Spill The Wine: The Urban Wine Xperience

There are three cemeteries in the East Bay that planted grape vines as an alternative to lawns because it was more cost effective. Kevin Sherwood and Joe Rivello of Bishop’s Vineyard told me that the wine was made into a simple sweet rosé and given free to parishes for use in their services. Eventually they brought the fruit to Rock Wall winery and they began to produce quality wine for commercial production. This wine, teasingly referred to at home by Joe’s daughter as “skull wine,” nicely illustrates the resourcefulness of the East Bay winemakers.

The Oakland Urban Wine Xperience is an annual event put on by the East Bay Vintners Alliance. The 19 East Bay wineries represented are housed primarily in renovated warehouses, with grapes sourced from Oregon, Sonoma, Napa, Amador County, and the central coast of California. While many similar events focus on one varietal of grape and draw a crowd that has a uniform persona, the Oakland Vintners work with a variety of grapes and blends that reflects Oakland’s wide variety of people and styles, all of which were present.

Spill The Wine*

The first wine that I tasted was from Irish Monkey Cellars, helmed by Bob Lynch, who is Irish and used to “monkey around,” making wine as a hobby before finally giving into his friends’ chiding and deciding to make wine full time. It’s fortunate for us he did.

I have visited his winery before and enjoy the quality and the different varietals that he works with (syrah, malbec, and sangiovese, in particular).

They were pouring zinfandel from three different vintages. The 2013 was fruit forward and jam-like; the 2011 was deep rust in color and had a hint of oak spice (aptly named the Oakey Monkey); and the 2009 was refined and smooth. All were sourced from the Alexander Valley.

I asked Bob if there was a particular clone of zinfandel that worked better in Alexander Valley, and he scoffed. Bob’s experience is that any grape will grow anywhere, that different areas will produce a different character, but that the tendency in the wine world is to canonize previous practices without justification, a sort of marketing ploy to buy a wine because it is picked by Keebler Elves.

I poured my glass into what I thought was a spill bucket (if you finish all the tastes they add up and shorten your visit). But Loretta Lynch said she forgot to bring a spill bucket, and that that bucket was for something else. As I apologized and offered to clean it, they put a black napkin over it, and, thinking it was now a spill bucket, I once again emptied my glass. Bob exclaimed “Oh no!” and I wasted no time taking it to the restroom to sheepishly clean it.

A Long Haired Leaping Gnome

Two Mile Wines was next. I had looked forward to meeting them as I appreciated the philosophy stated on their website: “What you like or don’t like is up to you…not a book or an instructor or a reviewer and we make what we like to drink.”

Their 2013 syrah from the Unti Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, was very good and will get better with age. The 2008 sangiovese from the Polesky-Lenz Vineard, also in Dry Creek, was in what I’d describe as a California style, where it takes on a fuller body than the Italian style, with more rounded fruit.

Take That Girl

Campovioda has a tasting room on Linden Street in Oakland, though the wine is grown and produced in Hopland, Mendocino County.

Their 2013 Campo di Bianca Reserva was a Southern Rhone style white wine made with rousanne, marsanne, and viognier. It had a pretty nose, soft body, and mild finish, easy to like. “Like a girlfriend,” I wrote in my notes.

When I Laid Myself Down To Rest

Chouinard Wines is a family winery situated on a former ranch and former-former Ohlone Indians hunting grounds. They describe their wines as “a little laid back.” Their flagship wines are an old-style cabernet sauvignon and a not very common alicante bouschet.

Sadly, neither were being poured that day, but they had a sauvignon blanc with grapes sourced from Monterey and a petite sirah from Paso Robles. The 2014 sauvignon blanc was crisp and had a mildly bitter finish. It was what I’d suggest for fans of frisee or arugula salad to pair with goat cheese or sourdough bread and butter. The 2013 petite sirah was dark, inky, mouth-coating, and mildly tannic. A grape that has a bold personality and needs care, time, and, ideally, polite company, the petite sirah was calling out for food.

I Stood High By The Mountain Tops

Carica Wines‘ philosophy is “to create the highest quality wine whose characteristics reflect a sense of time and place.” The place is Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino County, 1800 feet above the Ukiah valley, though, since 2009, the creation takes place in Berkeley.

At the table, when they poured the 2011 syrah, I asked if it was from the Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard. The winemaker, Charlie Dolbaum, raised his eyes in surprise and asked, “You know the Eaglepoint Ranch”? He then told me to come back after I tasted the syrah. The syrah was wonderful. The nose had a little green asparagus scent, the body was smooth and round, the flavor was complex, and each sip revealed more–a little candied cherry, some nicoise olive and white pepper in the back. It had verve and grip.

