The Women Behind The Livermore Valley Wineries

Food & Drink, USA Travel

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022, is International Women’s Day, and as with most celebrations, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a glass of wine. So that led me to talk to five women who own wineries in Livermore Valley, California. In honor of International Women’s Day, I wanted to find out what they find exciting about being a woman in the wine industry, what makes their winery unique from others, and gather some insider tips from them about Livermore Valley wine.

Several years ago, I spent nine months in San Francisco’s East Bay area in Walnut Creek, California, 22 miles from Livermore Valley. I was working on an intense project, and rather than return home every weekend, staying in the Bay area and exploring worked out better for me. That’s when my colleagues first introduced me to Livermore Valley wines.

With 4,000 acres of wine grapes, the Livermore Valley has more than 50 wineries growing 30 plus varieties. You’ll find everything from 100-case boutique operations to 400,000-case industry big names.

Kate Hudson, the American actress, said,“Every bottle has a story, and when you sit down and drink it, you feel connected to that story.” Every bottle I sampled, every woman I met had a story to tell – owner, winemaker, vintner. I’m sharing their stories with you in hopes of inspiring you to visit their wineries in Livermore Valley, California.

The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association provided me with samples of the area’s wine to assist in writing this post.

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Note: Some of the responses have been shortened or edited for clarity and space.

Interview with Darcie Kent, owner at Darcie Kent Vineyards and Almost Famous Wine Company

Darcie Kent from Darcie Kent Vineyards and Almost Famous Wine Company

Darcie Kent is the owner of Darcie Kent Vineyards and Almost Famous Wine Company.

What’s exciting about being a  woman in the wine industry?

I’m the fifth generation of women, working with my daughters. The women in my family and throughout Livermore Valley created the industry I work in now. Throughout my personal history, my mother was re-filling wine bottles in the winery as a young child. It was my grandmother working in the fields, it was my great-grandmother who had to leave Switzerland and come over with her husband, and she was one of his major salespeople, people behind the bar, and working the fields during harvest. So it’s businesswomen who have always worked from the beginning in all aspects. When it’s a family farm, everyone gets involved.

Even now, you’re seeing daughters of famous vintners coming up and taking the reins. In Livermore, it’s part of our history. For example, our first winemaker at Concannon was a woman. (Note: Concannon’s owner Captain Joe hired one of the first technically trained women winemakers, Katherine Vajda, as Concannon’s lead winemaker in the 1950s.) That’s how Livermore started, and when it opened up to small wineries in the mid-1990s grew exponentially.

I love doing this with my daughters. My oldest, Kailyn, works with us on marketing, developing labels with me, marketing our brands. My younger daughter Amanda named our music venue and sister winery Almost Famous, a new venture opening during the pandemic. Amanda will join us full-time in the summer.

When did you become interested in winemaking?

My great-great-grandfather came over from Switzerland with his wife, they were both artists and vintners, so I’m doing the same. My daughter, especially Kailyn, has pursued her career’s art side and spent more time on the art side with us. Amanda did more of the business side but is also a very good artist.

What makes your vineyard stand out from all the others?

Darcie Kent is also an art gallery, and all my work is on display and for sale there. I do all the labels. The labels for Darcie Kent are all art done by me.

Almost Famous would have to be about the music and the wines. The music artists are almost famous, but not quite.

For both of them, we make world-class wines. But, in addition, we have a trained professional, a degreed winemaker, Julian Halasz, who oversees the winemaking for both places. He is such a great asset to the wine country. He knows how to get out of problems.

What do you most want others to know about Darcie Kent Vineyards and Almost Famous Wine Company?

How much love goes into it, and how much effort. We all put love, effort, and caring into every bottle that goes out there. It’s a passion. We are at the vineyards every day. We are at the winery every day. It’s our life. It’s what we care about. They’re our babies.

