Pictured with me here is Carl Wente owner, 6 generation head winemaker at Wente vineyards in Livermore Valley California
In the middle of our summer is the time for the great deck wine, Chardonnay. There are two types of chardonnay. Single fermentation Chard done in stainless steel tanks and double fermentation chardonnay that is generally stored on oak barrels. Cold weather Chardonnay is most famous in Wilimet valley in the state of Washington, New York State and here in Connecticut. Double fermentation Chardonnay is most famous in Nappa, Sonoma, Mendicino wine regions in California.
East and slightly south of Oakland is one of California’s most historically influential wine regions, Livermore Valley. The Livermore Valley has been home to Chardonnay since the 1880s. Earnest Wente visited the south of France and brought back Chardonnay cuttings. He bottled the first varietal labeled Chardonnay in 1936. 80 % of all Chardonnay produced in California is from the original Wente Clone. Chardonnay has had tremendous growth. In 1960 there was only 230 acres of Chardonnay planted in California. Today there is over 100,000 acres in cultivation!
Some of the state’s most influential and important wineries were begun over 100 years ago. They include Wente, Concannon and Cresta Blance, which is no longer there. Livermore Valley was successful not only because of its suitability for viticulture and its great wine makers but because of its proximity to the bay area of San Francisco and Oakland. Sadly this proximity was almost the valley’s undoing. Housing needs and urban parks began to eat up the wonderful vineyards. By the late 1980s thousands of acres of grapes had simply disappeared as a result of aggressive urban development.
In 1993 however, an innovative land-use plan began protecting the regions existing vineyards and encouraging new ones. Livermore Valley now has 16 wineries down from 50 at its high point but up from its 1988 low. The valley is only about 15 miles long running east to west. The days are typically bright sunshine and quite hot. The afternoons become wind tunnels as the temperature drops anywhere from 30 to 50 degrees! This combination of very warm days and cool nights and shallow soil is somewhat similar to parts of southern France.
Another leading winery in Livermore’s early history is the Concannon winery. James Concannon was an Irish immanent who were very devote Catholics. Every five years they sent a barrel of wine to the pope. The Concannon winery is currently owned by Wente. It was started in 1883. Both the Wentes and Concannons were helped significantly by newspaperman turned wine maker, Charles Wetmore. Wetmore, before founding his winery Cresta Blanca in 1882, was able to establish the California state viticulturist commission which he ran. He was the first president and he went to France and obtained cuttings from prestigious wineries for Savignon Blanc, Semiillon and muscadelle from Chateau d’Yquem! He began the tradition of sharing the cuttings with other wineries and the California wine industry was off and running! The Wentes followed with their Chardonnay and the rest is history!
So before the summer winds down try some great Chardonnay and other wines from Livermore Valley! Some suggestions include Herman Wente Reserve 100% Chardonnay and Concannon Vineyard Petite Sirah. Chouinard Zinfandel is lesser well known but fantastic! You will be glad you did!
Ray Spaziani is the Chapter Director of the New Haven Chapter of the American Wine Society. He teaches wine appreciation classes at Gateway Community College, the Milford Board of Education and at Moltose Beer and Wine supply. He is a member of the International Tasting Panel of Amenti Del Vino and Wine Maker Magazine. He is an award winning home wine maker. Email Ray with your wine questions and wine events at Ray.Spaziani@gmail.com.