Returning to the table, Charlie waived me to the side and poured a taste of the grenache from a hidden bottle. The grapes were from a lower elevation of the same vineyard. The grenache had a nose reminding me of a candy shop mixed with a spice shop. The candy came through as black licorice. There was a brightness from the acid along with a medium body and a long, extracted cherry finish, sort of like after you swallow the last of a cough drop. Very good. Both the grenache and the syrah were my favorites of the day.

I asked Charlie if the vineyard was also planted with mouvedre and whether he would make a GSM, Rhone-style wine. He said that it has become popular and harder to find, but he will have some next year and may even produce a barrel of mouvedre as a single varietal.

She Poured Some Of The Wine From The Bottle Into The Glass

Up next was Paradox, from the Greek meaning “contrary thinking, suppose, imagine…”

The first thing that my contrary thinking noticed was that the lines were becoming longer and more people were coming in. As I waited I counted around 20 people in front of me. Two ladies pleasantly asked if I was the end of the line, and we chatted about the wines they had enjoyed so far. I found that most of the people that I conversed with, although quite different in background from each other, were all pleasant and having a grand time. Behind me was a woman wearing a black t-shirt with glitter spelling out, “Wine makes me awesome.” It was probably a personal statement, but wine does have a way of making others appear smarter, funnier, and better looking.

At the front of the swiftly-moving line, I asked for the barbera. It was the new California style, big, large body, solid fruit without the bright acid. I returned to the line, which had grown to about 30 people. This time I was the aisle as people politely asked to pass in front of me.

I wasn’t too impressed with the barbera (though with some bbq my opinion could be swayed) but I had a pour of the pinot noir. I expected another big wine and was surprised by the earthiness. It was savory with sweet dark fruit (not sugar sweet, just more like dried fruit), not quite a brooding wine, more reflective. I checked the handout list and saw that it was the 2012 Sonoma Coast pinot noir, and it certainly had a coastal personality. It wasn’t quite a paradox, but more of a non sequitur (i.e. it didn’t follow my assumption).

In Front Of Every Kind Of Girl

After each table visit I retreated to a high table to make notes and snack on some of the treats from the cheese table. At this point I made notes of the crowd, which represented a cross-section of East Bay neighborhoods. Some looked like they were going to a church picnic, dressed casually but with style, greeting friends with hugs and kisses. Younger families with strollers and toddlers, hipster-ish. Some couples looked like bikers of the 60s, not the era but rather the age, with Hawaiian shirts and low cut tops, a relaxed air pervaded with lots and lots of smiles and laughter.

She Whispered In My Ear Something Crazy

I stood in line for Stage Left Cellars, a reasonable number of people in front of me, when a young lady informed me, smiling and politely, that the line continued behind her. It was so long it had to take a more serpentine route. I walked to the end, another 10 people, and chatted with a lady who had had foot surgery and was using a scooter to assist one leg. She commented that people granted her courtesy because of the injury, and I replied that it was a friendly crowd. She replied that it was only an hour into the event–wait and see as it goes on what the effect will be on the crowd.

Stage left poured their 2012 “The Globetrotter” Central Coast GSM. I gave it a rating of 5 on the data sheet and noted that it was bright, candied, and long. Another favorite.

Dig That Girl

The last winery I visited was Cerutti Cellars. I tried their 2011 Tudal Family Winery Estate cabernet sauvignon. Nice acid, good balance, medium body, with blackberry fruit and smooth tannins. A gentleman next to me said that the woman pouring the wine looked like Sally Fields and asked me if he was right. I looked at her and noted the striking similarity. I agreed and said, “as long as it’s not the Flying Nun, I still have issues from Catholic school.” She laughed and nodded to her left where the Bishop’s Vineyard had their table. We laughed and I left while I was still having a good time.

The lines were longer and even moving between the lines to cross the room was getting difficult. So I walked out onto the warm, sunny waterfront and looked out at the marina, filled with yachts and sailboats with their colorful spinnakers.

I walked back to my car and headed to Linden Street, not to the wine tasting room but to Linden Street Brewery. On the weekend they roll open the loading dock and sell beer. Sitting at a table, sipping a glass of black lager, I watched another diverse crowd of people relax at picnic tables eating sausages from a truck named D.O.G.S., all enjoying the same sunny afternoon.

***

*Titles adapted from “Spill The Wine” by Eric Burdon & War.

Peter Fielder reported on the Urban Wine Xperience on August 1, 2015. For more information, visit www.Eastbayvintners.com. See also: “Pinot Days 2015 Report” and”Tempranillo Advocates: The Grand Tasting.”

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Peter Fielder

As a host and barman, Peter Fielder has been helping members of Wingtip feel good and look good since 2012. He is a wine explorer, Certified Specialist of Wine ll, and all-around bon vivant. “Tasting wine is interesting,” says Peter. “But drinking wine with food and friends is the thing. You get to experience the wine in a context and share with it your friends.” In the world of wine, there is always one more winery, one more varietal or vintage over the horizon. Peter writes about his exploring wine which helps encapsulate the experience and distill it down to words.

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