Darcie’s Insider’s Tip: Join the clubs. The access at Darcie Kent to the end of vintage sales, the food and wine pairings at every club release is extraordinary, and the access to the owners and the winemakers. It’s just an incredible experience. For Almost Famous, it’s the same kind of benefits but also with the backstage pass for the music. The club benefits are extraordinary.

What Piper Sampled: Pistachio Lane 2019 Chardonnay

The classic Pistachio Lane Chardonnay begins with aromas of yellow apple, lime, jicama, and white blossom. Next, they mature Pistachio Lane in a mixture of neutral oak and stainless steel. This method allows them to make a fruit-forward and refreshing chardonnay that’s still soft and complex. This vintage is full-bodied, with sesame cracker, lemon, and sourdough crust finish accompanying the crisp, yellow apple flavors.

Darcie’s Food Wine Pairing: Darcie recommends pairing the Pistachio Lane 2019 Chardonnay with the Dover Sole with a bit of lemon caper sauce. Darcie likes how the pepper brings out some of the notes in the wine. The lemon complements the lemon notes in the wine. In addition, the butter in the sauce adds a little bit of richness.

Interview with Rhonda Wood, Owner, and Winemaker at Wood Family Vineyards

Rhonda Wood and son Harrison Wood of Wood Family Vineyards in Livermore Valley Photo Credit: Ron Essex

Rhonda Wood is the winemaker and owner at Wood Family Vineyards.

What’s exciting about being a woman in the wine industry?

With head winemakers being at about 10 percent women, it’s just an exciting industry to be in, period. Over 20 years, it’s exciting to see the Livermore Valley raise the bar and grow. We have a lot of collaboration, including the guys, and it’s exciting to know that we all support each other. It’s also exciting to see more and more and more women jumping into it and seeing the growth of women in the industry.

What makes your vineyard stand out from all the others?

We’ve been farming the vineyard since 1995 and home winemaking since 1996. Once it was all Merlot, we bottled estate varieties the first year. We purchase grapes from other growers in Livermore Valley and use 100% Livermore Valley grapes, and 50 percent are exclusively from our vineyard. We have a happy family-run winery with five full-time employees and several part-time employees.

What do you most want others to know about Wood Family Vineyards?

We have great wines in a relaxed, fun atmosphere. We have very casual seating and serve you at the table. You don’t have to go up to a bar. It’s all about the experience: we have a great staff, and my son works with me too.

We have music on Wednesday and Friday nights, year-round. We are open later than other wineries to help serve the many day-trippers. Many visit after running their errands. We stay open until 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m on Friday, while many others take their last tastings at 4:00 p.m. Within walking distance of our winery, you’ll find a distillery, two breweries, and six other wineries.

Another thing is the windows to look into the cellar. You can see what is happening as they work on the wine. It’s fun to see them working on the wine.

Ronda’s Insider’s Tip: Visit the Livermore Winegrower website for updates on events. Wood Family Vineyards is both dog-friendly and kid-friendly.

What Piper Sampled: Wood Family 2018 Malbec

Blackberries and dark red plums dominate this deep royal purple wine’s aroma, which becomes almost translucent around the rim. In addition to the taste of blackberries and plums, you’ll find a note of milk chocolate and a soft smokiness balanced with ripe cherries and a smooth finish.

Rhonda’s Food Wine Pairing: Rhonda recommends pairing the Wood Family 2018 Malbec with Rhonda’s Prune Stuffed Pork Roast or Lamb Cassoulet.

Interview with Lisa Maier, Owner at Las Positas Vineyards

Lisa Maier at Las Positas Vineyards in Livermore Valley, California

Lisa Maier owns Las Positas Vineyards. She wanted a historical name, and Las Positas came from Robert Livermore’s original land grant. It means “little water holes.”

What’s exciting about being a woman in the wine industry?

To some degree, we bring a little different perspective. I think how we may approach it is a little different from men. Not only am I an owner, our wine assistant is also a woman. So it helps bring the perspective not only from ownership but also from making the wine.

