Since wine can be made anywhere these days, it’s no big surprise that Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda, CA (also known as the East Bay) are home to many urban wine brands, both established and start ups. So what if there are no vineyards in the city (that I’m aware of). At this past weekend’s Urban Wine Experience in Oakland, the local wines were showing rather well, paired with bites from local restaurants. The public event was held by the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance.
I found a lot to like, and some really good values. There were many good Rhone varietal bottlings, and that made me happy, since j’adore Rhone wines. I might just need to do a little East Bay Rhone wine tour.
These are the standouts:
One of my last sips of the day was at Stage Left Cellars. It’s a fairly new player in the urban wine scene. Partners Melinda Doty and Rich Williams exited the corporate world and discovered “everybody needs an exit strategy.” Opening Stage Left is theirs. “The Go Getter” white is a blend of Rhone varietals – Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Rousanne. Just yummy, refreshing and very aromatic. They also make a beautiful Grenache, blended with a little Mourvedre to make a fruity wine with a little spiciness added in.
At Prospect 772 Wine Co. they were pouring “The Brawler.” Oh yeah, its a big big Syrah, but tamed a little by the addition of Viognier in the blend. The grapes are grown in the Sierra Foothills, and the wines are made by Jeff Cohn (winemaker at JC Cellars).
Speaking of Jeff Cohn, his own label, JC Cellars , poured “First Date,” a terrific and rich Rousanne and Marsanne blend. “The Imposter,” was a bold blend of mostly Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.
Rock Wall Wine’s Cabernet France was so fragrant and jammy, just a beautiful wine. I love to see Cab Franc on its own.
Urban Legend wines have great labels, inspired by the cranes at the Oakland port. They have a good Sauvignon Blanc that’s crisp and has really bright acidity. They also make a Teroldego, a darkly hued red varietal from Italy that has big ripe black fruits. Definitely worth seeking out!
Over at R & B Cellars, owners Kevin and Barbara Brown are not only winemakers, they’re also jazz musicians. Kevin plays piano and Barbara sings. Hence the wine labels with musical symbols. They’re striking the right notes with a very nice “Serenade in Blanc” Sauvignon Blanc and “Swingsville” Zinfandel, and both are less than $15 dollars each.
Verve wines from Aubin Cellars really charmed me. They’ve got a French Columbard, imported from France (Cotes de Gascogne). When have you ever seen French Columbard? Well it should be more often. This is a great value too, at $12. Verve also makes wine with local grapes, a Carneros Pinot Noir and a Sonoma Mountain Syrah.
One final mention, loved the “Temptation” Rhone blend from Carica Wines, which is a GSM – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre mix. And only $25 per bottle. No wonder the winery is sold out of the current vintage (I did find some bottles online)
There were many, many good bites to go with the wines. But the one that stood out the most for me was the pulled pork sandwich and grits from Brown Sugar Kitchen. Fabulous! And a perfect match with the Urban Legend red wines. If you haven’t
been to Brown Sugar, just go ahead and go now, for their fried chicken and waffles!
Most of the East Bay Vintner’s wineries have tasting rooms — either shared or on their own. Check websites for days and hours open or to make an appointment. Think of going to the urban wineries as exploring a new, modern wine country.