Al Fresco at Concannon
One nice thing about California wine regions that are *not* Napa Valley is this: it is a hundred times more laid back and it is a thousand times less expensive. I love Napa, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I wonder if I'm going to be charged a tasting fee for breathing the rarified air of the valley. I know it's a business, and pouring rivers of wine down tourists gullets is not the way it is any more now that Napa is, well, Napa. So it is a welcome relief to my price-conscious wine-loving self to venture afield to places like Livermore.
About a forty minute drive from San Francisco and maybe twenty minutes or less from anywhere in the East Bay you'll find Livermore along I-580 with its rather ugly name but a town full of people who could care less bustling around on First Street. There are dozens of little independent shops and restaurants and a super-festive Thursday night farmer's market complete with local wines to taste.
Make your way to Tesla Road and you'll be treated to a convenient collection of wineries with open tasting rooms. The big players are Wente and Concannon, both founded by local families way back in the day. There are smaller wineries, too, many of which sell only directly to consumers. This means they don't distribute their wines around the country- they'll ship to you- but you buy direct from them.
My favorite thing to do these days is pack a picnic and head to Concannon. I've fallen in love with their reserve Viognier- and for the retail price of that bottle I get to sit among the old vines and perfectly manicured grounds. They provide the glasses and offer to open the bottle and everything. It is just the cheapest, most glorious way to spend a Friday afternoon.