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Tri-Valley: California’s Surprising Hot and Trendy Wine Country

Magnificent Vines & Vineyards of Tri-Valley (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

It should come as no surprise that California makes 81 percent of all U.S. wines and is the world’s 4th leading wine producer. And while Napa and Sonoma are typically the kings of the hill when California wine regions are mentioned, it’s some of our lesser-known wine appellations that have become our favorite places to visit. Like the magnificent Tri-Valley – one that’s become an amazing road tripper’s dream.

Located just 30 minutes east of the San Francisco Bay area, Tri-Valley is a grouping of three picturesque bucolic valleys – Amador, San Ramon and Livermore. The area also encompasses the charming towns of Danville, Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton, all within easy driving distance of one another.

This is where a small town vibe, history, a diverse culinary scene and a host of quality wineries and breweries blend the past with the present and reveal what the destination's amazing future holds.

Wente Vineyards (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Liquid Assets Creating Quite a Stir

Wine may have put the Tri-Valley on visitors’ radars, but there’s much more to this region than its award-winning wineries. Here winemakers, brewers and distillers are at the top of their game, extremely devoted to their craft and passionate about their products.

Many don’t realize that Livermore is California’s oldest wine-growing region and their wineries have been family owned and operated for generations. Many are organically certified. There are an impressive 55 wineries with tasting rooms within the Livermore Valley. How to choose? Well, we can guarantee one trip won’t be enough as we loved our recent visits to Las Positas, Garré Vineyard & Winery, McGrail Winery and Wood Family Vineyards.

Again, how many wine regions can you go to these days and have the chance to meet and chat with the wine owners and winemakers themselves who are happy to share their stories?

Also, there’s such an impressive number of craft brewers in the area that Tri-Valley now has a beer trail – a collection of breweries, alehouses and taprooms. Visitors can sign up for a digital passport and begin sampling among 20 places on the map. We came for the wine, but we’re determined to do this on our next trip!

Don’t want to sip and drive? You can go first class and in luxury with one of Black Tie Transportation's wine and brewery tours.

Magnificent Food Offerings of the Tri-Valley (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Foodie Scene Is Exploding

Tri-Valley has become one impressive culinary adventure. It’s no secret that wine, brews and good food go together, and this region embraces it with finesse. Visitors' only regret is that they run out of time trying out all of its global-inspired and contemporary California foodie gems that make this destination a stand out.

Breakfast fans must try Nonni’s Bistro in Pleasanton. This European eatery creates everything from scratch, and it’s divine. Oyo represents the diverse cultures found in South America with fare rooted in indigenous dishes and oh, is this place impressive. And just around the corner in town, the Pleasanton Farmer’s Market is open on Saturdays year-round. Their wholesome selection of seasonal fruits, vegetables, artisan cheese and other local goods is quite impressive.

If you love Burmese fare, Burma! Burma! in Danville is one amazing restaurant that’s ideal for a group foodie sharing. Without a doubt, Danville Harvest has to be one of our favorite lunch venues. This farm-to-fork eatery is passionate about only using local sustainably sourced ingredients. Everything about their food is creative, inspiring and delicious.

Garré Café in Livermore features freshly tossed wood burning pizzas, fresh baked focaccia and other European-inspired foodie gems in a warm and hospitable setting. And you can even pair foods with their spectacular wines.

Locanda Wine Bar in the heart of Livermore is owned by an Italian family that emigrated from Southern Italy. Having lived in Italy for four years, I can tell you their entrees made me feel as though I was actually back in old Napoli. It’s so comforting to get true-blue authentic Italian food in the U.S. and to interact with this gracious family as well.

Mt. Diablo, California (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Surrounded by Natural Beauty

If the rolling verdant hills with miles of vineyards in this valley aren’t picturesque enough, the vistas from Mount Diablo are stunning. It’s only about an hour drive to the picturesque Mt. Diablo State Park sitting at almost 4,000 feet elevation. The park is surrounded by idyllic rolling hills and broad valleys. On a clear day, you can see all the way to San Francisco Bay. Standing on the Diablo Valley Overlook, the Golden Gate Bridge glitters in the distance.

The mountain is a popular hiking, biking, horseback riding and sightseeing destination. There are multiple trails crisscrossing the mountain with varied difficulties. But even if you just have time to take the drive up to the summit where the lighthouse and visitor center are perched, it’s more than worth it, if only for the views!

One of the Vintage Cars at Blackhawk Museum (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

The Must-Do Blackhawk Museum

Every visitor to the Tri-Valley area should plan a visit to the Blackhawk Museum. And we can unequivocally say that we have never seen a local museum this fascinating. As a matter of fact, it’s even much more impressive than its five-star ratings.

This non-profit museum was founded in 1988 and includes five distinct galleries under one roof for one admission price. Probably best known for its collection of classic, rare and unique automobiles, the museum features the Classic Car Collection, all vintage automobiles in absolute shimmering pristine condition.

Other “worlds” of the museum include The Spirit of the Old West, World of Nature, Art of Africa and The Into China Gallery. We had planned a half-day visit and could have honestly spent the entire day exploring these impressive displays and exhibits. Don’t miss this jewel!

Historic Murray Schoolhouse Museum, Dublin (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Traveling Through History

Everything in the Tri-Valley is deeply connected to the past. Which is another reason we adore this area. Even its wines are richly steeped in tradition.

C.H. Wente came to the U.S. in the late 1800s from Hamburg, Germany, and learned to make wine from another German, Charles Krug, in Napa Valley. In 1883, Wente established his estate and winery in Livermore. He produced the first labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon in the entire country. Today most of the Chardonnay grapes in the region are descendants of Wente clones. What an experience to tour the grounds of this historic property and its wine cave and wine taste among the picturesque vines or in the barrel room with its impressively Old-World hand-carved wine barrels.

Dublin’s Heritage Park and Museum is a journey through time sporting the region’s oldest Catholic church, a schoolhouse, historic Kolb House and the pioneer cemetery. The 10-acre park was designed to capture and share the history of Dublin which once served as the crossroads of two important stagecoach routes.

The Murray Schoolhouse Museum is a good place to trace the history of Dublin’s Irish founders through its impressive showcases, maps and interactive exhibits. Visitors can even schedule a guided tour. We found it to be both fascinating and informative.

Eugene O’Neill was a famed playwright and the first American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tours to the Eugene O’Neill Historic Site in Danville are free to the public. However, a reservation is required through the National Park Service. And access to the house and grounds is only available by the park shuttle. At the historic site, visitors can learn about the playwright’s life and the places that were an integral part of his Northern California life.

So, the next time you’re looking for a wine country fix, think off the beaten path. Let yourself be surprised by one of those spectacular places not everyone knows about. They are true hidden gems just begging to be explored. That’s what the magnificent Tri-Valley is all about. And as one of my friends so aptly put it after our recent visit there “I had no idea. This area is so amazing.”

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