Livermore Valley’s wine country is postcard picturesque, with gently rolling, vine-covered hills set against a bright blue sky. But there’s an exciting drinks district taking shape, with nary a vineyard in sight. Instead, nine wineries, two distilleries and a brewery have taken up residence in an industrial warehouse setting along a stretch of Vasco Road.
The Block 37 is a newly formed consortium of Altamont Beer Works, Longevity Wines, Nottingham Cellars and Vasco Urbano Wine Company and Occasio Winery clustered around the intersection of Vasco Road and Research Drive. Then there are the neighboring wineries and distillery down the street. Together, they make up the Valley’s hottest drinks destination. In just the past year, four wine tasting rooms and a distillery debuted here, meaning there’s a wine, beer or spirit for every tastebud.
Here are five of our favorite Livermore drinks district spots, along with one pop-up eatery that makes food that goes well with most any bottle you choose. (Check out the map at the end of the story for the entire list of drink purveyors in the area).
Ehrenberg Cellars Winery
As demand for winemaker Chris Ehrenberg’s award-winning Zinfandels outgrew his Tesla Vintners tasting room, he needed a bigger production facility. He opened a second tasting room just off Vasco Road in June, where a custom guitar maker and hot rod shop are neighbors.
Ehrenberg’s full lineup is here, including the new Schmidt line, an homage to his father, and E.T.C. wines (Ehrenberg Thomas Coyne), made from barrels of Livermore vintner Thomas Coyne’s last vintages.
Be sure to inquire about a winery tour ($10). If Ehrenberg is in the house, he’ll tap a barrel or two to taste.
Try: The lush 2012 Private Reserve Zinfandel ($29) is full of blackberry fruit layered with earthy and herbal notes. The 2013 Schmidt Syrah ($34) is big and bold.
The tasting room is open noon to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. $15 tasting fee.
Ehrenberg Cellars, 5937 Graham Ct., #B, Livermore
Omega Road Winery
Father-daughter team Ken Henkelman and Alexandra Atterbury opened Livermore’s newest tasting room Memorial Day weekend 2017. Omega Road specializes in offbeat varietals such as Riesling, Verdelho, Graciano and Tempranillo. Henkelman’s winemaking background is impressive — he worked with Robert Mondavi and Miljenko “Mike” Grgich (of 1976 Paris Tasting fame). Henkelman’s the duo’s scientific side; Atterbury’s palate and artistic flair guide the wine’s appeal. Stop in to taste and you’ll met Henkelman, Atterbury or mom Nicky pouring at the cozy bar.
Try: The juicy 2015 Viognier ($23) keeps us coming back for more, with alluring white floral aromas, a rich mouthfeel and peachy, honied flavors. The 2015 Graciano has delicious blueberry, plum and herbal sage notes.
The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. the second and fourth Saturday and Sunday each month. $10 tasting fee.
Omega Road Winery, 2135 Vasco Rd., Unit C, Livermore
McKahn Family Cellars
McKahn joined the block party at The Block 37 in May. Rising star Chuck McKahn — Livermore’s youngest vintner — cut his winemaking chops at Amador’s Jeff Runquist Wines. On weekdays he makes Bordeaux varietals at Wm. Harrison Vineyards & Winery in St. Helena, but on weekends, he’s a Rhone Ranger in Livermore, crafting Viognier, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. McKahn’s love for Rhone varietals developed while he was at Cal Poly, where he discovered Central Coast Rhones. Brittany, his girlfriend at the time (now his wife), encouraged McKahn in these early days to follow his passion, resulting in him creating his own Syrah (his personal favorite) and other Rhone wines.
Make an appointment for a seated tasting and you’ll meet at least one family member —McKahn, Brittany, his mom Denise or his dad Kevin — who provide a personal experience, telling their story one sip at a time.
Try: The 2016 Grenache ($36) bursts with bright red fruit; the signature 2015 Syrah ($45) has violet floral, earthy and bacony, meaty notes.
The tasting room is open noon-5 p.m., Friday and Saturday. $10 tasting fee.
McKahn Family Cellars, 2245-A S. Vasco Rd., Livermore
Wood Family Vineyards
It’s all good at Wood, especially since winemaker Rhonda Wood moved her wine production and tasting room out of her home garage to this 11,500 square foot facility. Now part of The Block 37, the former commercial airline pilot-turned vintner has plenty of space to share Para Mas Amigas (for more girlfriends) Chardonnay and Muy Bueno (very good) Zinfandel. Here, you’ll find two tasting bars made with repurposed wine barrel staves, and a tasting menu displayed on hanging wine staves with inlaid chalkboards. Plus, there’s plenty of room for getting down to live music performances (Fridays from 4-7 p.m).
Try: The 2014 Grenache ($30) has lovely floral, strawberry and raspberry notes. And the 2015 Big Wood Zinfandel ($32) is spicy, with black pepper and bright pomegranate fruit.
The tasting room is open 2-7 p.m., Thursday; noon to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 6 p.m., Sunday. $10 tasting fee.
Wood Family Vineyards, 2407 Research Dr., Livermore
Artisan Spirits & Brandy Works
Put this one on your watch list. Occasio proprietor and winemaker John Kinney’s Sidewinder distillery — part of The Block 37 — opened at the end of the year to his wine club members. Once Kinney ramps up production, he’ll open the speakeasy-like Sidewinder Lounge for everyone to enjoy his spirits and craft cocktails. We’re looking forward to the sweet and dry vermouth, brandy, bourbon and gin from the new copper still.
In the meantime, we’ll quench our distilled spirits thirst at Artisan Spirits & Brandy Works, inside Eckert Estate Winery’s Vasco Road tasting room. Michael Eckert’s gleaming copper column still is on display, where he distills vodka, gin, absinthe and fruit brandies. If you hit it right, you may see that still in action.
Try: Artisan Spirits’ Orange Spiced Brandy ($24/375 ml and $39/750 ml)) smells like the holidays, with orange peel, cinnamon and clove aromas.
Artisan Spirits is open noon-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday $15 tasting fee.
Artisan Spirits, 5963 Graham Ct., Ste. D, Livermore
The South Smokin’ BBQ
Put some south in your mouth with pitmaster Timothy McGuire’s smoky, fall-off-the-bone tender pork ribs ($10-$13) slathered in one of his signature barbecue sauces. Ask for hot, and you’ll get McGuire’s “Nice!” approval. We’ve never seen barbecued potato salad ($2), but McGuire’s grilled version is creamy and addictive. Get your BBQ plate, grab a bottle of your favorite Vasco Road wine or beer and enjoy an alfresco feast.
South Smokin’ BBQ pops up several weekends a month in front of Altamont Beer Works or Longevity Wines.