California is known for many great wine regions, Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Central Coast, but it wasn’t until last fall that I had the pleasure to really discover Livermore. I was visiting my sister in Walnut Creek, CA. We wanted a wine day but didn’t want to drive all the way up to Napa from her San Francisco suburb home. She said “let’s do Livermore…I think you’ll be surprised.”
Always up for something new, I enthusiastically agreed and off we went on our short drive to Livermore. There are a handful of wineries in the region, many focusing on organic, sustainable and eco friendly wine making.
Murrieta’s Well is one in particular that I immediately became a fan of.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the founders of Murrieta’s Well and current consulting winemaker, Dr. Sergio Traverso, Ph.D. recently and immediately understood why I enjoyed the wine and winery so much. The passion and dedication evident in both Sergio’s words and resume are enough to impress any wine lover.
Sergio has been making wine for over 30 years, entering into the profession on somewhat of a fluke, having switched focus while getting his doctorate at U.C. Davis. He entered Davis seeking a doctoral degree in Microbiology, which he did obtain, but instead of taking this knowledge into a profession in food science (as was intended) he fell in love with the art of growing great grapes and making fine wine. After graduation the Chilean native became the Technical Director for one of the oldest wineries in North America, Casa Madero in Mexico, founded in 1597, and participated in creating a rebirth of sorts for the winery.
After two vintages with Casa Madera Sergio interviewed with Domain Chandon for the first winemaker position, which he got, making some of the first sparkling wines for the winery. This is really where he fell in love with the art of winemaking, especially Champagne. He traveled to France and learned from some of the “old timers” as he called them. He did everything that was asked of him, as he found the art of making Champagne the most interesting expression of wine making, so he gladly worked as a cellar rat of sorts, riddling the bottles individually, to blending and tasting with some of the best Champagne makers in France during the 1970’s. His time with Domain Chandon was a great contributor to his knowledge and experience, as he watched Napa grow around him From Chandon he went to Sterling, then to several consultancy stints with wineries such as Mondavi, Clos du Val, and Sonoma-Cutrer.
In 1981 he moved to Concannon in Livermore to be both in charge of the vineyard and the winemaking. He was instrumental in modernizing this historical winery and giving it new direction. He stayed with the winery until 1990. After serving relatively brief stints at other wineries in his career, I was curious why he had stayed with Cocannon so long. Simply put, he fell in love with the land, the soil and the wine. The Livermore soil wasn’t the same dense clay found in Napa, this soil was mostly gravel, forcing vines to reach deep into the ground for nutrients, and creating rich, intense fruit with finesse.
When he left Concannon he had intended to go back to his native Chile and start his own winery when his long time friend Philip Wente, of Wente Vineyards, approached him about developing a brand that made Bordeaux style white and red wine in Livermore. Their partnership was a great success, as it allowed both to do what they loved in the areas they specialized (one tending the vines, the other making great wine, with both consulting on each others efforts and techniques.) The successful relationship has resulted in wine filled with character, expression and distinction.
The winery is beautiful, sitting a top the land where legendary gold-rush desperado, Joaquin Murrieta, would stop and camp on his way to Mexico to sell wild horses. The working Murrieta’s Well, as it has become, sits just outside the winery doors and still flows with water. A single spur rests atop the label of each bottle of wine, almost as homage to the inspirational outlaw.
Today, the total wine production is a mear 5000 – 8000 cases; small quantities of great wine. They make four wines under the Murrieta’s Well label, including their Bordeaux style White Meritage of 52% Semillion/48% Sauvignon Blanc. Both grapes have been growing in the vineyard that now is Murrieta’s Well since 1884, when French grape grower, Louis Mel, brought Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc cuttings to Livermore from Chateau d’ Yquem (good pedigree for these grapes.) Filled with honeysuckle, white peach, ripe melon and apple, this is a classic representation of great White Bordeaux, without the price-tag some French will bring. Crisp and elegant with a welcomed long, lingering finish filled with creamy butterscotch and vanilla from French and Eastern European oak barrel fermentation and aging.
Zarzuela is the Spanish word for “operetta” is a harmonious blend of Spanish and Portuguese grapes, including Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Souzao and Touriga Francesca. Philip and Sergio wanted to make wine that was unlike anything else in California, and featuring grapes that are traditionally used for Rioja and Port, but when blended together create a lively, enticing wine filled with berry, chocolate and rosemary. Each varietal is aged 12 months on its own, then blended and returned to barrel for further aging. Flavors of cherry, black pepper and vanilla shine, finishing with spicy richness.
Their Red Meritage is an excellent representation of Sergio and Philip’s desire to create a blend reminiscent of classic French Bordeaux. They want their wine to be complex, elegant and approachable embodying what Mother Nature gives them, with a great breeze blowing in from the Bay; sandy loam and gravel soil, which makes their grapes work to create depth and intensity; sustainably farmed land and hand-picked grapes to protect their valuable fruit; and spot on blending of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc. The wine is packed with cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, chocolate, and leather undertones. High quality, low production wine, delivered straight from the bounty of Livermore.
And, as Sergio states with joy and passion, our goal is to “provide people with enjoyment in a good glass of wine. At least to me, that is the final reward for the work I do.”
Murrieta’s Well can be found at various Centennial locations, including Centennial #1 on Northwest Highway.