It appears that the Napa Valley got all the best marketers in California! Livermore is about the same distance south-east of San Francisco that Napa is north-east but seems to get very little press. Which is quite shocking considering how extremely good their wines are! Livermore is an older wine region than both Napa and Sonoma, is the home to California Chardonnay and last year produced the number one in Cabernet in the United States!
So Livermore Valley wine country is a genuine hidden gem – with delicious wines waiting for you to come and taste them! So here is my guide to Livermore Wine tasting.
Livermore Wine Tasting Options
There are essentially three options when it comes to Livermore Wine Tasting. The first is, of course, to visit the Livermore Valley Wineries yourself in your own vehicle. It is also possible to cycle between each winery in Livermore but the distances between the wineries are quite considerable. The second is the Livermore Wine Trolley. The third is to visit the First Street Wine Bar.
I actually did all three of these options – I know, my dedication to my blog is quite moving! So they’re not mutually exclusive and each offers a different type of experience.
And here is a handy Livermore Wineries map to download.
⇒ If you love wine and Italy you’ll enjoy my post on 12 Great Wineries in Montepulciano
1. Livermore Wine Trolley
The Livermore Wine Trolley is a guided wineries tour of the region which takes place on a motorized trolley. The wine trolley can be hired for private events, charters etc. However, this Livermore wine tasting tour is best known for its daily tour to three local Livermore Ca wineries which also includes lunch.
The three wineries change depending on which day you take the Livermore Wine Trolley. A great reason to experience the wine trolley, Livermore, a couple of times! On the day that I was on the trolley, we visited Wente Vineyards, Darcie Kent Vineyards, and Page Mill Wineries.
The main pick up for the Livermore Wine Trolley is at 11 am in downtown Livermore. The tours normally finish by about 3/330pm and end in downtown Livermore.
The Livermore Wine Trolley is a really fun way to visit the wineries of Livermore. The female driver was fantastic – really good fun and knowledgeable. We were immediately told that what happens on the trolley stays on the trolley. There was an offer to hook up phones to the sound system. And at 11 am there was a bit of a party atmosphere on the trolley!
Each winery Livermore visit lasts about one hour. My first stop was Wente Vineyards. Wente is one of the most well-known wineries of Livermore as it is the home of what is known as the California chardonnay.
The notion of the “butterball” California chardonnay was born at Wente with cuttings from Montpellier in France. Traces of that original Wente cutting can be found in 75% of California Chardonnays!
Wente Vineyards Livermore was founded in 1883 by a German immigrant. Livermore is older than both the Napa Valley and Sonoma. The current owners – the Wente family – purchased the property and vineyards in the 1980s. And the Wente estate has its own crooked street like in San Francisco! Wente offers seven different chardonnays.
There are quite a few Wente wine tasting options. Guests to Wente can choose to take an estate, vineyard or Winemaker’s studio tasting or take a private tasting or tour. There is a tasting fee for each.
Wente Vineyards has a restaurant and a grill. The Wente winery also holds lots of concerts with big names over the summer in their lovely and quite intimate outdoor area. And as if that wasn’t enough there are even wine caves that host wine tastings and/or private events. Wente is the place for Livermore winery events.
The second winery was Page Mill. Page Mill winery started in 1976 at the base of the Santa Cruz mountains and moved to the Livermore Valley in 2004. Their flagship wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Estate Petite Sirah, and GPS.
We enjoyed our lunch at Page Mill. When I booked the tour I was asked to choose between sandwich and salad options. These were presented to us at Page Mill along with some chips to help soak up the wine!
The third and final stop was at Darcie Kent Vineyards. I loved this winery as it combines great wine with art. Darcie Kent is run by an actual Darcie Kent but she is the fifth generation of the family. In the tradition of her grandfather, she combines a love of wine with a love of art.
