Posts Tagged ‘east bay wine’

East Bay Urban Winery Spotlight

May 17, 2012

The lure of the  East Bay urban winery scene is as simple as five P’s — Proximity + Promise + Price = Plenty of Pleasure.

There are 23 members of the East Bay Vintners Alliance which has been active since 2005.

The largest, Rock Wall Wine Co., is probably the biggest winery with the longest history, having its origins in Rosenblum Cellars — the first urban winery in the East Bay.

I recently enjoyed a lovely Pinot Noir from the group’s newest and smallest member, Stomping Girl Wines. The husband-and-wife team of Uzi and Kathryn Cohen are owner-operators

I discovered the wine — a blend  of fruit from Petaluma Gap, Carneros and the Sonoma Coast — at the annual Passport to the East Bay Wine Trail tasting last weekend. The event featured tastings at 10 different member wineries.

The Stomping Girl 2010 Unhinged Pinot Noir is a cherry bomb, with vivid red fruit to spare. There’s enough acidity to keep the fruit from overwhelming the palate. I’d pair this with something simple, especially smoked meats and mild cheese.

White Wine Standouts

Two white wines stood out from the pack.

Stage Left Cellars 2006 Viognier presented a pleasantly floral and fruity take on this shy varietal.

I like the citrus highlights and wildflower nose from this Viognier, which is made from grapes grown at Kiler Canyon Vineyard in Paso Robles. Only 73 cases were produced.

The winery is only open to the public on the first Saturday of each month. The tab is $5 and the next chance you have to visit is June 2.

The 2007 R& B Cellars Sauvignon Blanc is another great white wine and a great value, too!

Winemaker Kevin Brown , whose primary focus is vibrant red wines, was direct in his intent with this paler varietal.

“When I think of Sauvignon Blanc, I want to drink French,” he said. “I want that crisp French style.”

The wine is crisp with a nice citrus core — perfect for a late Spring picnic or as an aperitif

Supplies are low, so check with the winery to see if there’s any left at the $10 a bottle/$60 a case price.


Labor Day Weekend Wines

September 3, 2011

The days of the drive-in movie are nearly over, but you can still enjoy an outdoor film with a glass of cool wine in hand at one East Bay winery.

Movies in the Vineyard

You won’t have to drive to Napa or Sonoma for a wine country movie experience  at Chouinard Winery in the hills above Castro Valley.

Chouinard Winery

They kick off kick off a Labor Day weekend celebration with a Saturday (Sept. 3) showing of the 1954 horror classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the movie starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $20/car. Bring a picnic dinner and try the lineup of Chouinard wines including their award-winning 2007 malbec from Paso Robles ($19).

Movies are shown every Saturday night this month, including a Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon double feature Sept. 10.

Music & Meritage

Every Sunday in September, you can enjoy live music and wine tasting at Hannah Nicole Vineyardsin Brentwood. This Sunday (Sept. 4)  features an acoustic performance by Toree McGee from 1-4 p.m.

Owners Neil and Glenda Cohn originally wanted to grow apples, but followed the wine muse instead. They began making wine as amateurs in 2002 and opened their winery in 2009. The estate covers 80 acres and there are 10 current releases of red and white wines.

Saturday Happy Hour at Berkeley’s Casa Vino

Prices drop by $2 per glass at Casa Vino during the 5-6:30 p.m. happy hour on Saturdays. This wine-centric spot has one of the largest “by the glass” menus in the Bay Area featuring selections from all parts of wine country, foreign and domestic.

Wine Mine Find: $1 Tasting

Every Saturday afternoon, in the Temescal district of Oakland, David Sharp sets out 4-5 interesting wines for a $1 tasting at the Wine Mine, a delightful discount wine shop. That’s right, it’s only a buck to taste the whole flight. This Saturday (Sept. 3), the lineup features an all-rose selection.

