Former garage winemakers, Bob Rawson and Fred Dick started Urbano Cellars in 2006 with the desire to produce food friendly wines that possess character and balance, using blends and more unique varietals such as Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Barbera and Sangiovese, Mourvedre and Tempranillo. In addition, Urbano Cellars balances its collection with Old Vine Zinfandel. Fred and Bob strive to source grapes from smaller growers that subscribe to sustainable growing practices. Our award winning wines are all handcrafted in small lots.
Robert Rawson (pictured, on left), an Ohioan transplant from the city that houses the “Rock-n-Roll” Hall of Fame, made his way west to California in pursuit of love. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in accounting Bob landed a job with a large accounting firm in San Francisco. Bob’s father was a true wine lover and he was known for having first and second growth Bordeaux in his wine cellar. Bob still works a few hours a week as a Consultant with a wealth management company in Silicon Valley. When he is not at his job there he spends numerous hours at the winery managing finances and making sure Urbano Cellar’s vintages are up to Fred and his standards. After years of making wine in his garage and other wineries’ facilities both Bob and Fred are thrilled to have a winery to call home.
Fred Dick (pictured, on right) is a California native who grew up in the Santa Clara Valley and graduated from University of California, Berkeley. Growing up, both parents were gourmands and avid wine enthusiasts and passed along their passions. Upon graduating, Fred spent several years in the advertising/marketing industry in San Francisco. After the dot com bomb in 2001, Fred began volunteering at a small local winery in Alameda and became enamored with winemaking. “I’m an old ad guy. When I got laid off from my job I took a job at Sunset Cellars in Suisun. I fell in love”, said Fred. Looking for space to produce a barrel of wine, Fred convinced neighbor and good friend Bob Rawson to make some wine in Bob’s garage. After a couple of successful vintages under their belt, and a few UC Davis enology classes, Bob and Fred founded Urbano Cellars in 2006.
Today they source their fruit from a variety of vineyards, including Dry Creek, Green Valley near Suisun, and Clements Hills (part of Lodi).
Fred and Bob balance each other and have a true partnership.
2323 B 4th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Will you be home in the East Bay for the holidays? Maybe you are entertaining out-of-town family and friends in between Christmas and New Year’s and are open to ideas of activities to do? Consider checking out our own Urban Wine Country in spots in and around Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda and others – check out our list of wineries here, give them a quick call in advance to check tasting room availability, and they can tell you what special activities they might have planned and would be happy to accommodate you. Whether your loved ones are interested in learning more about wine and how its made (there is no pretension with us, just passion), or are card-carrying connoisseurs, there is no need to trek far to taste award-winning wines with great conversation to boot.
Photo courtesy of Ehrenberg Cellars
This holiday, enhance your feast and your evening with sensational wines from EBVA-member wineries. The secret to a successful and memorable holiday is pairing your meal with wines that create a fusion of pleasurable flavors throughout each and every course. Look no further, each wine listed was specifically chosen based on flavor, aroma, body and acidity to compliment the stages of your dinner.
PRE-PAIRED HOLIDAY COLLECTIONS
You know what’s better than finding exquisite wine to pair with delectable food for your holiday feast? Having an ever so thoughtful winery use their expertise regarding their wines to compose a unique holiday package to course you through your holiday meal.
The Feast: Meal Pairing Collection (Dashe Cellars)
Includes one bottle of 2013 Dry Riesling, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley, one bottle of 2012 ‘The Comet’, Alexander Valley and one bottle of 2013 Late Harvest Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley.
These wines were selected specifically to take you from appetizers to dessert without you having to give it another thought. The 2013 Dry Riesling pairs beautifully with salads, seafood, turkey, you name it. The dryness and acidity, and bright fruit make it a wonderful pairing for many holiday dishes.
The 2012 ‘The Comet’ is a blend of our best Alexander Valley zinfandel barrels blended with Petite Sirah and Carignane. This is a rich, complex, full-bodied wine with tremendous depth of flavor and complexity which would pair well with a prime rib roast or other hearty meats during the main course of your meal.
And then to finish off your delicious holiday feast the 2013 Late Harvest Zinfandel is the ideal dessert wine, especially if your sweets are chocolate based! It has intense, vibrant red fruit—wild cherry, black raspberry—mixed with darker flavors of black currant, plum, and hints of chocolate and vanilla. The nice acidity makes the wine balanced and sweet but not cloying. Enjoy this with your chocolate pecan pie or cheese plate!
