AT A GLANCE
Why go now: It's wine country ― without the crowds.
Backdrop: Vines juxtaposed with golden hills; old homes with wraparound porches.
What makes the wine so good: A rare east-west orientation invites cool marine breezes, yielding balanced fruit.
Star grape: Petite Sirah
Veteran vintner: Robert Livermore, who planted vines here in the 1840s.
Wineries in the valley: 44 (and counting)
Event not to miss: Harvest Wine Celebration (Aug 31–Sep 1; tickets from $45), with music, food, and shuttles between wineries.
Score a seat: At Movida ($$$; 2417 First St.; 925/373-1002), nibble on small plates like scallops with roasted fingerling potatoes.
What's growing: Grapevines, of course, but also owner Candice Dixon's prize roses at Les Chênes Estate Vineyards ($5 tasting fee; 5562 Victoria Lane).
Overheard: "We're working on being more stuck up, but we're not very good at it."
Map it: Download a wine map at lvwine.org
Livermore is in the East Bay, 45 miles east of San Francisco. From I-580, exit at N. Livermore Ave.
1. HIT THE ROAD (responsibly)
Sip your way along scenic Tesla Road. First stop is La Rochelle ($15 pairing; 5443 Tesla) for Pinot Noir and pairings. Next door at the Steven Kent Winery ($5 tasting fee), sample the Cab, then swing by Tamás Estates for Italian varietals like crisp Pinot Grigio ($5 tasting fee; 5489 Tesla) and Page Mill Winery for Petite Sirah (Sat–Sun, Fri by appointment; $5 tasting fee; 1960 S. Livermore Ave.).
2. BLACKSMITH SQUARE
Clustered around a brick courtyard downtown are five small-winery tasting rooms. Which means you can sample everything from the méthode Champenoise sparklers from Battaion Cellars to the all-organic, estate-grown wines from Retzlaff … without a winding drive. 21 and 25 S. Livermore Ave.
3. UNCLE YU'S AT THE VINEYARD
More than 600 wines (about 50 by the glass) and a hefty selection of Livermore bottles, including rarities and tasting flights.
Try the "sommelier menu" pairing of stir-fried seafood with spicy Thai sauce and a 1994 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay (Cuvée W). $$; 39 S. Livermore Ave.; 925/449-7000.
4. WENTE VINEYARDS
At 125 years old, Wente is California's oldest continuously operated family-owned winery. We're crazy about Cab, and Wente makes some of the best. Try the estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc too ― then lunch on smoked salmon pavé with arugula-frisée salad at the restaurant ($$$$). $5 tasting fee; 5050 Arroyo Rd.
BRING SOME OF THE FLAVOR HOME
Tri-tip recipe from Garré Vineyard: Combine ¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tbsp. each extra-virgin olive oil and chopped garlic, 1 tbsp. kosher salt, and 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Rub liberally over a 2½-lb. tri-tip, place in a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Grill ― and serve with a Livermore Valley red. Serves 8. Garré Vineyard & Winery: $$$; 7986 Tesla; 925/371-8200.
MORE GREAT PLACES TO SIP LOCAL
Clarksburg: Galeria do Vinho at Old Sugar Mill
Most of the wineries in the tiny Clarksburg appellation, outside Sacramento, aren't open to the public, but you can dabble in the area's wines at this cluster of six tasting rooms housed in a recently remodeled mill. 35265 Willow Ave. –Kate Washington
San Francisco: Press Club
This urban tasting room beneath the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel brings eight high-end Northern California wineries (each with a wine bar and vintner) under one sprawling roof. Tasting fees vary. –Rachel Levin
Just off State 121 is this must-stop sculpture garden/gallery/ tasting room collective. New on the scene is Grange Sonoma, a steel barnlike building that's home to nine boutique wineries ($10 tasting fee). Steps away are Roshambo Winery, as well as Artesa, Larson, and Ridgeline. –R.L.