You have friends in town and they want to go wine tasting. Where should you go? Maybe drive north an hour or two to the wine country? Or how about experiencing the urban wine country of the East Bay where you can enjoy many wineries that are part industrial production, part home winemaker and part Cheers, “Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”.
So what is an “Urban Winery” and who are they? Urban wineries, as you can imagine, are located in urban locations rather that rolling hills of vineyards. But, you do not have to live in a vineyard to produce great wine. You do need to have enthusiasm, knowledge and a passion for making premium wine. Urban wineries produce wines in warehouses, hangers and industrial buildings. Urban winemakers have access to grapes from the best vineyards in California ranging from Napa and Sonoma, to Paso Robles and Santa Barbara and all those premier vineyards in between. They also have access to a wide range of varietals and you will usually find their prices reasonable.
The East Bay Vintners Alliance is an association of 23 Urban Wineries located the East Bay, most of them in Alameda, Berkeley and Oakland. Each of these wineries are small operations with tasting rooms in the winery that are open most weekends. Here you will most likely be served by the winemakers themselves, surrounded by barrels aging the wine where you can breathe in the aroma of the aging wines. Talk to the winemaker and learn about their wines and enjoy their passion. Naturally some people have concerns about visiting these areas. But you will find that most of these wineries are in safe industrial areas and most have plentiful parking, particularly on the weekends.
Earlier this month the East Bay Vintners Alliance hosted their annual “Passport to East Bay’s Urban Wine County”. The winemakers opened their doors to wine lovers and the passport is good for the full month of May. This writer had the opportunity to visit several of the Urban Wineries in the East Bay.
Urbano Cellars is located on Fourth Street in Berkeley, near I-80 and University. Like many urban winemakers, Bob Rawson and Fred Dick got started as home winemakers and they started Urbano in 2006 and moved into their current location at 2323B Fourth Street in 2012. They produce a wide range of award-winning wines from smaller growers that subscribe to sustainable growing practices. The 2013 Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg was a particular delight with aromas and flavors of melon, pear and apple with a tropical hint. This is a great summer wine with or without food. The 2012 Cote du Clements from Lodi is a GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. You will love the dark color and aromas and flavors of blueberry and blackberry with a nice touch of spice.
Urbano also have welcomed Carica Wines, The Mead Kitchen and Paradox Wines to share their space.
Carica Wines specializes in single-vineyard wines. Winemaker Charlie Dollbaum states that they seek to produce wines that are, “wines that capture a unique sense of place and time.” The Carica 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Kick Ranch in Sonoma County is loaded with tropical fruit aromas and flavors including kiwi, pineapple and guava. The Carica 2011 Grenache from Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino County is an excellent wine delivering the exciting red cherry flavors you expect from a fine Grenache plus a nice balance of spice and pepper and rounding out with a nice flavorful finish.
Paradox Wines is a group of wine enthusiasts who want to make the kind of wine that they imagined could be made. The name Paradox means something that is contradictory or opposed to common sense, yet perhaps is true. This same philosophy is seen in their winemaking. The Paradox 2012 Amador County Barbera is a full bodied wine that shows how good Amador County Barberas can be. It has a wonderful classic dark berry aromas and flavors including cherry, raspberry and currant. These flavors combine with nice spice qualities, oak texture and tannin leads on to a pleasant long finish. The Paradox 2013 Merlot from Contra Costa County is a very pleasing wine with red fruit aromas and flavors, a medium spice quality and a touch of chocolate.
The Mead Kitchen is a different and very exciting experience. Meads are produced using fermenting diluted honey and not grapes. Meads are often flavored with a variety of fruits and spices. While this writer has had Mead before, the Mead Kitchen shows you how good Meads can be. Mead Maker Dan Cook shared with us several of his Meads. The Orange Ginger Mead was delicious and refreshing with the nice combination of these two flavors. The Simcoe Mead uses Simcoe hops (same hops as used in fine beers) to deliver a Mead that has the flavors of a beer with citrus and apple notes.
Check out part two of this report to learn about some of the Urban Wineries located in Oakland who are part of the East Bay Vintners Alliance.
For more information:
- East Bay Vintners Alliance
- Urbano Cellars
- Carica Wines
- Paradox Wines
- The Mead Kitchen