Holiday Trio (Two Mile Wines)
For the love of gatherings and dirty dishes and late-night conversations and the scent of gravy simmering away, we’ve assembled a discounted holiday pack of our favorite food wines. You’ll get: a bottle of our 2012 Viognier (think crab bisque or smoked trout canapés or soft, aged goat cheese); a bottle of our 2009 Sangiovese (think wild mushrooms or turkey or wild rice with sunchokes); and a bottle of our 2008 Founder’s Rock (think turducken or aged cheddar or cauliflower au gratin or goose). The Founder’s Rock is a Sunset Magazine gold medal winner, and the Sangiovese is a Snooth “Top 5.” They’re really amazing wines. Promise. They won’t steal the show, but they will make your food taste better by filling in whatever parts of the palate need a-fillin’. It’s not simply “pairing” — it’s about complementing food in a way which makes people ask “how the heck is this turkey so good?”
The hors d’oeuvres portion of the holiday gathering is always focused on light eating and mingling. It’s only appropriate to enjoy the lighter bodied side of your wine collection as well. Whether it’s an artisan cheese plate or a winter themed salad, these wines are sure to drink quite nicely alongside.
2010 California Pinot Grigio (Ehrenberg Cellars)
Swirl California Pinot Grigio is a blend of Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer and Riesling from Arroyo Secco and Lodi. This is a light in color Pinot Grigio blend with a citrus aroma, hints of green apple and apricot. It is light on the palate with a long-lasting finish. This is a great starter wine before dinner or with salads and cheese.
Photo source: ehrenbergcellars.com
2012 Lancel Creek Vineyard, Pinot Noir (Jeff Cohn Cellars)
Grown on a beautiful hillside near Occidental, and a combination of the Pommard and 777 clones, this Pinot Noir exhibits the softer side of our winemaker. This wine has all the characteristics of gorgeous Russian River fruit, stewed bing cherries, a hint of rhubarb, and a finish with a touch of salt from the cooling Russian River fog.
Photo source: jeffcohncellars.com
2010 Reserve Chardonnay (Paradox Wines)
Our debut white is a delightful Chardonnay from a well-respected vineyard in Los Carneros. This appellation at the southern end of the Napa and Sonoma valleys grows excellent white varietals. This bright silky reserve wine is made in the classic style and lets the crisp natural flavor shine through.
2013 Vin Rose (Urbano Cellars)
Medium salmon color, this wine exhibits fresh strawberry and raspberry aromas along with a bit of white peach. On the palate strawberry and raspberry flavors combine with a green apply tartness and a bit of chalkiness. Delicious on its own or perfect with a plate of charcuterie, goat cheese or even tomatoes.
Photo source: urbanocellars.com
Oh the main course, the most coveted course of the holiday feast. Traditional prime rib, succulent ham and zesty tamales all require a full bodied counterpart to pair. You wouldn’t want the food to overpower the wine, or vice versa. Rich, dark fruit flavors, spice and vibrant tannins will top off these holiday delicacies in the most extraordinary way.
2007 “5 Barrel”, 42% Syrah, 33% Grenache, 25% Tempranillo (Urbano Cellars)
Aromas of dark cherry and blackberries with hints of chocolate, licorice and thyme as well as some overtones of earth and woodsy-ness. Garnet in color with medium body. Cherry flavors of Grenache shine through and balance with the darker berry fruits of the Syrah and the herbs and earthy overtones of the Tempranillo. Bright acidity along with a round mouth feel and lingering finish complete this nicely balanced wine. Pairs nicely with Mediterranean style dishes such as lamb, chicken and pork seasoned with the spices of the south of France, Spain and Morocco.
Photo source: urbanocellars.com
2012 Zinfandel, Monarch Street (Rock Wall)
Black cherry, brambleberry, French vanilla and plum aromas waft from the glass followed by juicy flavors of blackberry, baking spice, cherry turnover, black tea and white pepper. Cheers to old vines!
