Wine has been cultivated in Livermore since the 19th century, with the Cresta Blanca Winery (founded 1882) being one of the earliest, and well-respected, with its first vintage (1884) winning Grand Prix at the 1889 Paris Exposition, becoming the first California wine to win a competition in France. Vineyards were shuttered during Prohibition, however.
In the early 1960s, Livermore had as much area under vine as Napa Valley did at that time. However, it remained relatively unknown, while Napa rose to worldwide prominence. Wente Vineyards has long been the largest producer in the Livermore Valley, making around 300,000 cases of relatively inexpensive wine annually, much of it for export. It was first established in the valley in 1883. The next largest producer, Concannon Vineyard, makes around 30,000 cases per year. The rest are mostly new and considerably smaller.
The relatively obscure Petite Sirah grape produces Livermore’s best known red wine, although the warm climate also makes for interesting dessert wines. The original plantings of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc were cuttings taken from Château d’Yquem, and those grapes tend to produce fine wine in the Livermore area. There is also a move afoot among the wineries in Livermore to specialize in Merlot. Wine made from grapes grown in the Livermore Valley is eligible for the Livermore Valley AVA, San Francisco Bay AVA, and Central Coast AVA appellation of origin designations.