Collin Cranor, 26, winemaker at Nottingham Cellars in Livermore, Calif., March 4, 2013.
Collin Cranor, 26, winemaker at Nottingham Cellars in Livermore, Calif., March 4, 2013. (Cindi Christie/Staff)

Many people hear Livermore Valley and think of the usual California suspects: chardonnay, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. Those varietals are certainly grown in Livermore, and some expressions are quite good.

But if you're looking for something different, unique or inspiring, you may want to keep an eye on these five winemakers. From a valley veteran with an illustrious portfolio and a young environmental trailblazer to a female winemaker crafting incredible white wines, these five have very interesting projects on the table or in the works -- and are worth watching.

Collin Cranor

Owners Chris Graves, left and Mike Callahan, right, at the new Rubino Estates Winery in Pleasanton, Calif. on Friday, March 1, 2013.
Owners Chris Graves, left and Mike Callahan, right, at the new Rubino Estates Winery in Pleasanton, Calif. on Friday, March 1, 2013. (Dan Honda/Staff)

Most winemakers and wine experts in Livermore will tell you that they have high hopes for Collin Cranor. At just 26, the winemaker for Nottingham Cellars already has made a name for himself with high-scoring, award-winning cabernet sauvignons and a sold-out, small-production grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend, Awakening. But even at his age, he is considered a trailblazer in the Livermore Valley for embracing and advocating wine in kegs. Nottingham currently owns 80 kegs, which they fill for clients all over the Bay Area, from Vino Vino in San Jose to Walnut Creek's Residual Sugar.

Chris Graves


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You may know him for his role at Ruby Hill Winery, a mainstay in the Livermore Valley. But earlier this month, Graves opened Rubino Estates, the newest and most anticipated winery in years. With an 8,000-square-foot tasting room, it may be the area's largest and most lavish spot to sip wine. Last year, to match the winery's Italian theme, Graves grafted a few acres over to nebbiolo and trebbiano (the only trebbiano in the Livermore Valley, I believe).

Owner Steven Mirassou and winemaker Tom Stutz evaluate and discuss La Rochelle wines in their winery lab.
Owner Steven Mirassou and winemaker Tom Stutz evaluate and discuss La Rochelle wines in their winery lab. (La Rochelle Winery)
I'm a fan of Italian varietals and think they grow well in Livermore. It will be interesting to see what Graves does with the fruit.

Steven Mirassou

The Steven Kent portfolio, particularly the Bordeaux blends, are often recognized as among the best in California. That's Mirassou's mission: to be uttered in the same list as Opus One. But it is Mirassou's management of the 55-acre Ghielmetti Vineyard that also is getting a lot of buzz. The vineyard, which was planted in 2001 with Bordeaux varietals, will come into its own in the next decade with Mirassou adding more clones of cabernet sauvignon and possibly carmenere, the "sixth" Bordeaux varietal, of which there is none in Livermore.

Larry Dino owner and winemaker for Cuda Ridge Wines is photographed during his 2011 Cabernet Franc blending session on March 3, 2013.
Larry Dino owner and winemaker for Cuda Ridge Wines is photographed during his 2011 Cabernet Franc blending session on March 3, 2013. (Courtesy of Cuda Ridge Wines)

In addition to the reds, the Ghielmetti sauvignon blanc grapes are so good that winemakers are pining for them. It's understandable. The wines they create are so stunning, it makes me realize how and why a Livermore sauvignon blanc-semillon took home America's first wine medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Mirassou is all about returning the Livermore Valley to its legacy as a world-class wine region.

Larry Dino

The winemaker at Cuda Ridge is making some of the best single-varietal petit verdot in California. At $34, it is dark and inky in color with bold berry fruit, tobacco and chocolate, and it has a soft feel in the mouth without sacrificing on tannin structure. The grapes come from the Smith Ranch Vineyard on the west side of Livermore. Hopefully if he continues winning those medals, he will increase production to more than the current 168 cases.

Darcie Kent, at her artist studio/home in Livermore, where she makes the artwork for the labels of her Darcie Kent wines, Oct. 2, 2003.
Darcie Kent, at her artist studio/home in Livermore, where she makes the artwork for the labels of her Darcie Kent wines, Oct. 2, 2003. (Michael Lucia/Staff Archives)

Darcie Kent

I love that Darcie Kent bottled what I believe to be the first gruner veltliner (at least the first for commercial sale) in California. The fruit doesn't come from Livermore, but rather the sloping Rava's Blackjack Vineyard in Monterey County, where brisk coastal breezes and abundant fog help this Austrian varietal express its bright flavors and whopping acidity. Her sauvignon blanc, made from grapes grown in the same vineyard, is ravishing as well. So is her double-gold Livermore Valley chardonnay. Is she the valley's white wine goddess? Stay tuned.