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The History of Wine Production in the Livermore Valley

Charles Wetmore was an early winemaker in the region. He was one of the first settlers to plant Vitis vinifera varietals in Livermore, and imported Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle from France. Mr. Wetmore later established Cresta Blanca Vineyard, and was one of the driving forces behind California’s early wine industry.

During the 1860s-1880s, Phylloxera destroyed much of the French Wine Industry. There was suddenly a large European demand for wine from the Livermore Valley. The region was widely regarded as the premiere part of California Wine Country during these years. The era’s over 50 wineries is more than twice as many as the current 24 in the region.

The valley was also a leader in vineyard technology during these years. Innovations included mechanical harvesting and overhead irrigation. The majority of modern California Chardonnay traces its genetic roots back to Livermore. The region was also one of the first in California to begin labeling wine based on varietal.

During the 1880s, most of the local grape growers were French immigrants. They were attracted by the gravelly soil that reminded them of the Medoc and Graves in Bordeaux. But there were also immigrants of different origins in the valley.

In 1883, James Concannon planted vineyards and built a winery in the 1880s. Later that year, German immigrant C.H. Wente planted 43 acres and established Wente Vineyards. Very few of the French winemakers survived Prohibition, and the Italian/Irish Concannon Family and the German Wente Family became the most prominent vintners in the region. When Prohibition became law, Concannon was able to stay in business by making wine for the Catholic Church in San Francisco.

The renaissance of Livermore Wine Country began during the 1970s and has gained momentum ever since. However, high real estate values and property development limits the amount of vineyard acreage. The Concannon Family did not sell their winery and vineyards until 1982.

In the early 1990s, the Wente Family owned 1,300 of the region’s 1,600 total acres of vineyards. C.H. Wente’s winery and vineyards are still owned by his descendants. The property has an excellent restaurant and an acclaimed 18 hole golf course.

> Livermore Valley and other Bay Area Wineries

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