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The Bay Area's Secret Wine Country

In laid-back Livermore, find excellent wine and food against a backdrop of beautiful hills.

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  • the counter at Wente winemakers studio, image
    Photo caption
    At Wente's Winemakers Studio, you can blend your own wine and learn how to pair food and wine.
  • Scenic view of Wente's Livermore vineyard, image
    Photo caption
    Wente Vineyards is the oldest continuously operating, family-owned winery in California.
  • Smiling group in togas at 3 Steves Winery, Livermore, image
    Photo caption
    It's all about having fun at 3 Steves Winery, where a movie night can transform into a toga party.
  • View overlooking Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore, image
    Photo caption
    The five-mile lake at Del Valle Regional Park is a popular place to go swimming.
  • Couple at the bar at the Last Word, Livermore, image
    Photo caption
    The Last Word cocktail bar and gastropub cultivates a casual, unpretentious atmosphere.
  • Linzer cookies from Casse-Croûte, Livermore, image
    Photo caption
    Casse-Croûte bakes all sorts of breads and pastries, including these linzer cookies.

At first take, Livermore, Calif., seems more Central Valley than Bay Area: pleasant city center, quiet residential streets with tidy lawns and fluttering American flags, hot summer days. Yet gravelly soil and the sea breezes that hit this spot 45 miles east of San Francisco allow for great winemaking in one of California’s oldest appellations. Meanwhile, a clutch of Afghan, Sri Lankan, and Korean restaurants lends this burg a flavor all its own. Area code is 925 unless otherwise noted.

Wente Vineyards has made wine in the Livermore Valley since 1883. Just last year, the company opened the Winemakers Studio, a tasting room crossed with an interactive wine lab. Visitors can sample small-batch blends and, for $125 per person, spend two hours wielding beakers—with professional guidance—to craft their own. 5565 Tesla Rd., 456-2405, wentewinemakers.com.

The grilled meats at De Afghanan, particularly the juicy chicken kebabs and chaplee, a spicy, scallion-flecked beef patty, find perfect complements in the nutty brown rice and piquant cilantro chutney. 1550 Railroad Ave., 371-1113, deafghanancuisine.com.

At French bakery Casse-Croûte, the café au lait is served in oversize bowls to patrons who breakfast on yeasty pain de campagne and snack on chocolate-stuffed croissants designed to satisfy any sweet tooth. 50 S. Livermore Ave., 371-7700, c-cbakery.com.

Ten miles south of town, 4,395 acres of oak trees surround a skinny, sparkling lake at Del Valle Regional Park. Swimmers, anglers, and boaters love the water, and 28 miles of trails draw cyclists and hikers. 7000 Del Valle Rd., (888) 327-2757, ebparks.org.

Page Mill Winery harvests 90 percent of its grapes from the Livermore Valley appellation. Settle in at an outdoor table adjacent to the small tasting room and enjoy the hints of honey and almond in the chardonnay. 1960 S. Livermore Ave., 456-7676, pagemillwinery.com.

Highlights at the Last Word include fried chicken sliders and bacon-wrapped dates. The cocktails are all solid, but the standout is the gastropub’s lime-tart, chartreuse-laced namesake. 2470 First St., 493-7293, drinkeatgather.com.

Winner of major awards at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, 3 Steves Winery is owned by—you guessed it—three guys named Steve who parlayed a love for zinfandel and cabernet into a successful business that’s open to the public on weekends. The vibe here is friendly and homey, whether you’re enjoying the patio views or the monthly summer movie nights. 5700 Greenville Rd., 997-7736, 3steveswinery.com.

Photography by Lisa Arnold (The Last Word); and courtesy of EBRPD; Casse-Croûte; Wente Vineyards; 3 Steves Winery

 

This article was first published in February 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.