We tip our collective hats, and hearts to some of the icons of the Livermore Valley this week, as we come off the excitement of the 4th of July holiday and all its attendant parades and explosive displays of gunpowder in all its forms. First a hearty salute to Robert (Bob) Taylor of Retzlaff, founder and owner, along with his late wife Gloria Retzlaff Taylor, of the first organic vineyard to be established in the region back in 1976.

Their tasting room hours of 12-4:30 daily, except Wednesdays, harken back to when they would open for an hour or so at lunch, so the Lab folks could come have a sandwich and a quick glass of wine in the shade of the pepper trees before heading back to work.

Bob and his sons Aaron and Noah still make wine the same way Bob always has from the beginning: from organically grown grapes, in the most gentle and respectful way possible. No herbicides, fungicides, pesticides or fertilizers are used in the wine growing process, and the wines are clean, precise and elegant. Let’s raise a glass of their flagship Cab-Merlot blend to Bob’s achievements over the years and to a long and healthy life in the beautiful place he calls home.

Kudos go to Cedar Mountain for capturing “Best of Red Varietals” in the “High” priced class at the 2017 Orange County Fair for their 2015 Zinfandel from Del Arroyo Vineyard. They also captured Silver for the 2016 Grenache Rose from Ghielmetti Vineyard and a Silver for the 2015 Thatcher Bay Merlot.

Bent Creek scored Silver for its 2014 Livermore Cabernet, while Eagle Ridge scored Silvers for its 2013 Petite Sirah and NV Raptor blend. Ehrenberg scored Silver for its Contra Costa Carignane and Elliston scored Silver for the 2014 Livermore Valley Pinot Blanc.

In the same competition, Fenestra wines collected five Golds, including the 2012 Livermore Cabernet, 2013 Livermore Petite Sirah, 2013 Infrared and 2012 Touriga. They also earned four Silvers including the 2015 Livermore Chardonnay and the 2011 Thatcher Bay Merlot. Las Positas was awarded Silvers for its Livermore-sourced 2014 Coccineous and Tempranillo. Longevity received Silvers for its 2012 Debruvee Rhone blend and 2013 Livermore Tempranillo, while Wente received a Gold for its 2015 Morning Fog Chardonnay. Nicely done!

At the recently held San Francisco International Wine Competition, local winemaker, Michael Chalkley of Enoteca Five, scored some impressive results:

Best Merlot, Double Gold Medal, 95 points, Enoteca Five 2013 Merlot, Moon Vineyards, Los Carneros, Napa Valley

Gold Medal, 90 points, Enoteca Five 2011 Cabernet Franc, Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley

Silver Medal, Enoteca Five 2011 Cabernet Franc, Silvaspoons Vineyards, Lodi

Silver Medal, Enoteca Five 2012 Cabernet Franc, Silvaspoons Vineyards, Lodi

This is some mighty tasty stuff: consider adding some to your wine collection: that Moon Merlot is magnificent. Reach Michael at enoteca5@comcast.net

Rhonda’s New Hangout on Research

Rhonda Wood has officially opened her new tasting room 2407 Research Drive, in the former home of Thomas Coyne. Open Friday through Sunday from 11 until 5 pm, it’s a completely different experience for those who are used to visiting her at the Wood Family Winery in the vineyard, but it sure makes for a fun day out tasting in this hotbed of tasting room activity. With at least six other nearby wineries open to visitors on the weekends, you should definitely check out the Research/Vasco/Graham Court Triangle.

We visited right before her grand opening and were impressed by all the space and at how quickly it can fill up, quite frankly. How nice to have space for a real lab, a real break room, along with real offices and a truly gigantic area for making wine and readying it for bottling. For Rhonda, it must feel like going from a studio apartment to the top floor penthouse!

Rhonda has a lot going on the wine department: there are so many great wines on the list, she needs that extra space. Standouts on the list are the 2014 Malbec, 2014 Petite Sirah and the 2014 “El Loco Rojo,” named for her animated uncle who enjoys making a scene wherever he goes. He picked up the Spanish nickname for “crazy redhead,” after a family vacation in Mexico, where he kept disappearing into new cantinas. They could always find him by asking the locals, “Have you seen El Loco Rojo?”