Photo source: rockwallwines.com
In 2009, the crew at Bells Echo Vineyard got it right—with a little help from Mother Nature. The wine is full of floral aromas—particularly lavender and violets—plus rich black currant fruit. The black currents reappear in the mouth with cassis and a hint of dried fig to finish with substantial tannins and dark cocoa. Malbec is the perfect partner for deep stews and braises. The cocoa in its finish complements a Mexican mole beautifully. It’s also a very interesting foil for Cajun food—gumbos or jambalaya—that are well spiced but not hot. It’s delightful with hard, nutty cheeses and charcuterie, but don’t forget your vegetables—it’s great with ratatouille!
Photo source: ulcellars.com
Last but not least, the finale. After a full-flavored, savory regale, nothing is more satisfying than a sweet indulgence. And it’s imperative not to forget your fermented friends for this course as well. In a sense, you can have your cake and drink it too… why resist?
Petite Sirah Port 2006 Lodi Mohr Fry Ranches (Chouinard Vineyard & Winery)
A little bit bigger style than our Zinfandel Port. Luscious, plummy and berry fruit complimented by several years of barrel aging.
Awards: Best of Bay Dessert Wine (Best of Show); Gold, Best of Bay; Silver, LA International and SF International.
2008 RIPKEN VINEYARD, LATE HARVEST VIOGNIER (Jeff Cohn Cellars)
The easterly breezes travelling towards Lodi wick up moisture from the delta, which creates perfect conditions for the grapes to develop botrytis. This mold extracts the water content from the fruit until what is left is shriveled, furry raisins. These ugly remains are transformed into a richly opulent nectar that makes you feel simply regal.
Photo source: jeffcohncellars.com
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Pop some bubbly and welcome 2015 with style and taste with these sparkling favorites. Whether you prefer your sparkling’s to be dry or sweet, these effervescent blends will be sure to contribute to your New Year’s celebration. Cheers!
Rose ‘N’ Blum Bubbly Moscato Rosé (Rosenbaum Cellars)
A pop of fresh strawberries and orange zest aromas open our Bubbly Moscato Rosé. Delightfully fun and playful, the wine dances with red fruit flavors and creamy, light bubbles. Subtle floral and stone fruit nuances add textural interest to the bright, bubbly palate. Festive and fanciful, the wine can be enjoyed on all occasions from picnics to parties.
Make it a Cocktail! For a great party cocktail, mix 4 oz Rose ‘N’ Blum Bubbly Moscato Rosé with 0.3 oz Crème de Cassis and enjoy!
Photo source: rosenblumcellars.com
2013 Sparkling Brut (Rock Wall Wine Company)
This clean, crisp sparkling wine was fashioned to be dry, and fruit-forward at the same time for your taste buds’ pleasure. Aromas of apple pie à la mode, mango and mandarin orange jump from the glass, followed by elegant flavors of crisp granny smith apple, lemon meringue and a dry finish featuring Asian pear.
Photo source: rockwallwines.com
méthode champenoise “chanson des etoiles” sparkling wine (R&B Cellars)
Chansons des Etoiles means “Song of the Stars”. Crisp and bright, with very fine bubbles; a classic Méthode Champenoise, with just the right yeasty and creamy notes to be reminiscent of the finest champagnes from France. Perfect on its own, or match with a myriad of lighter fare. Pop the cork and celebrate!
Photo source: rbcellars.com
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from all of us at East Bay Vintners Alliance.
We would like to announce the new EBVA board members for 2015:
President: Steve Shaffer (Urban Legend)
Vice President – Adam Nelson (Two Mile Wines)
Treasurer – Alexandra Cohn (Jeff Cohn Cellars)
Secretary – Dominic Reo (Paradox Wines)
At this time of year several of our member wineries will get asked by wine club members and tasting room visitors, ‘What wine do you recommend to serve with Thanksgiving dinner?’
Here are just a few excellent choices for your holiday table:
From Barbara Brown at R&B Cellars:
White wine: Turkey is rich meat and requires a white with a little oomph. As such, Chardonnay is always a great choice. R&B Cellars 2012 Sarabande Chardonnay, from the Russian River, is fermented in a combination of French oak and concrete fermentation vessels. This creates a beautiful wine with lots of depth, great flavors of pear and apple, caramel and delicious mineral tones that come from the time spent in the concrete eggs. Red wine: For a red wine, we would go for Zinfandel. A wine with lots of fruit characteristics and spicy notes, making it a great pair with turkey and all the trimmings. It also is America’s heritage grape making it perfect for Thanksgiving! R&B has a brand new release to offer up for Thanksgiving: 2011 Allegrezza Zinfandel: From the Harris Kratka Vineyard in Alexander Valley. Blackberries, dark black cherries and black raspberries, hints of dark chocolate, exotic spice and eucalyptus. The Improviser is a Zinfandel-based blend. It is a little lighter than a typical Zin making it a wonderful choice for Thanksgiving – About 60% Zinfandel, with Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Cabernet and Merlot. It’s our most popular wine. We simply cannot make it as fast as we sell it!
