Vintner Profiles is a post series that puts a spotlight on one of our East Bay Vintner Alliance winemaker members.
For this Q & A we spoke with Alexandra Cohn.
Please tell us about the origins of Jeff Cohn Cellars.
My husband Jeff Cohn was winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars. When we began we started with 73 cases of Zinfandel from Redwood Valley. In the late nineties, we were making less than 1000 cases at that time. I think having an accountant for a business partner a good thing! We were up to 4500 cases in 2005. Jeff’s passion is Rhone varietals. Initially we had produced some Syrah but have backed away from that. We produce Zinfandel and Red blends. Our ‘Imposter’ wine is a Zinfandel blend; ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is a Rhone red. 2000 cases we produce are single vineyard Zinfandel and Petit Syrah.
Jeff likes to obtain grapes from unique vineyards. We also use a lot of concrete vessels. We have four concrete vessels and a terracotta amphora, and an egg-shaped one for white wine. We also have large format barrels. At the winery we use a lot of large format barrel (300-500 liter barrels), as Jeff is a strong advocate for what it lends to the winemaking.
In 2005 Jeff wrote an article for Wine Business Monthly titled Barrel Notes on Zinfandel and Rhône Varietals, where he shares his notes from years of identifying and tracking the flavors he associates with different types of oak barrels.
A presentation he once delivered on this topic has became a reference as a “bible of all different coopers”, and the flavors coopers’ vessels lend to the wine. Jeff has been called the father of RP15, a wine yeast isolated from spontaneous Rockpile Syrah fermentations. It is used in concentrated reds for a lush, balanced mouthfeel, and is characterized by red fruit and mineral notes. It is used to make Syrah, Zinfandel and Petite Syrah and other Rhone varieties. In 2013 he was recognized in France, when someone exclaimed “Hey, you are the father of Rp15!”
Jeff’s experimentation began when he was the winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars, where annually he crafted more than 70 different wines. Today, at our Oakland-based warehouse winery he now limits himself to 21 bottlings, focusing on Rhône varietals.
How long did it take before your wine got the attention of wine drinkers, restaurants, etc. What kept you going?
Making Syrah initially was difficult, though it received many favorable reviews. We primarily send to the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.
From where do you source fruit?
The longtime relationships with some of California’s top growers and vineyards enable him to source some of the state’s finest fruit, including Rockpile in Sonoma County, Fess Parker in Santa Barbara County and Stagecoach in Napa. We don’t own vineyards – most of our fruit we source comes from Sonoma, also from Paso Robles and Amador too. We are always seeking out the best grapes/fruit. We work with biodynamic or organic producers. The best fruit makes the best wine.
Do you have a visit-able winery?
Yes. We recently moved to a new space at 160 Franklin St., and we are still in Oakland.
Do you have a dog and is your winery/tasting room dog friendly?
We do have a dog, a Welsh terrier, but he is too active to be around here. Our tasting room is dog and bike-friendly.
Anything quirky/funny about your winery or philosophy?
Our tag line is ‘bold California fruit with French sophistication’. We have flown juice from France and collaborated with French producers. Jeff loves France and French wines. He says “God must have been a Frenchman who liked to vacation in California”. Our fruit is definitely of California, made with French sophistication.
What is it about the East Bay that makes it the right place for your winery?
We have been in Oakland for more than 10 years. Many wine drinkers don’t realize that wineries, like those in Napa, don’t grow their fruit in Napa, they are just located there. We can live in an urban environment, but our wines are made in warehouse (like in Napa too) – it doesn’t matter, we are all sourcing fruit from the same good places.