Now there are a couple of cool things about this last wine. First, it's sold by the liter in a refillable bottle and second, it's named after a neighborhood in Oakland. Each harvest, Steve and Marilee pick a local Oakland 'hood to feature. Next year visitors can expect a West Oakland Wine. "What will that taste like?" I asked. "The wine will likely be a spicy blend of Petite Syrah and Zinfandel, sort of capturing that Brown Sugar Kitchen food renaissance of the neighborhood," Marilee told me over the wail of a passing Amtrak train. A scientist by training, she explained her wine making philosophy and answered my friends' many questions which included "how do you spit properly" since we were all two-wheeled designated drivers that day. Needless to say, we could have stayed at Urban Legend all day but we had other city cellars to discover. We bought a couple bottles and headed off to the farmers market a few blocks away.
Irish Monkey Cellars. Photo: Karen Hester
After fueling up on ceviche and tamales from a food truck, we peddled off along the Oakland harbor between the estuary and I-880 freeway down towards the High Street Bridge. We were looking for Irish Monkey Cellars which is easy to miss as it’s located in an industrial park tucked back behind Embarcadero Cove. A banner hanging from a chain link fence gave us a clue we were near. We parked our bikes against the warehouse wall and went into the rather small, but elegant, darkened tasting room where we found the winemaker, Bob Lynch. He was quite chatty and shared the story behind the winery's name. Six years ago he and his wife Loreta coined the name "Irish Monkey." Bob's background is Irish and he wields a unique sense of humor. We started out with a 2008 Torrontes ($12), the grapes sourced from Lodi. That was followed up with a Contra Costa Viognier and then we moved on to their reds, many award winning. My favorite was a 2009 one hundred percent Napa Merlot ($24). I liked the diversity of varietals and local vineyards from which Irish Monkey sources. We were eager to get back into the sun so we thanked our host and headed out over the High Street Bridge to Alameda.
Riding along Alameda. Photo: Karen Hester
We peddled across Alameda over to Shoreline Drive where we hung a right and rode up past Crown Beach and the throng of sunbathers. If we were on an organized East Bay winery bike tour, this is where we would stop to eat our specially prepared picnic lunch. Owner Jon Zalon’s trips, and his wife's lunches, get rave reviews. But we were a motley crew, armed only with fruit bars and a curiosity for the upcoming wineries housed at the decommissioned naval air station at the tip of Alameda.
Looking for Rock Wall Wine Company. Photo: Karen Hester
Rock Wall Wine Company
It was hard to believe we were going to find a winery somewhere in this vast old military base full of old airplane hangars, barracks and officer's clubs. But we had been finding wineries all day tucked behind chain link fences and graffiti strewn walls. We eventually found the Rock Wall Wine Company which provides production space and a tasting bar for more than a half dozen wineries. This is a top of the line tasting bar with expansive views of the Bay Bridge and two city skylines. Rock Wall has a little outdoor patio where on nice days customers can sit at tables and enjoy drinking wine accompanied by small plates cuisine. For our tasting they started us off with a Rock Wall sparkling which was one of my favorites. I also enjoyed the 2009 Rock Wall Zinfandel Reserve from Sonoma. This spicy Zin, which goes for $30 a bottle, was a gold medal winner at the California State Fair this year. Unfortunately, none of my wines included tastings of the other wineries that use the space.
Tasting at Rock Wall Wine Company. Photo: Karen Hester
The celebratory mood of our Rock Wall visit was probably enhanced by the fact that it was getting later in the afternoon and we were swallowing most of our tastings now. We tried to squeeze in one more stop, Rosenblum Cellars, one of the largest wineries in the East Bay. But as we approached the winery, we heard "all aboard" coming from the ferry dock below. Rosenblum would have to wait for another time. On the five minute ferry ride back to Jack London Square we agreed to visit the winery one warm Sunday afternoon for their "Music on the Deck" series. I did come back, the next week, to check out Dasche Cellars on 6th Street in the Jack London Square neighborhood. If you like bone dry wines, this urban cellar is for you. I bought a bottle of excellent 2008 Todd Brothers Ranch Zinfandel ($32). If you are curious about East Bay wines and you want to experience as many as possible in just one trip, you're in luck. On Saturday, August 6, The East Bay Vintners Alliance is hosting the 6th Annual Urban Wine Experience. Over twenty cellars will be pouring their wines along with local food purveyors serving food. Come forth and taste urban wines! And for those that won't be spitting, BART is just a few blocks away.