Posts Tagged ‘periscope cellars’

Festival Season is Upon Us

March 25, 2011

We’re right in the midst of my favorite time in wine country. Festival season.

I’ve got info to share on two wine-tasting events in San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda, but first a quick report on a really nice sauvignon blanc.

A bottle of 2009 sauvignon blanc from Franciscan Estate in Napa found its way into my kitchen (the winery sent me a sample) and I’d actually forgotten about it until a desperate need arose for a white wine to pair with a salmon dinner.

Too lazy to tramp down to the cellar, I frantically searched the kitchen wine cabinet and then sorted through the 12 or so bottles stashed on various tables, counters and shelves.

The Franciscan was the only white in sight, so I slid it into the fridge for a 20-minute cool-down while I pan roasted a delicious filet of coho salmon marinated in olive oil and fresh Meyer lemon juice.

SV Hits the Spot

I like a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc in the summertime, on a hot night or at the beach, and also sometimes with steamed crab. I don’t believe I’d had any memorable SV with salmon before, since chardonnay is generally my “go-to” wine with salmon.

A glass of the tasty Franciscan changed my mind. It paired beautifully with the juicy pink fish, served over a bed of white and red quinoa with a side of sautéed red and dinosaur kale.

This agile wine showed a lime-centric core wrapped in layers of melon and a touch of something pleasingly tropical.

It’s a definite keeper at $17 a bottle.

Damn the Torpedoes, Festival Season Ahead

I’ve already reported on the 2011 versions of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and there’s a lot more wine event action ahead.

Rhone Rangers Report

This weekend, the Rhone Rangers hold their yearly grand tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

There are events on both Saturday (March 26) and Sunday (March 27). Here’s a link to details, with the featured tasting scheduled from 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Prices are $45 at the door.

This group is focused on promoting American wines with strong ties to the Rhone Valley of France. Rhone-style wines can be made from 22 different varieties of grapes, including syrah, grenache, mourvedre (all red) and viognier, roussane and marsanne (all white).

If I were picking California’s leading Rhone-style wine producers I’d be sure to include these two Central Coast stars:

Tablas Creek, which is owned by the same family that owns one of the Rhone’s greatest estates — Chateau de Beaucastel.

And, Zaca Mesa, a delightful winery in Los Olivos that started planting vines in 1973.

Both wineries will be pouring at the Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco.

East Bay Action

The East Bay Vintner’s Alliance puts on its annual Passport event next Saturday (April 2). Tastings are grouped at six urban wineries in (naturally) the East Bay.

Tickets are $40 and that includes a free shuttle bus between the wineries, BART and the Oakland Ferry Terminal.

There are 21 wineries pouring samples. Public transit is definitely the way to go, unless you’ve got a designated driver!

Tasting stops include: JC Cellars and Dashe Cellars — which share a building near Jack London Square in Oakland; the brand new Cerruti Cellars tasting room in Jack London Square; Periscope Cellars, an Emeryville producer that has moved its tasting room to a new location at Linden Street Brewery in Oakland which I wrote about in one of my earlier blogs; Rock Wall Wine Company, located in an old airplane hangar in Alameda; Rosenblum Cellars, which still has a tasting room next to the Alameda Ferry Terminal; and Urban Legend, a small winery located in an old commercial building on Oakland’s 4th Street.

For a full list of participating wineries, click here.

What’s Next?

I’ll be reporting on lots of wine tasting events over the coming months, from Monterey to Mendocino. Here are a few of the major attractions on my radar:

April — East Bay Vintners Association Passport

May — Santa Lucia Highlands Gala

June — Auction Napa Valley 2011, TAPAS Festival (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society),  Taste of Mendocino

If you have a favorite wine festival, tasting or other wine-related event coming up over the next few months, please let me know about it.

Thanks!

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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

Zinfest Surprises

May 20, 2010

A funny thing happened to me at a Zinfandel festival. I found a couple of unusual white wines that were great and a good red that wasn’t even a zinfandel.

Of course, there were lots of decent zins on tap last weekend at the Zinfest in Lodi where 50 regional wineries poured for several thousand attendees. I’d sampled many of the wines before, so I was looking for anything out of the ordinary and/or extraordinary.

With temps in the 80s, and sundresses and shorts the uniforms of the day, I tramped through the crowd in search of refreshing white wines.

There was a very nice sauvignon blanc ($13/2008) from Langetwins Wienry and Vineyards, a good viognier ($11/2008) from Loredona, and a slightly sweet and delicious verdelho from St. Jorge Winery, but I fell hard for two Rhone style wines — roussane and grenache blanc — from Hux Vineyards.

I’d actually tasted a lovely petite verdot from another producer, Periscope Cellars in Emeryville, made from Hux Vineyards grapes. I just didn’t know at the time the connection with Hux — a small Lodi winery making its first commercial releases after a long history of home winemaking and grape-growing.

The two whites were delicious and unique.

The Rhone Edge

The grenache blanc had a sharper feel in the mouth, like a crisp sauvignon blanc with rounded corners. The roussane showed more fruit — tinged with honey.  Often they’re used together in blends, but these two varietals (both vintage 2008 and $20/bottle) were great on their own in winemaker David Huckstead’s hands.

Huecksteadt’s magic in the bottle won gold medals in the home winemaking competition at the San Joaquin County Fair for several years. No Hux reds were available for tasting at Zinfest, but I’ll track them down and report back on availability.