From Caroline Chouinard from Chouinard Vineyards:
Chouinard Vineyards makes a Granny Smith Apple Wine which is excellent with turkey. I add Granny Smith Apple Wine to the turkey gravy and baste the bird in butter and apple wine. An apple, raisin, onion dressing is perfect. For those that prefer a light red, we recommend our two dry and fruity roses-a petite sirah or barbara rosé.
From Justin L Smith, Direct to Consumer Sales Manager at Jeff Cohn Cellars:
2012 Stagecoach Vineyard, Two Guys | Two Barrels, Viognier: The perfect Thanksgiving wine, because of its vibrant acidity and minerality. There is just a hint of peach, apricot, and vanilla to stand up to all the accouterment of the holiday feast! Here’s a little more background on the uniqueness of the wine: In 2012, Jeff was able to convince his friend and famous Rhône producer, Yves Gangloff, that he’d found the perfect site in California to make Viognier. Yves was so impressed with the Stagecoach Vineyard in the Atlas Peak AVA, that he agreed to make a wine with Jeff. The wine was born out of the mutual respect that each of these winemakers has for one another and their love for Viognier. In the end, they created a truly unique, special, and soulful wine! On the palate: lemon and lime zest with a touch of minerals, dried peaches, and fresh apricots. The wine is lush, seamless, and lengthy from start to finish. 2012 Lancel Creek Vineyard, Pinot Noir: Another awesome choice, because this sturdy pinot noir has fresh tannins mixed with scents of dried fruits that will highlight any dish on the table. Thanksgiving is about food, family, and friends, and this pinot will be a thankful addition to the table!
From Margaret Dollbaum at Carica Wines
From Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wines:
Thanksgiving is a fantastic time to restock the wine collection and maybe include a few wines that you might not usually purchase. An instant go to is barrel fermented Chardonnay, as it pairs well with the richness of turkey but offers acid to make it refreshing as well. Rock Wall does a Russian River Chardonnay which is fermented in French oak, with half malolactic, so it keeps the fruit and acid in tact while maintaining a French vanilla and angel food cake finish. Plus the minerality from the Russian River terroir is a nice juxtaposition to the rich buttery flavors. A fun “other white” is Rock Wall’s Sparkling Blanc de Blancs. This fruity, but
dry blend of Chardonnay and splash of Muscat Canelli helps keep things festive and helps cleanse your palate while you’re digging into bite after bite of heavy turkey, dense gravy and green bean casserole. Whatever other family tradition dish your family might have, I bet it has butter, and the Blanc is professional at refreshing your tired taste buds…and it’s dang good with pumpkin pie too!
Pinot Noir or something with a lighter body is a great red pairing. Big Cabernets can overwhelm the softness of the flavors of turkey and stuffing, and don’t generally compliment cranberry sauce so well. However, something lighter can co-star alongside all of your Thanksgiving meal, and play up the buttery and rich flavors that are so prevalent in Thanksgiving meals. Rock Wall’s Russian River Pinot Noir is a beautiful Thanksgiving go-to, or if you’re in the mood for something more off the beaten path, the Super Alamedan is “super.” Super Alamedan is a blend of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a splash of Zinfandel which does the same trick as Pinot Noir by offering a lighter body, easy drinker, and this one is a fun conversation piece as well.
