The Press

A Valley Found

Dane Stark - Sunday, April 10, 2011

30 years ago the Livermore Valley was a drive thru. It was a place, in my mind, that was a gas stop on the road to Yosemite.

When Phil Wente was drumming up support for the San Francisco Bay Appellation he came to the Santa Cruz Mountains and bought lunch for a group of winemakers. Duane Cronin, Bob Mullen, Donn Reisen and a hand full of other winemakers including myself joined Phil at the Plumed Horse in Saratoga to listen to his pitch on establishing a new appellation called San Francisco Bay that ran from the mid bay area in the east and west down through Monterey. Until that point I literally had no opinion of the Livermore Valley, mostly because I had no knowledge of it. After that meeting I learned, first hand, and was affected by the dismissive attitudes regarding this "in between" appellation.

A number of SCM winemakers were ambivilant to the appellation, but a more vocal few were adamant that the Santa Cruz Mountains not be included in this "land grab" by the Livermore Valley.... which was ridiculous it seemed to me. After all, we all belong to the appellation called California, but that doesn’t mean we have to put that on our label... we can be in California and still say Paso Robles for the appellation, or Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Mountains or Livermore Valley... but they are still in California.

Today the SF Bay appellation excludes the Santa Cruz Mountains which exemplifies the spirit of winegrowing where I was "raised"......

When I came to Livermore, I intended to continue making wines from other appellations, business as usual... but the wines and the vines tapped on my shoulder and whispered in my ear...... "and what of us?" until I listened.

If the Santa Cruz Mountains represents a rugged individualism, with the Brown Bear that used to roam the mountains being the mascot, and the Northern climes are the Hollywoods of our kin with the lush lands and gold plated parking meters being their mascot, then the Livermore Valley is represented by the roots of the vines.... extending deep into the river bed of time through the valley growing winegrapes for over 100 years. Like the vines themselves, the valley is patient. Roots extend deep and quietly work beneath the surface. What I have learned in the wine business comes from the vines, the grapes themselves and from the juice in the barrel. The "in" winemaker has nothing to teach me, it's the quiet, deep rooted and thoughtful that I want to listen to, that's where the lessons lie. The sound of a dormant vineyard, the rustling of the vines pre-harvest, the alive bubbling of a quiet fermentation happening out of sight of the camera, the barrels that stack, and sleep and wait.

If you listen to the glass of wine it tells a story... if you don't, it's just a cork and a bottle, some wine..... who cares.


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