Vermouth – The Return of a Lost Classic

We opened the doors to Occasio Winery in 2008, driven to recapture the winemaking traditions that made the early wines from Livermore legendary. This has been no simple task, as these winemaking traditions have been lost for generations, victims of a rush to quantity over quality, and of a diaspora of talent that occurred here more than half a century ago.
Through hard work and careful research, however, the past is giving up its secrets. We continue to discover the preserved records from our pioneering winemakers, documents that survive only because the wines of Livermore Valley were so special. Now, putting our discoveries to work, we are beginning to recreate these early wines, and with Sidewinder Spirits, the inspiration for our distillation.

Rediscovering what has been lost, and making it new again, requires ownership of our craft. No step, no matter how insignificant, can be entrusted to others. It is essential we control both the provenance and the quality of all that goes into the crafting of our wines and spirits.

It is this need for ownership, provenance, and control that gives birth to Sidewinder Spirits. The idea for Sidewinder arose from our need to gain ownership over the manufacture of the brandy used in our port wines. Although most pay no heed to the provenance of the brandy used in port wine production, we know two things:

1) prior to prohibition, Livermore was prized for its brandy, and
2) only this prized brandy was used in Livermore port wines.


Occasio Winery – California’s Highest Rated Port – 94 Points, Wine Enthusiast

“Made in the style of a classic Port, this powerhouse of a sweet wine combines opulent fruit flavors with richness and body, balanced by bracing acidity and a generous shot of fine tannins. With a little time, violet, dark chocolate, raspberry and fig nuances roll across the palate, blending with the boysenberry fruit for a complex and layered finish.”

                                                         Jim Gordon, Wine Enthusiast Magazine


I am convinced that the early wines of Livermore Valley were special, that something happened here more than a century ago that made our wines famous throughout the world. I founded Occasio to rediscover these classic wines, to see them again with fresh eyes, and to improve upon them. It is a return to the wines that founded this valley, wines renowned for their elegance, structure, and depth.

Recreating the best of early ancient wines has been difficult, and has required us to exercise complete control over all aspects of their production. From stewarding the lifecycle of the vine, to hand sorting within each cluster of grapes, to then handcrafting the wine with the care and dedication gleaned from extensive research and experimentation – well, all the work is done in house, and we couldn’t have it any other way.

Today, we are recapturing another lost classic from Livermore’s treasured history: a dry vermouth.

Why vermouth? Vermouth has become a hot category, and we have seen the resurgence of interest in vermouths in the modern cocktail movement. But the new vermouth has, in my view, overlooked some of the qualities that made vermouth enjoyable a century ago, when producers used wines and brandies of quality, integrated into a fragrant and tasteful package. This shortcoming in the modern vermouths has not been for lack of trying, but most, if not all of today’s vermouths are made by specialty producers that don’t have complete control of their production. Most have to buy their base wines on the secondary market. And those that can make their own wine must rely on neutral brandy spirits from the bulk market. In both of these cases, the essential components of the base wine have been repurposed, not designed, for the vermouth. And, I think the quality suffers for it.

I asked myself if we could create a vermouth with an aroma of an exotic perfume, and a taste to match, both characteristic of early Livermore wines. What if we crafted a quality wine specifically for our vermouth? What if we distilled a brandy designed only for our vermouth? And what if we sourced only the finest roots, herbs, and spices specifically for a Livermore-styled vermouth?

And this is what we have done. We have crafted the first Livermore Valley vermouth in over half a century. With over a dozen herbs, roots, barks, and spices, our dry vermouth has top notes of citrus, with middle notes of fresh local garden herbs, and base notes of vanilla and rosemary, all artfully supported with hints of rare wormwood and cinchona. It is delightful on its own, and wonderful in a classic cocktail. Julia Child would have loved it in her upside down martini!

I am excited to be bringing this classic wine back to our valley where it belongs.