hot days and cool nights that this area provides in spades.

Here, the tastings are laid-back. You’ll likely be served by a member of the winery’s family, or certainly a friend of the family. Appointments are rarely necessary, and there’s no such thing as valet parking or glossy pairings.

Visiting Livermore is what old-school wine tasting is like, and the prices reflect as much. While many of the Napa-area wineries run upwards of $40, Livermore’s tasting rooms average $15 for a generous number of pours.

More California wine country: How to visit Napa and Sonoma in one day

Start the day at Concannon Vineyard, home to fifth-generation winemakers. There’s a Victorian house on the property, and it’s the ideal spot to lay a blanket on the lawn and sip wine in the sunshine.

3 Steves Winery is a boutique destination owned by three friends, who all happen to be named Steve. Bring your own picnic lunch and sip Sauvignon blanc under the shade overlooking 360-degree pinch-me views of the Livermore Valley. You’ll find friendly employees who are having as much fun sampling as the guests.

While on the touristy side for Livermore — if there is such a thing  — Wente Vineyards is the country’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery and best known for its Chardonnay (maybe you’ve seen it in your local grocery). It’s a big operation with two tasting rooms and beautiful grounds.

McGrail Vineyards is where daughter, Heather, runs the show and will often be there to greet guests. There are views for days, a bocce ball court and often live music from one of the winemakers. Just across the road is Bent Creek, which feels as if you’re tasting in the French countryside.

Retzlaff Vineyards offers a bucolic setting in the shade of 100-year-old pepper trees; there’s often a band, and the picnic game is strong.

Black sommelier paves the way: Andre Mack wants to bring hip hop culture to winemaking

And in a single-cluster building, visitors can find one-stop sipping at Nottingham Cellars, Longevity Wines, Embodied Wines, McKahn Family Cellars, Occasio Winery and the adjacent Wood Family Vineyards. Essentially, it’s like trick-or-treating for adults. And if wine isn’t your jam, Altamont Beer Works is across the street. 

Getting Around: Ride-hailing like Uber and Lyft are easily available. There’s the Livermore Wine Trolley for tours, and for something extra splashy, Black Tie Transportation offers black-car service. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California wine country: Livermore is a low-key alternative to Napa