Between the Vines is a biweekly column on wine and winemaking in the Livermore Valley region. This column was contributed by the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.

Livermore Valley's more than 50 wineries began as family businesses. All were born out of a passion for wine and the desire to share the fruits of a labor of love with the community. But a few of our local wineries can trace their wine industry roots back generations, and visitors can taste the rich history as they explore the wine lists and welcoming tasting rooms.

"I am lucky to be able to continue the lineage of the Mirassou family in the California wine business and have a unique connection to my ancestors in that what I do -- the harvest, pressing off finished wine, making blends -- are the very same things they did 150 years ago," says Steven Mirassou, of The Steven Kent Winery. "I imagine, when I am making picking decisions in our vineyards, that my great, great, great-grandfather was doing the same exact thing on the same day!"

Pictures of Steven's ancestors hang on the walls of his tasting room, and he feels that part of what differentiates his wines is family tenure in the wine business. His mission for The Steven Kent Winery and Lineage brands is to make cabernet in the Livermore Valley that in quality rivals red wines made anywhere in the world.


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Westover Winery in Castro Valley's Palomares Canyon also has a collection of family photos in the tasting room that chronicle the family history in agriculture.

"My great, great aunt, Josephine Tychson, is documented as the first woman winemaker in California in 1881, and my great, great grandfather started farming in Alameda County around 1850," says William Westover Smyth, winemaker and owner of Westover Winery. "Farming and hard work are in our family's blood."

Westover Smyth's hard work is evident in the wide array of wines available at Westover, including the country's largest offering of ports. At Concannon Vineyard, home of America's first petite sirah, guests can have the Concannon Experience, which provides opportunities to learn about the family's history as a founder of the California wine industry.

"Our winemaking is inextricably linked to our family values of integrity, excellence and respect for the land," says vintner John Concannon. "For me as the fourth generation, this has meant pursuing technologies for improving and expanding vineyard and winery operations as well as the best implementation of sustainable practices in environmental conservancy."

Fifth generation winemaker Karl Wente, of Wente Vineyards, also feels conservation is key. "Our family history is about the land and the story the land tells through our estate-grown wines. My great grandfather purchased the original 48 acres in 1883, and we have been committed to sustainably farming wine grapes since then."

Known as the first family of chardonnay, the Wentes protect the legacy and ecological health of their 3,000 acres of estate vineyards with the Farming for the Future program. This system of practices enhances the vitality of the soils, creates a balanced, sustainable ecology, minimizes water use and reduces nonorganic wastes. For more information and help planning your wine tasting trip to Livermore Valley wine country, please visit www.LVwine.org.

Wine country events

  • Fourth Annual Cabstravaganza -- 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at Charles R Vineyards, 8195 Crane Ridge Road in Livermore; www.charlesrvineyards.com. Cost: $5. Enjoy a wide selection of cabernet sauvignon, a vertical barrel tasting and a fun library wine silent auction.

  • 22nd Soup & Wine Weekend -- 12 to 5 p.m. Jan. 25-26 at Fenestra Winery, 83 Vallecitos Road in Livermore; www.fenestrawinery.com. Cost: $15. Guest chefs from local restaurants will present assorted soups and breads. The entry fee includes a logo wine glass, buffet plate, soup and bread samples and recipes. The charge for club members and nondrinkers is $5.