Posts Tagged ‘jeff cohn’

Family Wine Virtues

August 13, 2011

I like the Family Winemakers of California annual tasting because it’s like visiting a big, raucous, fun-loving family for a special holiday.

The big event is Sunday, Aug. 21, at Fort Mason in San Francisco where more than 300 mostly small and moderate-size wineries will be putting their best pours forward.

Admission is $65 in advance and $75  at the door. Details online at the Family Winemakers of California website.

The FWC event has been an annual affair for the last 20 years, serving as a tasting platform to expose smaller wine producers to wine consumers and the wine-selling trade.

I happened to attend the very first gathering  in 1991 at the Sheraton Palace Hotel where 46 member wineries presented their wines. The event has grown up in size and stature over the years.  Click here to read about last year’s FWC tasting.

With hundreds of wineries pouring several wines apiece, the only sure thing is there will be lots of interesting wine available for tasting. I’ll seek out the most interesting examples and report back on how it turned out.

Urban Wine Finds

It was hard to find a clinker at the Urban Wine Experience last weekend in Oakland. I enjoyed a wide sampling of good wines from the group, which includes more than 20 East Bay wineries.

Two white wines stood out from the crowd.

Urbano Cellars

I’d forgotten how good chenin blanc can be until Bob Rawson of Urbano Cellars shared a glass of his 2010 bottling from Green Valley (Solano County).

This $17 white wine, which took silver at the California State Fair,  is balanced with a refreshing crispness that’s true to the varietal’s form. I picked up some citrus  and peaches on the nose — along with a touch of minerality — to complete a nice package of flavors.

J.C. Cellars

I’m not usually a sucker for cute names, but First Date ($28) caught my eye when I saw the name on a bottle of 2009 blended white wine being poured by J.C. Cellars of Oakland.

The mix is Roussane and Marsanne, two grapes with French ancestry, that are relatively rate in the United States.

Together, they produced a luscious mouthful of ripe apricot delight. I loved the honeysuckle nose, too. Kudos to winemaker Jeff Cohn.

Tayerle Pinot

The 2008 old vine pinot noir from Tayerle Wines stood out as a best buy at the Urban Experience.

The wine, crafted by owner/winemaker/classically trained musician Loren Tayerle, is made from Central Coast fruit. It’s got a nice spicy approach, pleasing cherry flavors and a cherry nose.

I’d rate this a best buy and one of the better California pinots for less than $20 that I’ve tasted.

Ehrenberg Petite Sirah

My favorite red  wine at the tasting was the $30 petite sirah from Ehrenberg Cellars, a small producer operating at Alameda Point in the Rock Wall Wine Company compound.

The 2009 is made from Lodi fruit. The wine is an inky dark mouthful of chocolate mocha flavors, luscious and smooth. It’s $28 a bottle. Only 35 cases were produced.



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

Rock ‘n Wine in Alameda

January 8, 2010

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.

Shauna & Kent Rosenblum

Shauna & Kent Rosenblum

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.

San Francisco Skyline

View from Rock Wall Wine Co.

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.

There are six other wineries at the Rock Wall Wine facility, including Blacksmith Cellars, Carica Wines, Ehrenberg Cellars, JRE Wines, R&B Cellars and Virgo Cellars.

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.