In the cellar, we tasted the 2015 Petit Verdot and Malbec right out of the tank, just before they were to be bottled. Sensational stuff. The current 2014 Malbec is textural and spicy, but the new one is more energetic and focused, while the upcoming Petit is even more velvety and plush than the 2014. It goes to show why many winemakers, when asked what their favorite vintage is, reply, “The one I’m about to make!”

HAPPENINGS AROUND THE VALLEY

Wente Vineyards Estate Winery & Tasting Room plays host to the Livermore Shakespeare Festival for Shakespeare in the Vineyards this year. Sassy outdoor evening performances of Midsummer Night’s Dream, with costume assistance by Las Positas College students, entertains audiences through July 16, followed by Cyrano de Bergerac from July 13 to July 30. Livermoreshakes.org

Opera in the Vineyard comes to Retzlaff on Sunday, July 16, from 5 until 9 pm. This is the annual fundraiser for the Livermore Valley Opera. Bring a picnic, purchase some fine Retzlaff wine and enjoy the music under a beautiful twilight sky. Silent and Live auction to benefit the Livermore Valley Opera. See www.livermorevalleyopera.com

Taste Our Terroir kicks off with everyone’s favorite food and wine pairing taste off on Thursday, July 20, at Casa Real, with special VIP tickets granting early access at 5 pm, beginning with a wine reception on the patio at 4:30 pm. But that’s just the beginning. Three more days of events follow. Visit lvwine.org for complete details.

Feeling artsy? Fenestra will host their first Plein Air event with Artists in Motion on Saturday, July 22, from 10:30 until 5 pm. Winery opens for tasting at noon. Picnic on the picturesque lawn, surrounded by art, while enjoying a glass of wine and listening to live music. Meet and talk with the artists, or bring a sketchpad and get inspired.

Enjoy watching the day play out against the sky while evening breezes rustle the trees and horses whinny softly from a nearby barn? The hospitable folks at Rodrigue Molyneaux invite all to come to their little plot of bucolic heaven on Saturday, July 22, for a summer “Sip By Sunset” event. The winery will be open that evening until 8 pm so guests can bring a picnic dinner and enjoy the cool nighttime breeze while sipping on the latest creations from winemaker Garry Rodrigue and assistant winemaker, Jeff Finch Jr.

If comedy is more your thing, get ready to laugh at Comedy Uncorked at Retzlaff, July 22, featuring comedian and social conscience Will Durst, along with several others. Showcasing some of the Bay Areas finest comedians, this is a hilariously fun way to raise your endorphin levels while helping to support Open Heart Kitchen, the institution that serves more than 350,000 warm meals annually to people in need right here in our own Tri-Valley area.

The show will include a live auction that often includes special rare bottles from Bob Taylor’s own personal library. All the proceeds go to support the Open Heart Kitchen. To purchase tickets: http://www.comedyuncorked.com/

Pizzas from Forno do Sbarro Wood Fired Pizza will be available to purchase, or bring your own food.

Las Positas Vineyards will also offer comedy on Saturday, July 22nd "Evening in the Vineyard." Featured will be Bay Area local comedians Jeff Applebaum & Andrew Norelli. Wine, non alcoholic beverages along with food prepared by Smokin Hot Meats N Treats can be purchased during the event (sorry no oustside food or drinks are permitted) To purchase tickets go to www.laspositasvineyards.com. Doors open 5:30 pm with show starting around 7:30 pm.

Learn something new about everyone’s favorite food at “Pairing Wine with Pizza,” part of Concannon’s Somm Series, Wednesday, July 26, from 6-8 pm. Take this culinary favorite to the next level with a fun “pizza party” class that involves tasting pizza with different seasonal and gourmet toppings along with six wines in a comprehensive lesson in what creates a complimentary pairing. Then, you’re free to make your own personal pizza and create your own perfect wine pairing to match. Purchase tickets at least 72 hours in advance: 925-583-1559 or email reservations@concannonvineyard.com