The Other Wine Country: Livermore and the Tri-Valley
by HCTG Staff Writer Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Can you really have a Wine Country wedding in the East Bay? Absolutely! Head for the gracious, grape—growing Livermore Valley. Located a mere thirty miles east of San Francisco, it was this pastoral oasis of canyons, hillcrests, rambling ranches and handsome homes that garnered America’s first international gold medal for wine back in 1889 and put California on the world wine map. Founded by pioneer winemakers such as C.H. Wente, James Conconnan and Charles Wetmore, Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle varietally labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah. And, nearly 80% of all California grapevines trace their genetic roots to a Livermore Valley clone. Who knew? Long overlooked (and overshadowed by Napa and Sonoma), this lovely cradle of California viticulture has been a well—kept secret for decades.
But now the Tri-Valley region, which also includes Amador and San Ramon Valleys, is going through a renaissance that is attracting too much attention to ignore. Estate wineries, golf courses, day spas, new hotels and historic downtown areas exert an unquestionable appeal. Visitors are pampered with big—time amenities and small-town hospitality and warmth. Although the word on this alluring region is definitely getting out, most folks haven’t gotten the message yet. So, we’re going to take you on a quick “tour” of some the Other Wine Country’s best wedding and special event locations. Enjoy the trip!
The Grandaddy of Them All: Wente Vineyards
Situated in a canyon at the southern end of the Livermore Valley and surrounded by vineyards, sycamore groves and rolling hills, Wente Vineyards Restaurant, Visitors Center and Golf Course is a picturesque setting for weddings and receptions. Founded in 1883 by German immigrant C.H. Wente, this well—known winery is now managed by the fourth generation of the Wente family. The casually elegant restaurant, set in one of the property’s white, Spanish-style buildings, is framed by beautifully landscaped grounds and features three private rooms and terraces with views of the distant hills. With first-rate facilities, acres of vineyards and a warm Mediterranean ambiance, this popular event site books up quickly, so don’t wait too long to pay them a visit.
The Italian-French Connection: Rios-Lovell Estate Winery
Nowhere is the deeply satisfying sense of hospitality, abundance and grace more pervasive than at Rios-Lovell Estate Winery. In only ten years of operation, Rios-Lovell has grown into much more than an award-winning winery—it’s become a Livermore Valley destination. The Event Center, like the tasting area and gift shop, is decorated with delightful trompe l’oeil murals that evoke the pastoral peace and plenty of the French and Italian countryside. But a large part of the estate’s beauty is in the lawns, gardens, gazebos and 18 acres of grapevines that frame this hilltop property. Flowers like star jasmine and rose perfume the air. An outdoor pavilion outfitted with carriage lamps provides shade by day and dramatic lighting in the evening. It’s an idyllic setting in every season—you simply won’t want to leave.
The Flower of the Golden State: Poppy Ridge Golf Course
You might expect thoroughbreds to canter up to the white fence that lines the drive to Poppy Ridge Golf Course. A narrow road winds through the biscuit-colored hills to a spacious hacienda-style building overlooking the verdant 27-hole golf course, which opened in 1996. Like the flower it’s named for, this expansive facility with its top—flight restaurant, wide wraparound decks and commanding views of the Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Merlot fairways, epitomizes the ease and sunny charm that distinguish the golden state. Whether you’re dancing and dining in the Poppy Ridge Grill and Bar (voted “Best Restaurant View” by the Tri-Valley Herald in 2003), sipping champagne on the sun-splashed deck, or pausing to reflect in the shady tower archway, you’ll find a plethora of magical moments to fill your album of memories.
The Real Getaway: Purple Orchid Inn, Resort & Spa
Consider this wedding scenario: The groom’s parents have a horror of anonymous hotels and want to stay in a cozy B&B with a pool, a garden and an arboreal surround. The bridesmaids want to treat the bride to a facial and massage on the morning of the wedding. The bride’s mother is obsessed with the idea of an elegant dinner followed by dancing in a ballroom with a spectacular view. The bride wants to make her entrance down a staircase with a harpist playing on the balcony behind her. And the groom wants to be married outside in the country. Ringed by low hills and surrounded by vineyards and ranches, this quiet, stylish hideaway is the place where all of these wedding visions can be realized. Owner Karen Hughes and her experienced staff will make sure of it.