From Dashe Cellars:
We have two great wines to pair with turkey. One is the 2013 Dry Riesling, MacFadden Farm from Potter Valley. Made in the style of the dry white wines from the Alsace region of France, it has a great depth of flavors: earthy, mineral, floral, and pear, apricot, and peach fruits. Its lovely texture and balance finishes extremely smoothly, with crisp acidity. This lovely wine is made from organically-grown vines in the mountains of Potter Valley, on the east border of Mendocino county. These 30-year-old vines grow in the white, chalky soil of the McFadden Farm, tucked up against the cool hillsides of the east side of the valley—a perfect environment for this kind of grape. The other is the 2013 Zinfandel ‘Les Enfants Terribles” Heart Arrow Ranch from Mendocino County. It is one of our favorite—and most unusual—wines, from one of the most pristine biodynamic farms in Mendocino County. The Heart Arrow ranch is a completely self-contained farm ecosystem: they not only grow grapes, but they have a large vegetable and fruit-tree farm, and raise pigs, cows, lambs, and chickens which fertilize the plants. The farming creates a site- specific terroir of the vineyard, which makes this wine different in aroma, flavor, and structure; almost more like a European wine than a classic California Zinfandel. Because of the way the grapes are grown, and because of the techniques we use to make this wine—fermented with the native yeasts on the grapes; aged in older French oak barrels; unfined; and bottled with low SO2 levels—we felt that it deserved to be labeled with our other wines in the Les Enfants Terribles (the “Wild Children”) series, which are made in a more Old World style. It deep red color holds flavors of wild strawberry, black raspberry, earthy and mineral, velvety mid-palate—quite balanced with a long, complex fruit finish and round tannins.
We were greatly saddened, as were so many others, for the winemakers and citizens of Napa and the surrounding area affected by the earthquake this past summer. We are heartened by the recovery efforts that continue there.
We came across these ‘Top Five Earthquake Tips for Wine Collectors’ from North Bay-based Fireman’s Fund Insurance, that we wanted to share with you.
Campovida is a family owned and operated certified organic farm and working vineyard in Hopland, with a tasting room in Oakland. This unique place offers deep connections with nature, wine tasting, a professional culinary kitchen, a 10-roomretreat center and multiple spaces for conversations both big and small. It’s a place where you can relax, enjoy and create your custom gatherings.
Some history: The place that now called Campovida has been home to the Pomo Indians of Sanel Valley, a cattle rancher, a railroad and timber baron, a hop broker, a lumber executive and a host of winemakers, each with a reverence and respect for the bio-diversity of this place. Each deeply concerned with preserving the land and its agricultural heritage. Part of a Mexican land grant, the property encompassed 1,300 acres in its original form. Fernando Feliz built an adobe house here in 1844 and raised his cattle. In 1890, A.W. Foster, a baron of timber and rail, purchased the land from the Peck estate and developed the property as it exists today, constructing all of the buildings from his Willits-based redwood holdings. He spent 45 years on the ranch, raising ponies, sheep, alfalfa, pears, prunes, grapes and hops. John Haas bought the land in 1942 and cultivated the fields for hops. In 1958, Bernard Fetzer bought a home on the property from John’s son Frederick in order to raise his family and grow grapes. Ten years later the Fetzers began growing grapes commercially. In 1981, after the death of the family patriarch, all 11 of the Fetzer children took on managing the vineyard with a commitment to environmentally-conscious stewardship and built the company as a leading varietal wine producer. They eventually created a world-renowned food and wine education center (Valley Oaks) and the organic gardens. In 1992 the Brown-Forman Corporation purchased the certified organic vineyard. In 2010, Anna Beuselinck and Gary Breen, fell in love with the property, becoming the current stewards of this beautiful land.
Who is the winemaker? If you, what got you interested in making wine?
Sabastian Cesano, he was making wine in Hopland with John Fetzer, and was doing what they call the custom crush program, making our wines under the mentorship of John and Alex MacGregor. We have 15 acres estate Viognier, we decided to try out making wine with Sebastian as our wine maker. We won the San Francisco Chronicle Gold for Viognier our first time out. When John ended the custom crush program, Sabastian knocked on our door, he is both the scientist and the artist, he has the phenology degree, but he really is an artisan when I comes to crafting each barrel, he manages them like his babies. He is originally from Chile and has been with us for 17 years. He studied down in Fresno. I believe he’ll be one of those winemakers to watch in California.
My husband, Gary Breen, is from Moraga. We invested in Oakland, and have owned the Linden St. brewery building, since 1996. The love for old things that have been forgotten, he’s been building out that building, from the 1890 building. I went to school in Berkeley, we have a lot of roots in Oakland (we started our family here) and Berkeley, so it just sort of made sense (to be here) when we started making wine and when we heard about this urban wine trail. We’re watching Adam at Linden St. Brewery and growing his opportunities. There is this circle happening at 101 that’s really important to be a part of.