D’art is D’elicious

My favorite red wine of the tasting was the 2007 petite sirah ($24) from one of my favorite Lodi-area producers, D’Art Wines. This a big  wine, aged in Hungarian oak. It’s ready for consumption now, but I’d decant it and maybe let it open up for 30-60 minutes before pouring it alongside any hearty plate of grilled pork or beef.

Owner/winemaker Dave Dart focuses on reds at a small winery next to his home on North Curry Avenue in Lodi. Dart’s 2008 zinfandel ($24) is a delightful mix of blackberry fruit with a vein of barely perceptible mint on the palate. D’Art is releasing a new blend ($12.50/bottle) later this month and visitors can actually bottle their own wine at the winery on May 29-31.

Zins to Remember

Some of the top zins on my Zinfest scoresheet included:

Mettler Family Vineyards 2007 Epicenter “old vine” ($18), m2′s 2008 old vine zinfandel from Soucie Vineyards ($28) and two zins from Oak Ridge Winery — the 2007 OZV (a big, bold “old vine” style wine/$15) and the 2005 Moss Roxx (a more refined $20 wine showing smooth brambly red fruit).

Oak Ridge is the oldest commercial winery in Lodi, where it began operations as a cooperative in 1934.

Upcoming Wine County Events

Mark your calendars for two big tasting events next month at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

TAPAS

The third annual TAPAS Grand Wine Tasting is on tap for June 5. The group, Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society, promotes mostly Spanish- and Portuguese-styled wines produced in the United States. About 40 wineries from California, Oregon and Arizona are scheduled to pour a wide range of wines, including Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Graciano, Mourvedre, Touriga, Verdelho, Bastardo. Advance tickets are available online.

Pinot Days

The annual Pinot Days event is set to unroll at Fort Mason on the last weekend in June. There will be 220 wineries from top pinot-producing regions in California and Oregon pouring more than 500 wines at the grand tasting from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 2 7. Smaller, focused tastings, dinners and seminars will also be on tap. Here’s a link for ticket and schedule information.

Up Periscope

June 4, 2009

Emeryville has about 10,000 residents, a movie studio, a big bio-tech company, an educational toy maker and a fun winery called Periscope Cellars.

If you blink while driving down I-80 between Oakland and Berkeley, you might miss the town that is home to Pixar, Chiron and Leapfrog.  But, if you get off at either the Powell Street  or Ashby Avenue exits, and head for 1410 62nd Street, you’ll find Periscope Cellars  in a non-descript industrial building that once was home to a submarine repair shop.

Unlike many of the big wineries in Napa and Sonoma, there are no lush vineyards surrounding a picturesque chateau.  Instead, this four-year-old winemaking operation prides itself on its gritty, urban setting.

Brendan Eliason is the winemaker responsible for Periscope’s tasty lineup of syrah, zinfandel, petite verdot  and Deep 6, a flagship blend of red varietals.

Brendan Eliason

Brendan Eliason

Eliason recently led me through a tasting of barrel samples of the various wines to be included in the 2007 Deep Six, slated for release later this year. Using a wine thief,  he drew samples from several different wine-stained barrels stacked three and four-high in the same space where workmen once refurbished submarines that patrolled the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

I was surprised by the wine from two barrels of sangiovese that had different taste characteristics. The grapes were harvested from the same location in Alexander Valley, but taken from different sections of the tiny vineyard. One sample had a rich, full mouth feel but a closed nose while the other had a  more pronounced aroma. They complemented each other well and I can’t wait to see how the final mixture turns out.

“The grapes we get are from four blocks in the vineyard, which starts on the edge of the valley floor and then continues up a hillside,” Eliason explained. “You can really taste the difference, even though the blocks are only eight feet apart.”

Wine has been Eliason’s focus since he was 18.

“I’m completely unqualified to do anything else,” the winemaker said with a laugh when asked why he got involved in the business. His qualifications include a degree in enology from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and a position as co-winemaker at Caffaro Cellars in Dry Creek Valley.

Periscope Cellars offers free tasting (Wednesday-Sunday) from Noon to 5 p.m.  Prices for most bottles hover around $20.

On the second Wednesday of every month, there’s a 5-8 p.m. happy hour with snacks, live music and movies.  The winery also opens its doors on a regular basis for special events, including a fund-raiser Saturday (June 6) in honor of World Ocean Day. Proceeds from the event go to COARE, the Center for Oceanic Research, Education and Education.

Beyond the Bay

If you follow I-80 to Sacramento on Saturday (June 6), there’s a big outdoor wine and food event at Cesar Chavez Park with more than 60 wineries pouring tastes and dozens of restaurants offering samples of regional fare. The 7th annual Raley’s Grape Escape showcases wines from Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Yolo  counties. If you go, I’d recommend trying the cabernet or petite sirah made by Dave Dart at d’Art Wines and any of the fine zinfandels from Jessie’s Grove Winery.

Rock, Paper, Scissors & Syrah

The annual Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship takes place Saturday (June 6) at Cornerstone Place in Sonoma.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, Paper, Scissors

The competition, which runs from noon to 6 p.m.,  is sponsored by Roshambo Winery, which takes its name from a slang term for the game. To play, two competitors square off and exchange hand signals representing rock (closed fist), scissors (two fingers) or paper (flat hand). Rock beats scissors. Scissors beats paper and paper beats rock. Oh, and there’s sure to be Roshambo wines, too.

All Hopped Up

For a hoppier experience, cruise up Highway 101 and check out the Beerfest in Santa Rosa on Saturday (June 6), featuring pours from 35 microbreweries. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door. Proceeds benefit Face to Face, the Sonoma County Aids Network.