Spanish Missionaries first planted Listan Prieto, known widely as the “Mission” grape, in what is now LIvermore Valley in the 1760s. In 1846 Robert Livermore, an Englishman for whom the valley is named, planted the region’s first commercial vines; his early success caught the eye of others. By the 1880s Carl H. Wente, James Concannon, and Charles Wetmore had also planted vines.

Some of the earliest vines were Sauvignon Blanc cuttings from Château d’Yquem and other top estates in Bordeaux. These grapes found their way into the 1884 white wine produced by Charles Wetmore’s Cresta Blanca Winery, winner of the Grand Prix at the 1889 Paris Exposition. This was America’s first gold medal in France, and it quickly established both California and Livermore as sources of world-class wines. 

These early pioneers were instrumental in shaping Livermore into what it is today. The Concannon clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, which hails from vines taken from Bordeaux and planted in Livermore in 1893 is genetically linked to 80 % of Cabernet now planted throughout California. The Wente clone of Chardonnay, with its small berries, is also widely regarded as one of the most important--and prolific--clones of Chardonnay today.

By the 1890s Livermore had over 6,000 acres (2,428 ha) planted to vine, more than today’s acreage. Phylloxera tore through the region in the 1890s, but Prohibition caused far more damage.

In need of immediate work, many people left the region, abandoning their vineyards. Vines were ripped up and land was repurposed for housing and shopping centers. During Prohibition, the number of wineries dropped by more than half. The award-winning Cresta Blanca Winery temporarily shut down, and Charles Wetmore passed away before the repeal of Prohibition. Wente and Concannon were among the few that continued to farm their vineyards, in part due to the Prohibition-Era loophole allowing production of Sacramental wines. Today, they remain two of the largest and best-known producers from Livermore Valley.

After Prohibition the wine industry was slow to revive in Livermore; it has taken nearly a century, and there are now a similar number of wineries and land under vine as there were before Prohibition. The development of San Francisco, with spillover into neighboring regions, has further threatened agriculture in Livermore. In the early 1990s the winemakers of Livermore along with a group of conservationists set out to preserve the land. A deal was reached wherein any new developments could not move forward unless they agreed to set aside agricultural land for crops and grapes.

Livermore is now known as a science and technology center, and through hard work and perseverance it has reclaimed some of its early fame as a leading wine region. Wente Vineyards, currently in its fifth generation, is one of the country’s oldest continuously operated, family-owned wineries. The Wente clone of Chardonnay, a clone producing smaller berries, is widely planted throughout California. Wente Vineyards has also absorbed the original Cresta Blanca vineyards in an effort to carry on the history of these early pioneers. 

Livermore Valley is well regarded as the birthplace of varietally labeled wines. Concannon and Cresta Blanca were the first to produce varietally labeled Sauvignon Blanc, called “Sauterne,” in the 1880s. Wente followed with the first Chardonnay bottling in 1936. Concannon was the first to produce a varietally labeled Petite Sirah in 1964. Prior to this, Petite Sirah had been used exclusively as a blending grape.

While Livermore has had great success with Bordeaux varieties, its diversity of soils and unique topography have encouraged growers to experiment with other grape varieties. As viticulture expands into higher elevations in the foothills of the mountains, growers are starting to discover that Rhône varieties, like Syrah and Viognier, are proving successful, as are Italian and  Spanish varieties. An increased understanding of the distinct microclimates throughout Livermore Valley, combined with continued innovation and an open mind, are paving the way for the future.