Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Wine Seeker's Guide to the Livermore Valley

If you enjoy drinking wine - especially when traveling on holiday - you've probably heard of Califoria's Napa and Sonoma valleys, and maybe been there. Maybe you've heard of the Golden State's Santa Barbara wine-producing region, too, and traveled there. The Livermore Valley? Not so much.

This state of affairs is something travel writer and radioman Thomas C. Wilmer hopes to change. Wilmer, a veteran print journalist and host of "Audiolog - The Travel Show'' on U.S. public radio stations, has written a painstakingly thorough, informative and, above all, useful guidebook entitled "The Wine Seeker's Guide to Livermore Valley.'' Livermore Valley, located in northern California about an hour from San Francisco in the East Bay, helped midwife the now-booming California wine trade. Indeed, the valley had a robust wine business in the 1880s and 1890s, lost nearly all of it during Prohibition and was dramatically surpassed in popularity by glamorous Napa and Sonoma after Prohibition was repealed.

Wilmer is an affable author and guide who doesn't put the knock on anyone; rather, he's interested in telling you what he likes about the Livermore Valley, a place he considers underrated both as a wine-making region and as a travel destination. He includes text on the valley's past - Charlie Chaplin shot movies there - and incorporates introductions from contemporary winemakers such as Phil Wente and James Concannon, two descendants of pioneer winemaking families. The Wente family brought the first Chardonnay clones to America from France, in 1912.

Along the way, Wilmer, the principal author, recruits contributors to furnish short pieces on what to do and where to hang out in the valley. Such as: Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill's restored Tao House in Danville, and the, well, downright pleasant downtown in the town of Pleasanton, with its toothsome upscale Mexican restaurant Blue Aguave Club, the Wine Steward - the East Bay's largest wine shop - and the Rose Hotel, a lovely place owned by retired National Football League coach and broadcaster John Madden.

The heart of this nicely illustrated (think good color photography), well-organized 236-page volume is Wilmer's profiles of Livermore Valley wineries. Concise, clearly written, with practical information such as opening hours, driving directions and interviews with the wineries' owners, this substantial section showcases Wilmer's gifts as a writer; you're in the hands of a pro here.

This book - and wine-making region - are most likely to appeal to travelers who have visited the San Francisco Bay Area before, seen the most-famous sights like the Golden Gate Bridge, and want to do something different. If you head east to the Livermore Valley, make sure you have this helpful trade paperback in hand.

"The Wine Seeker's Guide to the Livermore Valley'' retails for $19.35. It is published by RiverWood Books, Ashland, Oregon ( Tom Wilmer's "Audiolog'' is based at San Luis Obispo, California public radio station KCBX FM 90 (

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