The 50-square-mile area of Livermore Valley offers more than a bedroom community for weary commuters yearning for country living. It is fertile ground for industry and agriculture. The valley is experiencing a wine-making Renaissance with over 40 wineries and more than 5,000 acres of vineyards growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Viognier, Semillon, Zinfandel and a few Italian and Spanish varieties. The valley is 15 miles long and 10 miles wide and is surrounded by coastal mountains and foothills.
Livermore Valley has an east-west orientation that allows coastal fog and marine breezes to come in from the San Francisco Bay to cool the valley’s warm air. The soil is primarily gravel, which limits the vines’ vigor and increases flavor concentration in the grapes.
In the 1760s the first vines were planted here by Spanish missionaries. A hundred and twenty years later C. H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore planted grapes and soon were counted among the leaders of the flourishing California wine industry.
Livermore Valley could count more than 50 wineries up until Prohibition. It contributed significantly to the state’s oenology and viticulture with the development of Chardonnay clones, overhead irrigation, and mechanical harvesting. Livermore Valley wineries were also the first to bottle varietal labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah.
Sauvignon Blanc, which was first planted from cuttings from Château d’Yquem in 1869, put Livermore Valley on the international wine map in 1889, when it captured America’s first gold medal at the Paris Exposition.
The wine industry has struggled with the pressures of urban expansion throughout the Bay Area and Livermore was not spared. However in the early 1990s, the winemakers of Livermore and a group of conservationists put together a plan to save the Livermore Valley from the encroaching sprawl. They crafted a deal where any new development would have to set aside land to grow crops, including grapes, or for open space. The result of these efforts has put nearly 3000 acres of grapes under agricultural easements.