We try to be connected to wine through the earth, not just about the wine, who the growers are, practices, how we take that pure varietal and make it the best wine without any kind of intervention, so it is truly the highest quality wine possible.
We are direct to consumer. You’ll find our wine in our tasting room or a few restaurants. ,
You can’t find us in retail shops, because you lose the conversation in the bottle, that’s what we’re up to, in a nut shell. When you are a farmer, you wake up in the middle of the night and worry about your framing stuff, and nature and all kinds of things, for me being involved in wine with my husband has been a real spiritual journey.
Where do you source fruit from?
We do have estate Viognier, and other grapes, all certified organic estate grapes, only from Mendocino County, farming certified organically, or bio dynamically.
What was the first wine you made?
Viognier, 2010 was the first of the custom crush.
Do you have a preference for any specific varietals? If so, why?
It’s like asking someone if they have a favorite child! It is difficult to pick. Our Rosé Grenache, 92 points, is my favorite of last year.
What makes you different and/or special?
I really think for us we have a connection to the growers that is our partnership and as a result a connection to the earth. We want to start the conversation from the earth to the wine, we’re minimalist in that way. People want to know the source of their products, wine is a great place to start asking those questions.
Do you have a visit-able winery?
The Oakland tasting room can be visited. It is open 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays; on Saturdays and Sundays we are open from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Some big news is that James Syhabout’s has opened Hawker Fare, which is between Linden St. Brewery and our Oakland tasting. He is another person who has and continues to invest in Oakland, we’ve known him of years.
Is your winery/tasting room dog friendly?
Yes, dogs on a leash are welcomed.
What are some of the reasons a wine lover should pick Campovida to visit?
For the full experience of education: from the earth to the grape to the grower to the maker to the final product of the wine, they’re going to get the full understanding, and not in a daunting scientific way, but in a story, a great true story.
Anything quirky/funny about your winery or philosophy?
Whether it’s Hopland or Oakland, when we decided to move from San Francisco to Oakland, people were like, “Really, Oakland?” You can’t turn your head and not invest in it as if it’s going to go away, we have to invest and bring it to life. The same thing is true for Hopland, a forgotten town, once on the brink of bankruptcy .I t only takes a few people to believe and invest and you can turn things around. That is part of the story for us, we’re doers in the way that we have believe in that we can do more than we think we can. We’re making wine, but the bigger thing for us is the community, we’re trying to bring back Hopland, we’re selling in Oakland, in a building we bought because we believe in Oakland. People relate to stories, we believe in the stories of Hopland and Oakland,
What is your philosophy on enclosure; screw cap vs. cork?
We are try to be sustainable, literally, with every detail as possible, there’s all this controversy with screw cap versus cork, cork is more sustainable, you have it and it comes back. We’re cork, but we are no tin, that’s not sustainable, if you’re really using true tin, from Spain, it’s got a high degree of carbon foot print. We care, we cork.
Any final thoughts?
I’d like to think that what we’re up to is making the very 1 percent wine if you will, but the idea is to reach 99 percent of the people with education.
Vintner Profiles is a post series that puts a spotlight one of our East Bay Vintner Alliance winemaker members.
Chouinard Winery is located in Palomares Canyon between Castro Valley and the Livermore wine country on the historic Cook Ranch. Since 1983 they have been welcoming guests into their Winemaking family. Visitors can bring a picnic and taste wine under 100 year old oak trees, listen to live music, or celebrate a special event, wedding or party in the vineyard. Chouinard’s winery is an extension of their winemaking passion. From Malbec, Chardonnay, Barbera Rose, Cabernet, Chenin Blanc, Port, they craft award-winning wines of all types.
The Palomares Canyon area was originally a summer hunting ground for the Ohlone Indians (Miwoks) and later became the Cook Ranch. Palomares Canyon supported both cattle and sheep grazing. In the 1940s and 50s, Royal Ann cherries were grown commercially in the canyon.
George, Caroline, and their two sons, Damian and Rick, found the property in 1977, and fell in love with the beauty of the countryside–rolling hills, streams, and wooded slopes–all within a few miles of major San Francisco Bay cities.
