For the third year, I drove a short distance over the hill to the 27th Annual Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration the first week of September 2008, to enjoy some fine wines from an overlooked gem of a wine area in California.
(If you're visiting Northern California and want to see the wine country, skip Napa, which is crowded and overpriced, and skip Sonoma, which is much nicer but a bit of a drive from San Francisco – instead, try Livermore, in the East Bay – 43 wineries as last count, and every one a gem!)
You pay one price for two days (about $50), park your car, and take the busses along some of the six routes that zigzag through the Valley. That way you don't have to decipher the map, nor worry about driving after drinking (until it's time to go home, of course!).
But I Do Have a Complaint!
As in the past, the wineries pour you some wine tastes, while musicians play, and various booths tempt you with crafts and food. You get three or so wines to taste at each winery – and then there's the Special wines, usually inside the barn, for access to which you have to pay an extra fee, usually about $10.
This isn't so bad because you can taste many yummy wines for your initial fee, and don't have to pay extra for the good stuff (though it certainly is good stuff). The problem is that THIS year they've gotten a little too cute for their own good – most of the wineries have cut way back on the free tastes, and are pushing instead to have you spend extra for the special stuff.
Concannon, for example, had only two wines out front; Retzlaff, a fine winery, had only *one*! A good one, but still... ONE wine on offer! Red Feather had, I think, two – one was a very interesting strawberry-flavored sparkling wine. Of the wineries I visited, only Thomas Coyne had a decent cross-section of its wines for us.
It must get expensive to participate in this event, and none of the money we pay for the event goes to the wineries themselves, I believe – so I understand that the wineries would like to make a buck from all those people flocking in. But think about it from our perspective: We already paid $50 to attend the event. If we pay another $10 for each of the five or six wineries we will be visiting – the day will cost us $100 – each, double that if we're a couple!
I'm sorry, but that's Napa Valley-level gouging, and I'm seriously wondering if this previously wonderful and eye-opening event will be worth going to next year.
(For pictures of the wineries, in case you ever plan to visit—and most don't charge during regular visitor's hours—go to http://www.elivermore.com/photos/Wine_fest3.htm.)