All bottles at Darcie Kent Vineyards Livermore feature the art of Darcie Kent. And the tanks, sheds, and warehouses on the site are all in vibrant colours. The Darcie Kent Vineyards tasting room is lovely – particularly the outdoor glass area. And there is a very relaxing garden at the front of the winery which is perfect for kids. I particularly loved the Darcie Kent Chardonnay and bought some to take home.
Participants in the Livermore Wine Trolley also receive loads of discounts! Firstly there are discounts when you buy wine at any of the wineries visited. Secondly, there are discounts available at several Livermore restaurants on the day of your tour (you need your tour paper bracelet to receive the discount).
There are a few other Livermore wine tasting tours. The Livermore Food tour features a wine flight with food. This one of the Livermore wine tours takes place in Livermore and combines a walking tour history of Livermore with visits to 4-5 Livermore restaurants.
The Livermore Valley Winery Join In Group tours run on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between April and November.
Or if you’re basing yourself in San Francisco this Sip n Shop Tour will take you to two Livermore wineries plus the big outlet mall nearby as a day trip from San Francisco.
For private Livermore wine tasting tours as well as chauffeur-driven cars check out the Livermore Valley Winegrowers website.
⇒ Another wonderful new world wine country is South Africa. Read all about the Best Wine Tours Stellenbosch
2. First Street Wine Company Livermore
I rather literally stumbled on the First Street Wine Company in Livermore! The Livermore Wine Trolley finishes in the town of Livermore. I decided that it was quite early and I should look at what other options were available for some more wine tasting!
Heading to the main street of Livermore I immediately came across the First Street Wine Company. What a fantastic spot! It is a mix of a wine bar and a wine shop. First Street Wine Company Livermore has been operating for nine years and they have personally tasted every wine they stock!
The First Street Wine Company runs formal wine tastings as well as more informal wine flights which I decided to try. I sat at their small bar and immediately met several locals who were also doing some wine tasting on a Friday afternoon (many of my food and winery tips later in the post were sourced during this drinking session!).
I really enjoyed my visit to the First Street Wine Company for several reasons. Firstly, it is an extremely atmospheric bar/shop. It isn’t fancy but it is very comfortable and just oozes wine credibility. Secondly, I could tell that the tastings/flights are all varied depending on what is open and mixed with recommendations.
Third, I was actually hanging out with the locals. Apparently First Street Wine Company does get other tourists but it is most popular with locals. It was terrific to meet locals who also love wine and get their tips. Finally, the wines were fantastic and I discovered and tried many delicious options.
For example, the local wine brand Nipote, known for an amazing cabernet sauvignon, is only available at The First Street Wine Company. Nipote isn’t a winery – it is literally a woman just making wine with her own grapes. This has now been bought by Steven Kent but this is the kind of local find you will experience on a visit to the First Street Wine Company Livermore.
3. Self-guided Tour of the Livermore Valley Wineries
Alas, whilst the wineries of Livermore are not terribly far away if you’re driving they are quite a distance if you wanted to walk. They are also probably a bit far for the average cyclist but it is possible to hire e-bikes.
So the best option here is to visit the wineries and spit or to convince someone else to come with and drive. Not really ideal. I visited Retzlaff Vineyards (Livermore Valley’s only certified organic vineyards on a historic property) and McGrail on my first afternoon and drove and spat. I didn’t mind too much as I knew I was going to get an Uber that evening so I could enjoy some wine at Purple Orchid and dinner!
Of course, you could get Uber or Lyft in between wineries but that would add up.
If you are wanting to put together a Livermore wine tasting itinerary do have a look at the Livermore Valley Winegrowers association site for assistance.
⇒ If you like hidden gems when it comes to wine you’ll love reading about Wolfville Wineries in Nova Scotia Canada.
My favourite Livermore Wineries
There was no such thing as a bad Livermore winery based on my experience but of course, depending on what you enjoy when it comes to wine there will be preferences.
