In six short years, Cuda Ridge Wines has become one of the most well-respected wineries in the Livermore Valley. Winemaker Larry Dino has built his reputation on small-lot, Bordeaux-style wines, with a particular touch for soft expressions of single varietal cabernet franc and petit verdot.

Now, with a new tasting room and production facility across from the historic Ravenswood site on Arroyo Road, Larry and his wife, Margie, have an ideal setting from which to showcase their handcrafted wines. The new winery, a former olive mill on the site of the old Eckert Estate Winery, opens to the public this weekend. The grand opening celebration is on Aug. 10 and 11.

Cuda Ridge Wines tasting room is located at 2400 Arroyo Road in Livermore, Calif., on Tuesday, July, 23, 2013. The new location also has a vineyard and
Cuda Ridge Wines tasting room is located at 2400 Arroyo Road in Livermore, Calif., on Tuesday, July, 23, 2013. The new location also has a vineyard and picnic area. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

Cuda Ridge was founded in 2007, but Dino has been making wine as a home winemaker since the 1990s.

"It started as a 300-case hobby," he says, standing on the future site of Cuda Ridge's 1-acre petit verdot vineyard, which surrounds the long, narrow entryway to the winery.

The building, a renovated early 1900s barn, is complete, but the vineyard won't bear fruit until 2016. Come its first harvest, it will no doubt serve as a dramatic entrance to the winery and adjacent outdoor picnic area, which is surrounded on all sides by olive trees and rolling hills.

"It's a real milestone for us to be here," says Dino, taking in the view. "We're aspiring to be Steven Kent. We want to be the high-end winery in Livermore, and this location will hopefully help us be that destination."


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It is quite a step up from their previous digs. Dino was a weekend winemaker until 2008, when he was laid off from his job as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2009, he and Margie decided to make winemaking their full-time gig, moving the winery from their garage to a small barn on East Avenue. There, they increased production and ran their first tasting room. But, after a few years, they outgrew the space.

Some of the Cuda Ridge wines at their new location at 2400 Arroyo Road in Livermore, Calif., on Tuesday, July, 23, 2013.
Some of the Cuda Ridge wines at their new location at 2400 Arroyo Road in Livermore, Calif., on Tuesday, July, 23, 2013. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

The new, 1,500-square foot tasting room has a stand-up tasting bar, seating area for flights and a private tasting room for reserve and by-appointment winemaker tastings. It has an art hanging system to display the work of local artists and views of the barrel room and cellar through the glass doors.

"We're just excited about the customer experience that we will be able to offer our guests now," Dino says.

We're hoping the wines won't change much. Production is currently just under 2,000 cases, and Dino says the extra space will allow him to experiment with and expand their barrel program to include European acacia wood barrels, which contribute hazelnut flavors and a creamy palate to his 2011 Livermore Valley Semillon ($19).

But the vineyard program is set and solid, Dino says. He has developed relationships with the finest growers in the valley, including Steven Mirassou, who manages the 55-acre Ghielmetti Vineyard, where those semillon grapes are grown.

"I usually get to go in and hand-select the blocks and rows I want," Dino says.

Another beauty is the 2010 Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc ($29), a lush and fragrant example of what this varietal can do on its own. The fruit comes from Bill and Donna Johnson's White Cat Vineyard and yields flavors of red raspberries and pomegranates with a smooth, lingering red licorice finish.

"It's the first red in our lineup, so we consider it our softest wine," he says.

But, Dino's stunner -- and the winery's current No. 1 seller -- is the 2010 Livermore Valley Petit Verdot ($34) from the Smith Ranch Vineyard on the western side of Livermore. Dark and inky in color, the wine is bold and flavorful without knocking you upside the head with tannins and alcohol. Rather, it feels silky-soft on the palate, with dark berry flavors mingling with hints of tobacco and dark chocolate.

"I tend to pick my grapes about a week earlier than most in the valley," he says. "It helps keep some of that acidity and minerality, which I think is crucial to making memorable Bordeaux-style wines."

Contact Jessica Yadegaran at jyadegaran@bayareanewsgroup.com.

cuda ridge grand opening

Celebrate the grand opening of Cuda Ridge's new winery and tasting room with wine tasting and live music from noon to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 10 and 11, 2400 Arroyo Road, Livermore. www.cudaridgewines.com.