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Uncorking the Urban Wine Scene at the Commonwealth Club

I attended a great program at the Commonwealth Club last night -- Uncorking the Urban Wine Scene, a conversation with folks making wine in the East Bay. As a wine lover who only seems to ever trek up to Napa or Sonoma once or twice per year, I was excited to learn more about my hyper local tasting opportunities, and to live vicariously through some everyday wine lovers like me who'd actually found a way to make the leap to winemaker without having a couple million dollars to invest in wine country.

Panelists were Jim Mirowski, Co-founder and Owner, Treasure Island Wines; Derek Rohlffs, Proprietor and Winemaker, Bravium Wines; Sasha Verhage, Winemaker and Proprietor, Eno Wines; and Kathryn Cohen, Proprietor, Eno Wines. Jim and Derek both make wines as part of the Treasure Island wine collective.

Sasha, a founder of the East Bay Vintners Alliance noted that there is strong community support for urban winemakers, with local restaurants and wine shops actively seeking out local winemakers, which makes sense given the Bay Area's locavore focus.

Something I had not thought about that Kathryn brought up during the conversation is local tasting rooms can be a ot more approachable for those new to wine appreciation. I do remember that on my first trip to Napa, when I was barely over legal drinking age, it did feel a little intimidating to go into a well-established winery's tasting room, vying for attention with those older, more well-versed, and certainly more well-heeled than myself. She said that she felt that the casual, inclusive nature of the East Bay's wine scene attracts a lot more diversity in its patrons.

WHile tasting up in Sonoma last week, I'd noticed a couple of wineries had growlers avialable for taking away wine, which had initially surprised me. I'm quite used to seeing them at brewpubs, but think this was the first year they were around enough to notice them, and the proliferation of wine on tap. The panelists touched on these new packaging options, with the consensus being that both options are nice due to less waste and lowering the costs involved.

Now before you start making boxed wine jokes here, think about it for a moment: how many bottles of wine per night does a busy restaurant go through to service its wine by the glass program? Now imgaine istead their having that wine on tap, where it's never stale, and they're not wasting all those bottles. I call that a worthwhile innovation. Sasha, however did say that although he supports packaging innovations, he's "not ready for a capri sun" wine distribution package, which got a good laugh out of the crowd (and especially from the two grandmotherly ladies in front of me who said more than once how adorable they thought Sasha was.)

By the time the conversation ended a little after 7:30, I was too tired to stay for the wine tasting (I know, I can hardly believe it either), but they did have a nice tasting setup that included R&B Cellars, Carica Wines, Dashe Cellars, Urban Legend Cellars, Tayerle Wines, Rock Wall Wine, Treasure Island Wines, Bravium Wines, Eno Wines, Stomping Girl WinesAndrew Lane Wines. The way I'm looking at it is I now have an excuse to set up an East Bay wine tasting day.

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