For example, in some of the wine pairings, we look for different types of food. Our winemaker is a little different because he looks at healthy food, and I think women look at healthy food and how wine pairs with it more than men would. We were doing a wine pairing with different salads, which isn’t typical. More often pairings look at meats.

Covid made our business pivot a little bit, having to serve food. We like that perspective because we have a full commercial kitchen. So doing food with wine was very good for our business, and we are continuing to do that even now that it’s no longer a requirement. We do small bites, a charcuterie plate, flatbreads, and dessert pairings. Even when they lifted that requirement, customers liked that experience a lot more than the typical experience at the bar. So we’re moving more in that direction with the food and wine pairings.

What makes your vineyard stand out from all the others?

All our wines are 100% estate. We have 20 acres of planted vines that surround our winery. We have seven different varietals, so all the wine we produce is from our vineyard. Because we have seven varietals we can do blending, we have a lot to offer. From start to finish, it’s 100% under our control. From the vineyards to them bringing it in and making it on-premise, we bottle it and store it in our own temperature-controlled warehouse. Then when we serve it, it’s never left our control. We are very conscious of the treatment of the wine.

What do you most want others to know about Las Positas Vineyards?

We concentrate on quality. That’s our primary emphasis, and we’ve won many awards. The 2020 Alberino won a gold medal in the 2021 San Francisco wine competition for the wine you had tasted. The 2021 Albarino made best of show in East-West and East Meets West International wine competitions. We are very focused on producing wines that have the highest quality. It’s characteristic of the effort we put into vineyards, being estate grown.

Lisa’s Insider’s Tip: Wine clubs are a good value. Not only a good value for the discounts you receive but for the benefits. Like the complimentary wine tastings, you and your guests. We have a lot of events that are just for wine club members. For example, we have Wine Club Wednesday, where we have had the wine club members blend wine and vote on which blend, then the people who voted for the selected wine get all their initials on the wine bottle. So we have a lot of fun things for the club members.

What Piper Sampled: Las Positas 2020 Alberino

Typically, Portugal and Spain grow Albariño grapes. Las Positas 2020 Alberino features floral aromas of green apple, lime, Meyer lemon, and kiwi. The wine is crisp and dry, with pineapple, lemon, nectarine, and grapefruit flavors.

Lisa’s Food Wine Pairing: Lisa recommends pairing Las Positas 2020 Alberino with roast chicken, shellfish, or a chicken curry empanada.

Interview with Margie Dino, Owner at Cuda Ridge Wines

Margie Dino at Cuda Ridge Wines

Margie Dino is an owner at Cuda Ridge Wines.

What’s exciting about being a  woman in the wine industry?

Just some of the delicious wine we get to taste. There’s something extraordinary about being able to see something go from a vine all the way to something that sits on your table that you enjoy with good friends and family. But, for me, what’s probably the most important is the relationships that it holds between friends and family.

I am not the winemaker, I am the wine maker’s wife, but I helped him start the winery. I do help with a lot of the blending and those activities. The wine enhances the relationships and pride you get from something you helped create. The feeling of being proud you could work with the grapes and turn them into something so wonderful to drink that you can share with your family, friends, and a multitude of people.

When did you become interested in winemaking?

Since Larry and I have been married for 35 years, we have always enjoyed wine tasting and enjoying wine. So it started getting crazy when we talked about “what would it be like to make wine someday.” We happened to run into a friend, and we asked about her parents. She said, “My parents live in Sonoma, and they are growing grapes and making wine.”

I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s what I would love to do.” So my friend put us in touch with her parents, and we began by buying their grapes and making wine as a hobby. Then we had a lot of fun doing it. But as time went on, we got a property in Livermore rather than Sonoma, we worked on buying grapes in Livermore, and our wines just kept getting better and better. And now, Cuda Ridge has been around for almost 15 years, winning competitions. Something to watch, something grow, and become something.