George, Caroline, and their sons planted the first grapes 28 years ago with an old garden tractor. Waxed milk cartons kept the rabbits from nibbling the young vines. The canyon floor where the original grapes were planted was previously used for loading pens for the cattle and sheep, making the native loam soil even richer. Sauvignon Blanc vines flourished in the canyon, but were later grafted over to Chardonnay because of the region’s tendency to experience late spring frost.
At 1,000 feet above sea level, the vineyards of Palomares Canyon are cooler than much of the Central Coast region. The new San Francisco Bay appellation defines the region’s cool, sometimes foggy nights and warm sunny days.
Around 1983, George Chouinard started what the family called his Egyptian project–cutting terraces into the steep hillside in the canyon to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. The leaner, well-drained soils, good air circulation, and sun exposure on the 35% slopes provided an ideal, if somewhat inconvenient location for the distinctive Cabs he wanted to produce.
A “retired” architect, George likes challenging projects. The winery itself was to be housed in an old barn build of hand-cut redwood. George started remodeling the 85-year-old structure, with its dirt floor and dilapidated roof. The results are delightfully eclectic and a welcome change from the commercial atmosphere of many wineries.
Damian Chouinard became the Winemaker for the family operation in 1985. A graduate in Enology and Viticulture from California State University in Fresno, he apprenticed briefly in the Champagne District in France before putting his personal stamp on the wines produced by the Chouinard family. Awards for his wines line the walls of the tasting room.
Damian’s artistic talent shows up in other locations as well. The winery logo design and the native rock walls framing the vineyards are a few examples. He also has an unusual talent–he “knaps” arrowheads. During the springtime, he provides demonstrations for winery visitors, showing them how the Indians who originally lived in this beautiful canyon made arrowheads for deer hunting.
Who is the winemaker at Chouinard?
My eldest son Damian. We had lived in Europe, in France. We were interested in wine beforehand, and became more so while we were there. We liked the concept of a family winery – we could make and produce it, and see it from beginning to end, and have family involvement. We started small upon returning to the U.S. – we were both still working. Damien began his studies in Forestry, then decided switch majors to Enology at Fresno State.
How long did it take before your wine got the attention of wine drinkers, restaurants, and others? What kept you going?
It didn’t take very long (to get attention). In our second year we received two silver medals from Orange County. That was a definite boost! Damien is very talented. We received Best in Show in the state (SF international) – and that was before they split white and reds in the competition. He always entered his wines in competitions, almost from the start – he wanted to know how his wines stacked up to others.
He has worked on his wines for 30 years, he started making wines right out of school. By not training under any body his wines really are unusual, unique and distinctive to him.
What was the first wine you made?
Cabernet vintage (own) 1985. Gewürztraminer. Won best in show for that gewürztraminer ‘Best of the Bay ‘competition last year, 2013.
Is there something in particular about the Bay area and to why you chose it?
We are in love with this area. The mountains the hills. We are between three major cities. My husband has always worked in urban settings. We like having the urban setting but also nature nearby. This is where we worked and live and it was natural that we would start the winery here.
From where do you source your fruit?
Like a lot of urban wineries we source from other vineyards. We do source some of our own in Livermore, but also Monterey, Lodi and Paso Robles and sometimes Mendocino as well.
What makes Chouinard Vineyard and Winery different and special?
Our emphasis on the fruit characteristics in the wine. Damien doesn’t usually do a lot of aging. But that allows those who don’t have the space to maintain/keep wines to not worry too much about it – makes wines very drinkable. His preference is to make reds, chardonnay and Viognier.
Can people visit your winery?
Yes, and there is a large picnic area and we encourage people to bring a picnic, and we often have music in the tasting room.
What should we know about Chouinard Vineyard and Winery that you haven’t been asked?
Most urban wines don’t produced grapes, most visitors aren’t used to that. It makes them question if the wine is of good quality. Most urban winemakers focus on the wine making, and not grape production – which are two separate skills. It allows the winemaker to focus on the wine production, and that’s how you get unique passion put in the wine and dedicated winemakers.
To learn more, visit Chouinard Vineyard and Winery online at www.Chouinard.com, or visit their tasting room at 33853 Palomares Road Castro Valley, CA. Telephone: 510-582-9900
Image courtesy of Chouinard Vineyard and Winery