Rosenblum Cellars

There will be live music on the deck at Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda this Saturday (Sept. 3) and 20 percent discounts on case sales through Labor Day. Admission is free.

They don’t make wine anymore at Rosenblum’s Alameda facility, but the tasting room is still open and  on a sunny day it’s a fun place to kick back and enjoy a glass of world-famous zinfandel.

Urban Wines by the Bay

July 28, 2010

The Alameda/Oakland  Ferry becomes a wine-drinker shuttle this weekend when city dwellers can sail from San Francisco to the Urban Wine Experience on the East Bay shoreline.

There will be 19 wineries from the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance pouring about 60 wines from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday (July 31) in Oakland at the old Barnes and Noble building, now called the Jack London Pavilion.

It’s easily reachable from all of the Bay Area by car, BART and several bus lines. Advance tickets are $45 online and $60 at the door.

Starting Small

Although there is one big fish in the group, Rosenblum Cellars, most of the wineries are much tinier operations that produce small lots of wines with limited distribution. Here’s a chance to taste wines you won’t likely see on any grocery store shelf.

Bob Rawson is president of the  vintner group and a partner in Urbano Cellars, which operates in Emeryville at facilities operated by Periscope Cellars, another small producer that set up shop in an old submarine repair shop in an industrial block of 62nd Street off Hollis Avenue.

Bob Rawson, Urbano Cellars

Rawson started making wine several years ago in his San Francisco garage with a neighbor, Fred Dick. It was a hobby that grew into a business with plans to expand into new space in Oakland later this year.

Several alliance members share facilities with Rock Wall Wines in Alameda, where a huge aircraft hangar at the old naval air station provides room to work and grow their businesses.

Other alliance winemakers, like Jeff Cohn at JC Cellars, who started working at bigger wineries, like Rosenblum, have grown their businesses and now operate their own wineries. JC Cellars shares winery and tasting room space with Dashe Cellars at 55 4th Street in Oakland.

Award Winners

Some of these wines are “turn your head around” good and have been recognized for excellence at various competitions around the state.

One of the newest alliance members, Urban Legend in Oakland, won Best of Show at the California State Fair for their 2009 Clarksburg rosato di barbera ($16). I wrote about this dry, flavorful summer wine in an earlier blog about the new winery near Jack London Square (621 4th Street, Oakland). Only 65 cases were made.

Urbano will be pouring its own 2008 rose’, a bone dry wine made from the valdiguie grape. Known in some circles as Napa Gamay, valdigue is actually a French grape that is sparsely planted in California.

Rawson gets grapes for his “vin rose'” from a two-acre plot in Solano County. (Click here for my take on an interesting Solano County winery to visit.)

“We are trying to make something different and unusual,” Rawson said, explaining why there is no cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay in his lineup.

Instead, he sources fruit from small growers of sangiovese, barbera, and petit verdot grapes.

The 2006 petit verdot from Urbano (made from grapes grown in Lodi) is a steal at $16. It’s not a grape you see bottled on its own very much. Usually petit verdot is a small part of a Bordeaux-style blend, but in Rawson’s hands this petit verdot becomes a smooth and complex red wine.

One alliance member, Adams Point Winery, goes in another direction, making mostly fruit-based wines from mango, papaya and persimmon. There’s room for all kinds of wines in this alliance, so you’ll find a wide range of styles from big, bold reds to rose’ wines and whites, too.

Urban Concept Pays Off

The idea that wines can be made outside of the major wine-growing regions, like Napa and Sonoma, isn’t new. Home and hobby winemakers  all over the country make wine from imported grapes. Rawson thinks the commercial urban winemaking movement is sustainable and practical.

“This is a model that can work,” he said, over a glass of his delightful 2008 sangiovese. “There are no land costs and no planting costs. We’re leasing warehouse space, for the most part.”

And, Rawson says, “Most of the wine consumers are here, where we are, not in Napa or Sonoma.”

