Taste Our Terroir Part 3: McGrail Vineyards

McGrail Vineyards
McGrail Vineyards

During my second and final day of Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir, sponsored by Visit Tri-Valley, I had the great honor of visiting McGrail Vineyards and experiencing From Vine to Glass: Through the Winemaker’s Eyes with winemaker Mark Clarin.

Time for class!
Time for class!

What made this visit so special is that Mark is passionate about Livermore Valley and winemaking. He is also a wine educator, whether he realizes it or not. However, since we received an academic-like handout to take with us, I think that seals the deal. I’ve visited many vineyards during the eight years I’ve enjoyed wine at a serious level, but this time, after having taken three Wine & Spirit Education Trust certification courses, everything clicked.

McGrail Vineyards
Vertical Shoot Positioning at McGrail Vineyards

We started out in the vineyard where Mark discussed vineyard management – the impact of site choice, elevation, the Mediterranean climate, the rain shadow, and Livermore Valley’s East-West orientation – as well as the clones planted, soil type, vertical shoot position trellises, drip irrigation, and North-South row orientation. He made my inner wine geek come alive.

Cabernet Sauvignon at McGrail Vineyards
Cabernet Sauvignon Véraison at McGrail Vineyards

Although McGrail produces a variety of wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – we primarily focused on the estate-grown and produced Cabernet Sauvignon during our tasting experience in the barrel room of the winery. The best part of the visit was that we had the opportunity to taste Cabernet Sauvignon aged in Hungarian, American, and French oak to show the effect that various oak choices have on the wine. McGrail typically ages their Cabernet Sauvignons 30 months in oak.

Tasting Cabernet Sauvignon at McGrail Vineyards
Tasting Cabernet Sauvignon at McGrail Vineyards

Our first Cabernet Sauvignon was the 2010 A Jo Elet, which means The Good Life in Hungarian. This wine was big and bold, with lots of blackberry, plum, baking spices, and tannins. The second was the 2011 The Patriot, aged in American oak. It exhibited aromas and flavors of plum on the front of the palate, black cherry and vanilla mid-palate, and firm (but softer than the A Jo Elet) tannins on the finish. Next, we tasted the 2007 James Vincent, which Mark fondly called the shizzle. This wine was aged in French oak. It was smooth and supple, with great structure and tannins, and aromas and flavors of blackberry and plum. As Mark noted, wine is a living thing, and continues to develop in the bottle. Our final wine of the tasting was the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in a blend of barrel types. I tasted red berries on the front of my palate, rich black fruit mid-palate, then substantial tannins on the finish.

Mark Clarin, kick-ass winemaker/educator
Mark Clarin, kick-ass winemaker/educator

This visit was by far the best vineyard tour and tasting I’ve experienced to date. Mark Clarin is a gifted winemaker and teacher. His passion for winemaking and his love of Livermore Valley make a tour and tasting at McGrail Vineyards an unforgettable experience.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I want to thank Visit Tri-Valley again for the opportunity to visit and the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association for an outstanding slate of activities for this year’s Taste Our Terroir.



P.S. Mark, if you read this, that’s my water cup in your hand! This is the reason I was taking all the photos!


  1. This place looks marvelous – I think I’ll need to venture out there next time I’m in Danville or Pleasanton visiting friends. “From Vine to Glass: Through the Winemaker’s Eyes” sounds like the coolest experience. Thx.

    1. I think what’s cool about Livermore is that a lot of the wineries are close together and also aren’t far from the cute downtown area!

  2. Hi Beth,

    I enjoyed your article. What a wonderful experience to be able to experience the Cab in different Oak types. So I’m curious, with the different Cab’s you tasted, was the only difference the Oak origin? Where the grapes all from the same vineyard and location within the vineyard, or did Mark go into that?

    Miki Finnin “This is the Life” Winer

    1. All of the grapes for their Cabernet Sauvignon come from their estate vineyard. They only grow Cabernet Sauvignon on property. Their other wines’ grapes come from other vineyards, but all are Livermore Valley.

    2. Thanks for the response (even though NOW as I reread the article I see that you said it was estate grown – silly me!) Since all estate grown, this provides a truly representative sample of how different barrels can change the flavor and aroma. I love those kinds of learning experiences! Just out of curiosity, did you have a favorite between the four different barrels?

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