Monday, November 24, 2008

Urban Wineries -- East Bay Trailblazers

The urban winery trend is blowing up. The New York Times mentioned East Bay wineries not once, but twice, in the past week. The main story was a trend article that featured my employer, JC Cellars, and brought a lot of people into the tasting room since it ran on Nov. 14. "I'm embarassed I had to read the Times to find out you guys were here," was the explanation I heard from quite a few people. They invariably mentioned how nice it was not to have to drive up to Napa or Sonoma or down to the Central Coast to get their winery fix. I agree, although I must say I love to be surrounded by acres of vineyards planted on the rolling hills. The view out the door of JC Cellars yesterday: a white truck with graffiti covering its side panel. Urban indeed.

I thought it was high time that the Times featured East Bay urban wineries considering the paper's wine critic Eric Asimov touched on the urban winery movement in a blog post this fall but failed to mention a single one of the East Bay wineries, despite the fact they are among the pioneers of this trend! Now urban winemakers from the shining city across the bay are following the lead of the East Bay Urban Vintners Alliance and have formed the San Francisco Wine Association. With 16 members the association is off to a great start, however none of those member wineries have tasting rooms. So apart from one-off special events, it seems as though City dwellers will still be hopping on BART to come over to the sunny side of the bay to taste in one of the East Bay's seven tasting rooms.

Sadly, we're losing one of those tasting rooms, as Lost Canyon Winery, purveyors of some tasty Pinot Noir and Syrah, is shutting its doors following a sale to Fritz Wineryof Sonoma. Fritz will continue to pour Lost Canyon's wares at their tasting rooms in Sonoma and San Francisco, but it's sayonara to Lost Canyon's very urbane facility just off Oakland's Embarcadero (and within walking distance of my house)after Nov. 30.

But where one door shuts, another opens, and Two Mile Winery reportedly started pouring its wines at their new south Berkeley tasting room on San Pablo at Grayson St. -- another gritty industrial neighborhood that means the new digs fit in nicely with the other asphalt-locked tasting rooms of the East Bay. Two Mile makes some delicious Viognier (sorry, the '07 vintage is sold out) and also offers Sangiovese, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and a Cab Sauv/Merlot blend.

In addition, while it is still a couple of years away, the grapes for RockWall Winery are happily aging in the JC Cellars/Dashe winery. RockWall is the new winery from Kent Rosenblum, his brother, and another partner. As you may know, Kent, the mentor of many East Bay winemakers, is the winemaker and founder of Rosenblum, the granddaddy of East Bay wineries. After huge corporation behemoth Diageo bought Rosenblum in January (much to the dismay and grumblings of local wineaux), Kent was retained as winemaker for five years, however he reportedly had to sign a three-year non-compete clause. Hence the JC/Dashe warehouse serving as the temporary home of for the RockWall grapes. I've heard Rockwall will be located on the old Alameda Naval Air Station base, close to Hangar One -- and not far from Rosenblum itself. Now, will we do the vodka/brandy/absinthe tasting before or after hitting the tasting rooms?


jrzalon said...

There is a new bike touring company that visits all the great wineries of the Vintner's Alliance. East Bay Winery Bike Tours: 'Urban local wine tasting on two wheels'. See their website: