Hot Ticket Events: Wine Tasting On the Road
One sunny afternoon, I tagged along for the Ruby Hill Winery Mello Cielo Vineyard Experience with some local restaurant owners and industry trade in Livermore, California. Many times, wineries offer many types of experiences to get you in the buying mood and they range from the typical to unique, but this one take’s the cake and it is one that any true Wine Oh would want to experience. After gathering in the immense tasting room, Mello Cielo purred away, waiting patiently for us to board. Completely redone, the one-of-a-kind custom bus was ready to zip us around her 200 acre vineyard. While we got cozy in her wine barrel bus seats, she powered onward down bumpy vineyard roads. Along the way, our driver gave us historical information about the winery and its land. Originally owned by John Crellim back in 1887, the winery changed hands many times. When the current owner, Mike Callahan purchased the property, the original winery was in ruins. Using the bricks from the original winery, he resurrected a new winery and adjacent to that, he also built Ruby Hill Winery.
Ruby Hill used to sit next to over a dozen wineries at the turn of the century and ambling through vineyard land that had been planted on for decades; you get a sense of what it must’ve been like 100 years ago. Livermore was hit hard by prohibition and wineries have had a hard time getting Livermore back to its glory days. Once a rural bay area suburb, it is now an urban oasis and continues to try to balance its grape growing and cowboy heritage with the needs of a growing community.
As the bus approached its first stop, winemaker Chris Graves, directed our gaze northeast to span the Livermore Valley and all its vineyards. He told us about the valley’s unique east-west orientation and how the ebb and flow of the marine layer during the hot summer months is ideal for grape ripening. These climatic conditions, as well as the loamy stony soil and low rainfall, result in perfect grape growing conditions.
We then boarded Mello Cielo once again for the final leg of the tour. After a quick tour and taste of their barrel facility, we walked over to a refurbished water tower for a private tasting. We tasted through their 2009 Chardonnay, 2008 Merlot, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Cielo Viola a blend of Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. After the incredible flight, our group instantly started to mesh. Maybe it was the spicy, herby, ripe fruit blueberry notes of the Cielo Viola? Whatever it was, it kick-started a lively discussion.
We began to chat about blended wines and their importance to Ruby Hill and the greater Livermore Valley wine country. One restaurant owner commented that she has seen quite an uptick of blends offered from the Livermore Valley.
Chris Graves Winemaker, Ruby Hill Winery
“Getting to know your clone, vineyard, and fruit is important. Each vintage is going to be different and you need to embrace the vintage and make it approachable and easy to drink.”
Today, Livermore boasts over 50 different varieties of grapes grown in the valley mostly due to the region’s adaptable climate. The availability of different types of grapes in the valley gives the winemaker a spice rack of grapes to choose from when making grape purchases. While many grape varieties can stand alone in the bottle, more often than not, they need the help of another varietal.
However, selling blends in restaurants can be quite difficult. The restaurant owners cautioned that blends are hard to sale because customers don’t always embrace them even if the restaurant owner loves them. There was obvious frustration that Livermore hasn’t chosen one particular grape varietal that it can stand behind. However, there was a unanimous sentiment that Livermore does produce quality wine and maybe one varietal isn’t what this region is all about. Maybe just as this community has blended city life with cowboys and grapevines, shouldn’t that be reflected in the wine too?
Mello Cielo was an awesome experience that left me wondering if there was something magical that occurred in that tour. It was impressive to see total strangers talk and discuss concerns openly, then form an effective working partnership in a matter of an hour.
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