Plus, there are plenty of high-quality grapes for sale from all the major growing regions, which are only a few hours away from the urban wineries.

“There are plenty of grapes. And, as beautiful as it is to look at vineyards from your porch, you don’t need that view to make great wine,” he said.

Here’s a link to a listing of all the members of the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance.

East Bay Vintner's Alliance Membership

Bayside Wineries Shine this Weekend

April 8, 2010

The first urban winemaker I met was a college professor  in Memphis in the 1980s. He made zinfandel in his basement from grapes grown in California and I thought he was crazy.

Today, the image of an eccentric educator following his grape muse has been blown away by the reality of urban winemakers turning out really good wines on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay.

East Bay Vintners

About 20 urban wineries will showcase their wines Saturday (April 10) when the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance holds its annual Passport  to the East Bay Wine Trail event at seven locations in Alameda, Emeryville and Oakland.

Wendy Sandy and Ron Pieretti

There will be a wide range of whites and reds from producers like Rosenblum Cellars, a large and nationally known zinfandel producer, and Prospect 772, a small winery started by Rosenblum alumni Ron Pieretti and Wendy Sanda.

Prospect 772’s winemaker, Jeff Cohn, is another Rosenblum veteran. His award-winning winery, JC Cellars in Jack London Square, is also one of the tasting stations in the East Bay Vintners event.

Check out Prospect 772’s wine called The Brat, a grenache-based blend that I covered in last week’s blog.

Tickets to the EBVA event are $30 in advance, $45 at the door.

Dueling for Bay Area wine-lovers’ attention on Saturday (April 10) will be the SF Vintner’s Market.

The two-day event features more than 100 wineries offering samples at Fort Mason on the San Francisco waterfront from noon to 5 p.m. and on Sunday there’s another session from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. General admission tickets for either day are $30 apiece.

If you miss the SF Bay-area events, there’s another passport event next month a bit further north. The Passport to Sonoma Valley is a spread out affair, with more than 50 wineries up and down Sonoma County pouring samples May 15-16.  Two-day tickets are available in advance for $90 . A Sunday-only pass is $75.

Next Stop, Portugal

Portugal has a long history of making table wines, which are often overshadowed by its better-known fortified wines like Port and Maderia. At the annual Grand Tasting of the Wines of Portugal on Monday, 30 Portuguese wineries poured a wide selection of wines..

I focused on red table wines, tasting 60 examples made from mostly indigenous grapes, including the same varietals often used to make fortified wines. Overall, the wines were well made, and prices were quite reasonable, but few stood out from the crowd.

I did enjoy the  2007 Esporao Touriga Nacional ($30). It’s a big tannic wine that opens up to show some very nice red fruit after a few minutes in the glass. The wine is from the Alentejano region in southern Portugal, where one of the world’s largest cork forests is also cultivated.

Monte da Ravasqueira

For a bargain wine ($5), I found the Prova Red, an entry-level wine from Monte Da Ravasqueira, to be delicious. It’s a mongrel made from aragonez (tempranillo), and three native grapes — alfrocheiro, trincadeira, touriga franca — plus a splash of cabernet sauvignon packed into an easy-drinking red wine. It’s light and fruity with just enough backbone to complement simple foods.

Alicante Almighty

Several of the Portuguese wines included alicante bouschet in their mix. It’s a tough grape with strong tannins, but in good years it can add a lot of character and color to the blend. I liked the Caves Bonifacio alicante bouschet 2008 from Lisboa for it’s rich mouthfeel, integrated tannins and dark color plus a bit more red fruit than I expected. It goes for about $10 a bottle retail.

The only other good experience I’ve had with a varietally bottled alicante bouschet was on a visit to Lodi’s Harmony Wynelands winery about two years ago. I was surprised at the smoothness in contrast to the grape’s normally harsh nature. I’ve got a bottle or two in my cellar, and when I open them, I’ll report back on whether the wine measures up to that first good impression.