The old Navy base on the west end of Alameda may not seem like a suitable launching pad for a winery, but don’t let the folks at Rock Wall Wine Company hear you say that.
They think the 40,000-square-foot hangar, once used as a paint shop for Navy aircraft, is a perfect place to continue the tradition of urban wine making that has become a vibrant part of the Bay Area’s culture, which includes the East Bay Vintners Alliance and the San Francisco Wine Association.
Click here to read my blog about the SF Wine Association.
Rock Wall is not the first winery in Alameda but it has very strong ties to the first, and most successful, urban winery in the state — Rosenblum Cellars.
Kent Rosenblum, a veterinarian turned wine making pioneer, started his namesake winery (Rosenblum Cellars) in 1978 and turned it into one of the world’s most respected zinfandel producers. After selling the company in 2008 to Diaego, the big wine and spirits conglomerate, Rosenblum helped his daughter, Shauna, get Rock Wall launched later that same year.
Rosenblum has also helped several other winemakers get their start. Former Rosenblum winemaker Jeff Cohn now runs his award-winning JC Cellars winery in Oakland, and Thomas Coyne, former Rosenblum cellarmaster, makes wine in Livermore at the Thomas Coyne Winery.
Back in Alameda, the Rock Wall facilities serve as an incubator for a handful of boutique wineries that share the workspace and tasting room.
Rock Wall is open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Don’t expect an exquisite wine estate with an elaborate manor house and picturesque vineyards.This is a working, commercial winery. The tasting room consists of a crude bar at the back of the giant hangar. The nearest vineyards are hours away, but there’s something spectacular just outside.
It’s an awesome view of the majestic San Francisco skyline, which comes into focus the minute you step out the door.
Back in the winery, tasting room manager Erin Barrett poured me a sample of the Rock Wall 2007 Sonoma Valley zinfandel reserve and it was delicious. This polished red wine scored a well-deserved 90-point rating from the Wine Spectator and earned a gold medal at the 2009 Orange County Wine Fair. This $35 wine delivered a noseful of fresh blackberry fruit backed by a solid core of cherry and sweet chocolate flavors.
I also enjoyed Rock Wall’s 2007 Rock Star Rouge, an unusual blend of syrah (42%), tempranillo (37%) and cinsault (21%) that makes for a great everyday drinking wine. I liked the violet edge to this wine’s flavor and a bit of peppery bite that would make it a good match for burgers, pizza or grilled chicken. At $14 a bottle, it’s a steal.
Of the 10 wines available for tasting during my visit, I really liked the Carica 2007 Kick Ranch syrah ($30), a bright-tasting glass of cherry/blackberry fruit with a slightly smoky nose.
I also enjoyed an unusual white wine from Blacksmith Cellars made from the torrontes grape, a white wine grape popular in Argentina. The 2008 vintage ($15) tasted of lychee fruit with a hint of citrus on the nose. The grapes are from the Silver Spoons vineyard, near Galt, which is also the source of several other unusual varietals used by a number of other wineries.
Tags: East BayVintners Alliance, jc cellars, jeff cohn, kent rosenblum, rock wall wine, rosenblum, rosenblum cellars, san francisco wine association, shauna rosenblum, sonoma valley, thomas coyne, urban wineries