My two favourite Livermore wineries were McGrail Vineyards and Darcie Kent Vineyards. McGrail Vineyards was wonderfully friendly and the winery has stunning views over Livermore Valley. The winery itself is also very picturesque. I was driving when I visited McGrail Vineyards which was such a shame as I wanted to stay all day!
McGrail Winery was very relaxed. I particularly loved their chardonnay and wow their reds!!! It was easy to understand how McGrail Vineyards won Cabernet Sauvignon of the year in the USA in 2018!
At First street wine bar, I tasted Wood Family Vineyards and Cellar 13 wines. Both of these vineyards are part of the 3 Steves Winery – and I really enjoyed the wines from both of these Livermore vineyards, particularly the Chardonnay.
Some other wineries which came highly recommended but I didn’t have time to visit:
⇒ Las Positas Vineyards – very highly recommended and apparently a lovely Meditteranean setting.
⇒ The Steven Kent Winery – specialises in small-lot wines made from Bordeaux varietals. An outstanding sauvignon blanc which I highly recommend trying.
⇒ Cedar Mountain Winery and Port Works – very close to the Purple Orchid. In addition to a wide range of wines, they have speciality ports.
Most of the restaurants in the Livermore Valley are located in its two towns of Livermore and Pleasanton. Outside of the towns, many of the wineries have their own restaurants.
I had a fantastic meal in Pleasanton at Sabio on Main. There was a fantastic wine list – of course! This is where I tried the delicious Steven Kent Sauvignon Blanc. The chef at Sabio on Main is apparently quite well known and the food was outstanding!
Sabio on Main Pleasanton is famous for its chargrilled cauliflower with good reason. We started with this as one of several small plates. It was followed by a melt in the mouth semolina gnocchi with kale, Panzanella salad with perfectly ripe tomatoes and burrata, homemade bread with chicken liver pate, pomegranate and sesame seeds and then, when we had no more room, amazing homemade doughnuts.
Range Life is a beautiful modern restaurant featuring seasonal and local ingredients in downtown Livermore. I began my meal there with a terrific eggplant dip – but the hero was this rather amazing soft, fresh Meditteranean style bread – wow! I then moved on to chicken for my main at Range Life Livermore. Sorry, I had had a few wines by then so I can’t remember how it was described but it was delicious!
I enjoyed a terrific hamburger at the Wente Grill for lunch. This Wente Grill was next to their golf course rather than in the main winery area (which also has a restaurant).
And I do like to pride myself on being able to sniff out good coffee – even after a couple of wines! After finishing on the Livermore Wine Trolley I had a stroll down the main street of Livermore and spotted Panama Bay. I had an excellent flat white and highly recommend Panama Bay Livermore for your caffeine needs whilst in the Livermore Wine valley!
I have mentioned a few times in this post that I met several locals. I always ask where is good to eat. I didn’t manage to make it to any of these restaurants but this is what the locals told me. If you manage to get there please do email me and tell me your views and I will add them to this post.
⇒ Rusty’s – for burgers and steaks
⇒ Strizzi’s – Italian – globally inspired, locally enhanced
⇒ Casa Orozco – Mexican
⇒ Demitris – family-owned Greek restaurant
Livermore and the area around it don’t have much choice when it comes to boutique hotels. But luckily for me, Livermore Valley Wine Growers found me a hidden gem! The Purple Orchid Wine Country Resort and Spa is my kind of boutique hotel!
This Livermore boutique hotel is a modern country house with only ten rooms. It is very much like staying at someone’s lovely and relaxing home. The Purple Orchid is run by a delightful couple, Derek and Rhiannon and is full of personal touches. I met Rhiannon a couple of times during my stay – they are very hands-on which is lovely.
The ground floor of this Livermore bed and breakfast has a large living room area and a lovely big dining area that has coffee, tea and water 24/7. My favourite area was around the swimming pool. The lovely swimming pool has its own little waterfall plus loungers and tables. I had evening drinks by the swimming pool as well as breakfast outside both mornings.