What makes your vineyard stand out from all the others?

We are a producer of wines. Larry is the producer. We have two vineyards we grow, and we have 12 different family-owned vineyards from where we source. Some vineyards asked us what varietals to plant. So, we told them what we were looking for. We wanted all the Bordeaux varietals. So we told a friend to plan Carmenere because we wanted that one. Since then, we have had two friends that planted Carmenere, and we are making it from three vineyards now.

What do you most want others to know about Cuda Ridge Vineyards?

We make world-class wines that are doing very well in competition. They’re not overly priced. Our wines are mid-priced, so the average person should be able to afford a delicious glass of wine.

Margie’s Insider’s Tip: We encourage reservations because we have table service now rather than standing around the bar, which I think has made for a much more enjoyable experience. You can sit in the vineyard and enjoy the wine on their extended patio. We have a beautiful setting and patio that we’ve extended. It gives people a chance to decompress and relax. The weekends are busy, but you can still get a reservation on the weekend. Of course, Friday is the lightest day.

What Piper Sampled: Cuda Ridge 2019 Carmenere

The 2019 Carmenere has a well-rounded mouthfeel with flavors of dark chocolate, dark cherry, baking spices, cocoa, licorice, and signature earth tones. In the 2021 Orange County Fair Wine Competition, they awarded this wine a Gold Medal, and Wine Enthusiast gave them 90 Points.

Margie’s Food Wine Pairing: Sparerib mole sauce or chicken with a deep chocolate mole sauce (look under club)

Interview with Rosa Fierro, Owner at Rosa Fierro Cellars

Rosa Fierro Cellar owner Rosie Fierro Photo Credit: Ron Essex

Rosa Fierro is the winemaker and owner of Rosa Fierro Cellars.

What’s exciting about being a woman in the wine industry?

Besides being passionate about wine and owning my own business, being a woman in the wine industry encourages other women to consider non-traditional roles in the workplace and as business owners. The wine industry is a male-dominated industry that poses its own challenges for women, especially when it comes to physicality and strength.  Women have to overcome these physical challenges in unique and creative ways to prove our worth and abilities. Women can also work long hours, get dirty, drive a forklift, carry furniture, hold leadership roles and do all that men can do. Women are helping to diversify the industry and I am proud to be on board with that challenge.

When did you become interested in winemaking?

I first fell in love with wine in 2009 while working in a tasting room that a friend of mine managed in Livermore, where I eventually assisted the winemaker with harvesting grapes and making port.  After a few years, I was totally hooked and thought about nothing but wine, so I decided to try making a wine of my own.  My friend Nancy Tenuta owned a winery and production facility in Livermore.  She helped me find some fruit for sale and let me work in the back of her facility, where I was lucky enough to work side by side with some of the greatest winemakers in Livermore Valley, who were also starting their wineries.  They kindly mentored me, teaching me everything they knew and encouraging me to make the highest quality wines possible.  It took a lot of devotion on my part and a lot of luck.  As I watched each of them leave to start their own wineries, I longed to do the same, and I opened my winery in 2014.  I’m still learning from my mentors in Livermore Valley, where the winemaking community is very collaborative.

What makes your winery stand out from all the others?

My winery is one of the few wineries in Livermore Valley that is 100% women owned and operated.  It is a small business, and I am very involved in operations – I am the owner, winemaker, janitor, accountant, wine hostess, marketing director, etc.  You can almost always find me in the tasting room waiting to pour for you.  My family and friends love to help with everything winery related, including blending, and naming the wines. Three of my best friends work in my tasting room and even my 90-year-old Grandpa comes to help me punch down fruit during harvest time.  I am also a photographer, and you can find many of my winemaking photos on the walls of my winery and on my wine labels.

