Tasting via transit: East Bay wineries

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Forget the Napa wine train. With 19 East Bay wineries now pouring inside former warehouses and military hangars, I decided to go wine tasting via public transit.

On a recent Friday, a wine lover friend and I grabbed our backpacks and an East Bay Vintners Alliance map ( www.eastbayvintners.com) and hopped on the 24 Muni bus in Noe Valley.

We transferred to the underground at the Castro Station to reach the Ferry Building. At 12:15 we were watching the skyline recede from the top deck of a ferry headed for Alameda.

We disembarked and walked about 50 steps to Rosenblum Cellars, tucked inside a historic railroad building and widely considered the incubator for the new urban wine terroir. Many of the vintners who first helped veterinarian Kent Rosenblum start his winery in 1978 out of a former West Oakland bar called the Dead End are now running urban wineries of their own.

“We get a totally different crowd in here – neighbors, dockworkers, artists on bicycles,” said Rosenblum’s “vice mayor/wine schlepper” Kenny Goodman. “You won’t find tourist buses pulling up or bachelorette parties. You’ll find small-time entrepreneurs who … have time to talk to you about it in a language you can understand.”

Many of the East Bay wineries pull fruit from Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles, Mendocino, Lodi, Livermore and Santa Barbara, using imagination to mix interesting blends, and their prices keep the blue-collar wine drinker in mind, with bottles ranging from $15 to $35.

A five-minute ferry ride from Alameda brought us to Jack London Square in Oakland. We walked a few blocks to Fourth Street, home to three wineries.

At Urban Legend, Steve Shaffer peeled back the tarp on an aromatic bin of grapes, dug his hand in and pulled the skins aside to reveal the wine underneath. In two weeks, it will be bottled under his Ironworks label – a Nebbiolo and Sangiovese blend named after the neighborhood.

Later, we traveled a few more blocks to a warehouse near an Interstate 880 on-ramp. Inside, oak barrels were stacked on their sides to the corrugated ceiling. Two wineries, JC Cellars and Dashe Cellars, share the space and pour tastes side by side.

JC got our down-home award for their “urban jug,” a glass jar with a thumb hole that fits two bottles’ worth of a Syrah-Zinfandel blend house wine and sells for $20. Bring it back to get it refilled for $15.

Dashe specializes in California Zinfandels grown in a Bordeaux style. We loved the sweet 2008 late harvest Zinfandel, perhaps because it came with a piece of dark chocolate.

Our backpacks rattling with newly discovered wines, we went in search of our designated driver. We found him a few blocks later, at the Lake Merritt BART Station, in a train headed for San Francisco.

Thank you, thank you, whoever you are.

East Bay wineries map: www.eastbayvintners.com

E-mail Meredith May at mmay@sfchronicle.com.


This article appeared on page V – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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