This is another installment of a series called "Livermore Stories," which takes a look at the most exciting wineries in this wine growing region located east of San Francisco. More than 50 wineries now call Livermore Valley home. The wines have never been better, and the wineries have great stories to tell.
For Cuda Ridge Wines owner Larry Dino, the color "Plum Crazy Purple" has more than one meaning. It's the color of his restored 1970 Plymouth Barracuda muscle car that he saw one day on the side of the road, driving back to his home in Fremont, Calif, from looking for vineyard land in Sonoma (he eventually bought in Livermore Valley).
"My wife said it looked like a bunch of garbage," he says.
Plum Crazy Purple is an original color for the Barracuda, and Larry spent three years refurbing the car, spending both lots of time and money on it. "My wife called it my mistress."
Little did Larry and Margie Dino know that car would become the unofficial mascot of their Livermore Valley winery, Cuda Ridge. Larry says they were trying to come up with names for the wine they were making out of their garage. They had friends over to help bottle and one of Larry's buddy's came up with the idea. "He knew Margie hated this car, so he says call it Cuda Ridge." The name stuck.
Now Plum Crazy Purple is the official color for the winery too, and the eye-catching purple labels are a not-so-subltle reference to the Cuda. There's also a subliminal drawing of the car on the label that also looks like a ridge line.
"We have a big following because of the car," Larry says.
That following is also due to what's inside the bottle. Cuda Ridge has a Bordeaux wine style focus. "We are 100% Livermore Valley fruit," says Larry, which is appropriate as his winery is based in the heart of Livermore Wine Country. He moved his winery operations into a new tasting room and production facility in August 2013. Larry barely had time to get up and running before harvest hit, picking his first grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, around Labor Day weekend.
"This is a historic barn built in 1908. We renovated it but left the main structure, trying to make it look as similar as we could."
He's just picked Sangiovese today from his home vineyard, also in Livermore. There he has 125 vines of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, enough for two barrels total.
Larry and Margie moved from Fremont to Livermore in 2007 when they started the Cuda Ridge label. Prior to that they had made wine at home for many years. Larry worked in software engineering in Silicon Valley and started making wine as a hobby. He started with 13 barrels and 300 cases. He was laid off in 2008 and he and Margie, a registered nurse, decided to give their hobby a go.
Larry says Cuda Ridge is a hobby gone wild. "In 2012 we did 1600 cases and 2000 cases in 2013." He sells everything he makes. A good problem to have.
Cuda Ridge purchases most of its fruit, sourcing from six vineyards throughout Livermore Valley. Larry works mainly with the Bordeaux varieties: Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. While he considers his Bordeaux red blend his flagship, Cuda Ridge is known for their killer Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot single varietal bottlings.
"In fact we're more well known know for our Petit Verdot," he says. It has a bold berry notes on the nose, soft tannins and is a very balanced wine. Many Petit Verdots are too high in alcohol and tannins, but not Larry's. Last year he planted a Petit Verdot vineyard at the winery, which will become his estate vineyard.
Larry's Cabernet Franc is luscious, what Larry calls "a softer style of Cab Franc." It is elegant and floral.
Cuda Ridge also does single varietal Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc, the white grape varietals of Bordeaux. He ages the Semillion in acacia wood barrels - 20% new and 20% once used - for seven months. You get this tropical fruit and beautiful minerality in the wine. "That's what I like about it," Larry says. "I like the complexity. I think Semillion is more complex than Chardonnay." This is a gorgeous wine.
Bien-Aimé is Larry's Bordeaux blend, a small lot, one barrel reserve wine that is 70% Cabernet and 30% Merlot. Bien-Aimé translates as "well-loved" in French. The Cabernet comes from his home vineyard that he planted with his wife and kids and which he farms organically. "I call it our beloved wine." It's available only to wine club members.
Larry also does a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon under his black label at Cuda Ridge, in a style that's more California than Bordeaux. He likes to have people compare the two and learn the differences. "Half the people like the Cabernet, half the people like the Bordeaux."
The winery tasting room hosts guest local artists, with exhibitions rotating through every three months. They also host music performances ranging from acoustic to full bands. "We like to support the arts and art, music and wine all go together," Larry says.
Once a year the winery also hosts a car show, "Vintage Wines and Vintage Cars," where you can see the namesake 1970 Plum Crazy Purple Barracuda that started it all.
All photos courtesy Cuda Ridge Wines