As a woman, I find strength and inspiration from strong women.  I surround myself with strong woman friends and even name my wine tanks after strong, brilliant, brave women, and you can find Harriet, Ruth, Maya, Jane, Hillary, and Beyonce in my tank farm.  These women have overcome major obstacles to be who they are and have set examples for future generations of women.

What do you most want others to know about Rosa Fierro Cellars?

I’m very proud of making wine in Livermore Valley and I love to pour my wines and teach people about Livermore Valley and the winemaking process.  If you visit the tasting room, you will almost always find me there ready to pour for you and welcome you to my winery. We host live music by local musicians on our patio on Saturday nights.  We are located on “The Block” on South Vasco Road, with seven other wineries and two breweries within walking distance.

Rosa’s Insider’s Tip: The best time to go to Rosa Fierro Cellars is Saturday nights when they have live music. On the first and third Thursdays, they also have music with other wineries in the area.

What Piper Sampled: Rosa Fierro 2016 Call Me A Cab

Sourced from the award-winning Thatcher Bay Vineyards, the Rosa Fierro 2016 Call Me A Cab was a Double Gold Medal winner in the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Before fermentation, they hand-picked the fruit, crushed whole berry, and cold-soaked it with dry ice for five days. Then, they aged it 32 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels before bottling. As a result, the wine is assertive yet elegantly supple in texture, with pleasing leather and tobacco aromas and lovely cassis, cherry, and chocolate flavors bolstered by snappy, smooth tannins.

Rosa’s Food Wine Pairing: Rosa Fierro 2016 Call Me A Cab pairs well with various meats – steak, burgers, prime rib, a juicy New York strip, or a filet with garlic.

Read about another woman winemaker in the Greater Lansing, Michigan area, in Burgdorf’s Winery: Award-Winning Wine from a Garage.

The Women Behind The Livermore Valley Wineries

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    10 Comments

    1. Nicole Anderson

      How inspiring it is to read about these passionate and successful women WHo are happy to share their stories. They are living proof of what can be accomplished if you have the courage to follow your dreams. They are such a motivation for the rest of us who would have similar aspirations. Great interviews and insights.

      Reply
      • Piper

        I absolutely loved talking to them. They were all so passionate about their work!

        Reply
    2. Michelle

      I love this post! Thank you for adding several wineries to my list. The fact that they are female owned and managed makes them even better!

      Reply
    3. Debbra Dunning Brouillette

      What an amazing group of women winery owners! I enjoyed reading Each of their stories. Cheers to them and to International Women’s Day!

      Reply
      • Piper

        Thank you for reading this post Debbra!

        Reply
    4. Pam Baker

      Love the angle and celebrating International Women’s day with it!

      Reply
    5. Agnes

      It’s such a great interview. I am a wine lover, I am delighted to read about the successes of women in the wine industry—fascinating conversation.

      Reply
    6. Reina Conboy

      Very cool post. It’s awesome to read about so many female-owned wineries here in the Bay Area! Great, engaging interviews. Thanks for putting together this post just in time for International Women’s Day.

      Reply
    7. Kavita Favelle

      Lovely to read about these women wine producers, from those who are following generations of their family, to those who made a leap of faith. Their passion shines through these interviews, such as Darcie Kent talkng about the love that goes into what they make and Rosie Fierro’s pride in being a woman with a passion for the industry! I also like the note from Rhonda Wood that they offer a really casual and inclusive experience.

      Reply
    8. Sage Scott

      As someone who graduated from high school in Livermore, CA, I’ve L-o-n-g been a big fan of its wineries. love seeing these amazing women spotlighted in an industry that is still very male dominated.

      Reply

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    Welcome to Follow the Piper! Discover interesting destinations, and practical planning tips for packing more travel into your everyday life.

    Our founder and author, Amy Piper, is a freelance travel writer, blogger, photographer, and author specializing in luxury and multi-generational travel. She is a native Michigander who travels through the lens of a food lover and has been to 41 countries and 45 states.

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