The view from the pool is just vineyards and hills. So lovely! There are also some stylish cabana areas to the side of the pool if you so desire.
Eating and Drinking at The Purple Orchid
Pre-order your breakfast the night before and let the Purple Orchid know what time you would like to eat. The breakfast menu changes on most days. I enjoyed some fantastic french toast with fresh berries and maple syrup and scrambled eggs with home roast potatoes.
When I woke up each morning I would wander down and grab a coffee and then head back to my room to get ready before heading down to breakfast. I do like a hotel where I can get coffee whenever I like!
The Purple Orchid doesn’t have a set lunch or dinner offer. If you do want to stay in for either meal just let them know ahead of time and they can work something else. Or the other option is to get takeaway and bring it back to the hotel or use a delivery service.
One of my favourite things at The Purple Orchid was the nightly wine tasting! The wineries in Livermore tend to close around 430pm. The Purple Orchid hosts a complimentary wine tasting with cheese every night between 430 and 530pm. They even have their own wine brand – sourced locally of course! And the chardonnay was fantastic!
The Rooms at The Purple Orchid Livermore
I had a huge room at The Purple Orchid and an even bigger bed! I think it was king size plus plus! There were a lot of great things on offer in my room! The bathroom featured a big shower as well as a large tub with jets etc for a little spa experience.
The room itself was decorated in a Scandanavian modern style with soft grey walls and oak furniture. The side door opened up to a huge verandah shared with the rooms to the left. There was lovely outdoor seating and nice views of the vines and the hills – plus short cut stairs down to the swimming pool.
There were two outstanding features of my room at The Purple Orchid. The first was the bathrobe. This lovely grey bathrobe was oh so comfortable and light but cozy – I absolutely wanted to steal it! The second was the sheets. I slid into bed and thought oh my gosh – this is a comfort at a new level! And then I realised it was a bit familiar….
A few years ago I was in the Carribean for a friend’s birthday and had a spa treatment. The sheets on the bed for the spa treatment were just amazing – so soft and silky. I asked about the brand and was told it was Comphy sheets. I ordered some online and they have been my favourite pair of sheets at home for quite some time!
I did actually wonder if the sheets were from Comphy. I checked with Rhiannon and she confirmed that they were! And she could order me a set through her account! So I now have a second pair of extremely soft and silky Comphy sheets at home!
If you are based in the US, hop onto their website and buy some. If you are in Europe the shipping is very expensive – especially when taxes are added. I had Rhiannon order some and get them sent to the hotel I was going to be staying at in Las Vegas a few days later. The sheets pack up very tight so it was easy to get them into my luggage and avoid all the extra costs!
The Purple Orchid Spa
As if all of that wasn’t enough, The Purple Orchid North California also has a spa. It has a vast range of packages and treatments and is very popular as a Livermore day spa. They also offer spa packages for couples.
Many of the spa packages have a food and beverage credit option so you can have some lunch and/or wine with your treatment. And best of all, the Purple Orchid spa packages are all 15% off Monday through Friday.
How to Get to Livermore
Livermore is only 36 miles west of San Francisco. The easiest way to get there is to fly into San Francisco and then hire a car. Driving to Livermore from San Francisco takes less than one hour. It is possible to get a taxi but that will cost between USD$250-300 – but an uber will apparently only cost around USD$100.
It is also possible to take the BART, the San Francisco train system, to Dublin/Pleasanton and then take a bus. The bus takes about 30 minutes and buses run every 15 minutes.
Who Paid for What in this Post
The wonderful Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association was kind enough to host my trip to Livermore. This means they covered the costs for my accommodation, meals and the Livermore Wine Trolley. I covered the costs to get to Livermore including car hire.
This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click through on them and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. This will not increase the price that you are paying. I just wanted to make sure that you knew.
READ NEXT ⇒ For some more great places to eat check out my post on 17 Unique Restaurants in San Francisco
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