Last month, I traveled to California to experience the Livermore Valley Winegrower's Association premier event, Taste our Terroir. An annual celebration of one of California's oldest, but lesser-known, wine regions, Livermore Valley's Taste our Terroir takes place every July. Originally a one-day food and wine pairing competition that repeatedly sold out, it has since expanded to a full weekend of festivities, and you'll want to mark your calendars for next year. I know I do!
Every year brings a different roster. This year, from July 26th to the 29th, Taste our Terroir and local wineries hosted 12 different activities in addition to the main event - from a winemaker concert to a sunset lobster feast; from wine-tasting seminars to vineyard tours. I had the pleasure of partnering with our lovely hosts of Livermore Valley Wine Country and Visit Tri-Valley to experience three of Taste our Terroir's special offerings.
The Taste Our Terroir competition on Thursday night was the signature event and the ideal way to kick off the weekend. As a journalist (and wine lover), I've enjoyed similar fetes and I have to say Taste our Terroir is one of the best I've ever attended - an idyllic setting, well-run and organized, and the friendly participants spoiled the crowd with their wine and food pairings. Surrounded by vineyards, Casa Real at Ruby Hill Winery was the perfect venue.
Our evening began with a glass of Big White House Peche Mignon peach sparkling wine as we arrived at Casa Real. We were then escorted to an al fresco VIP wine reception in the lush and breezy Sun Garden where more wines were poured, such as Elliston Vineyards and Darcie Kent Wines, and Olivina olive oil sampled. These superlative olive oils are harvested from trees planted in 1881, pressed, and bottled on a historic estate. These were my first introductions to Livermore Valley wine and olive oil - a true taste of terroir.
Indoors in the Grand Salon, twenty Livermore Valley winemakers had partnered with Bay Area chefs to compete for judges' and people's choice honors. Along with savory dishes, the night ended on a sweet note in the dessert room. I especially loved Rios Lovell Estate's cabernet franc port.
Guest judges Jim Gordon of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Ellen Fort of Eater SF and Ian White of San Francisco Magazine voted on their favorites, and the winners were:
Best Pairing: Longevity Wines and Backdoor Bistro with a 2017 Pinot Blanc paired with shrimp aguachili and melon on a chili-dusted potato chip with avocado crema.
Best Classic Pairing: Mitchell Katz Winery and Atria Senior Living with the 2013 Speechless Cabernet Sauvignon Blend paired with a Wagyu ribeye with barrel-aged shoyu and freshly-grated horseradish by executive chef Chad Welch:
Both Judges' Most Innovative Pairing and People's Choice Best Red Wine Pairing went to Wood Family Vineyards and First Street Alehouse with a pairing of VIVA Cabernet Sauvignon and curry fried chicken with mango chutney aioli and chimichurri by chef Tara Teetsel.
People’s Choice for Best White Wine Pairing was also my vote - McGrail Vineyards Kylie Ryan Rosé and Mexican street corn by chef Jourdan de Sanctis of Attraversiamo
Other delicious highlights included:
Garré Winery and Cafe's pairing of Primitivo with braised short ribs on cheddar mashed potatoes topped with bacon jam
Retzlaff Vineyards Merlot Rose with Salt Craft's strawberry, cucumber and chevre salad
Nottingham Cellars Smith Ranch Designate Cabernet Sauvignon with Hop de Vine's braised wagyu brisket with yucca root puree, taro root chip, and fresh horseradish
Las Posita's Vineyards Estate Reserve Chardonnay with pickled oysters and cucumber capellini
And these two fantastic bites were among my top favorites:
The next evening, we joined fellow guests at a beautiful private home and vineyard for the Winemaker Concert at Chandler Estate Vineyards.
And spoke to the crowd about their wines. You can listen in on the video below:
We were greeted with Dane Stark's blanc de blanc, a sophisticated sparkler made by hand - from a double fermentation to bottling and corking - using chardonnay grapes grown on this 20-acre vineyard.
As the sun set, our media group mingled and chatted with our hosts and the winemakers as we sipped on Page Mill's and McGrail Vineyard's wine. It was a special honor to spend some time with these engaging and passionate vintners who are winning accolades and making their mark on Livermore Valley's exciting wine scene.
And a heartfelt thank-you to our gracious hosts, David and Karen Chandler, who opened their gorgeous home for this exclusive event. Their stunning house is one of only four residential homes designed by famed architect César Pelli, and took two years to design and three years to build.
Our group ended our fun-filled weekend of Taste our Terroir activities on Saturday morning with a chance to enjoy Yoga in the Vineyard at Retzlaff Vineyards with DragonFly Yoga under the shade of 100-year-old pepper trees. This picturesque family-owned winery is a certified organic vineyard and situated on a historic Victorian estate (look for an in-depth feature next week as I spotlight the local wineries).
Nella Terra Cellars is a small but growing vineyard. As I was poured their aromatic estate Viognier, I learned that though they source from other vineyards, on-site they grow Pinot Noir and Viognier on 2.3 acres, just planted another two acres of Petite Sirah and Primitivo, and are planning to plant another eight acres in the spring.
I drank more liquid education with a new-to-me grape varietal called Alicante Bouschet in the newly-released Madera by Omega Road.
Isabelle's Blush, a Merlot Rosé from Retzlaff was the perfect refreshing summer sipper. A Gold Medal San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2018 winner, this was one of the bottles that came home with me.
For a full list of this year's events, visit this link. But you don't have to wait until next year to experience the wineries of Livermore Valley. The Livermore Harvest Wine Celebration returns on Labor Day Weekend on Sunday, September 2, 2018. Visit more than 35 wineries as they host festivities at their individual tasting rooms and vineyards, celebrating with wine, food, local artisans and live music. Visit www.LVwine.org for tickets and details.
Click photo below to read more in my series about my Livermore Valley trip as I share 9 Places to Wine and Dine.