Oakland Wine Trail: The Best Urban Hiking You’ll Ever Do
OFF MENU IS SPONSORED BY EMPEROR NORTON’S BOOZELAND THE TENDERLOIN’S NEWEST HISTORIC DIVE. HAPPY HOUR NOON – 7PM
I’m going to be honest. When I was asked if I wanted to go wine tasting on the Oakland Wine Trail I thought perhaps we were just going to drink a couple bottles of wine in a park. Being a wine-yes and prone to adventure, I naturally agreed to do this piece not sure what I was getting into. Long story short, I was wrong about wine tasting in Oakland being some euphemism for clandestine outdoor drinking.
I met with Frances Wong, the PR and Community Relations Manager at Visit Oakland, who showed me the ropes of the Oakland Wine Trail. To start things off, the Wine Trail is a brilliant idea: it is a largely walkable tour of 10 wineries, many of which are Downtown or the Jack London districts. Maps of the Wine Trail can be found at the wineries, or at the Visit Oakland website While all of them are relatively close to one another, most you can walk from one to the other, a few others you might need to call a cab- trust me, you’re not going to want to drive.
For our tour, Frances and I walked from winery to winery, which was a perfect way to enjoy the experience: catch a light buzz, enjoy a stroll and take in the scenery, then hit another spot. Frances took me to three wineries that she felt demonstrated the diverse spread of wineries and wine makers operating in Oakland.
10 Clay Street, Oakland
Perhaps you have seen Rosenblum. Actually, I’m almost positive you have. It’s the beautiful glass walled building facing the ferry drop off in Jack London Square. It is modernly decorated with lofty ceilings and gives of an air of complete chic. Barman Kenny G, has been with Rosenblum for eleven of the 37 years it has been in operation and is almost at the point of being evangelical about spreading the gospel of the Rosenblum wines and their importance to the Oakland wine scene. It goes without saying, in their three-plus decades of being operational, Rosenblum has been the mentor to many of the people who went off to start their own wineries; several of the wineries on the Wine Trial are in fact, Rosenblum alums.
While Rosenblum creates a wide range of wines, they are the best known for their bouquet of zinfandels, of which they make over 20. As a disclaimer, I’m not much of a red wine enthusiast (allergies- I’m a wiener, I know), but Kenny G certainly showed me that the palate was more far-reaching than I thought. My absolute favorites were the first wine, a light and chocolaty 2012 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel. Allergies aside, I’d drink it any time.
Besides being a great stop on the Oakland Wine Trial, and a convenient spot to grab a glass of beautiful wine after hopping off the ferry, this would be a great place to take a date, or your parents, to wow them with your sophisticated tastes.
160 Franklin Street, Oakland
Jeff Cohn didn’t start his life off in the wine business, he spent eleven years in the service industry before deciding that he wanted to make wine, not pour it. While in his mid-thirties he graduated from Fresno State. Following graduation he began work with Kent Rosenblum, at the aforementioned Rosenblum Cellars. In Cohn’s first year working there he put out 73 cases of his own wine.
Cohn is an innovative presence in the wine scene, innovating wine making techniques and utilizing a variety of vessels from barrels, to concrete eggs, to Italian terra cotta amphoras to help draw out the distinctive characteristics of the grapes he is working with.
Now, Jeff Cohn Cellars puts out some wine that I can fully get behind. Each has a story, a name, a secret word etched into each bottle, and all are delicious. My favorite by far was the 2014 Iris Rosé that Cohn created to memorialize the passing of his mother, Iris. His description of his mother and his wine are lovingly similar: light, easy going and perfect company for a warm summer day. I’m a softy, so even without a couple tastings under my belt this made me a little teary.
55 4th Street, Oakland
Our final stop on the Wine Trial was the edgy Dashe Cellars. This winery, located on Fourth Street, is what comes to mind when I think urban winery. The cavernous warehouse with casks of wine stacked to the ceilings and the unpretentious sprawling tasting bar is near the entry way give it a very modern vibe.
The couple who created Dashe met and fell in love, with both wine and one another. Combined they are a formidable team of wine knowledge and craft, with their combined degrees from Bordeaux and Davis in enology. Thus their passion for wine isn’t just recreational drinking- it’s a fine tuned science. Their wines are earthy, smooth, and almost a little too drinkable.
Prior to our wine hike, I actually had a working familiarity with the Les Enfants Terribles series that Dashe first introduced in 2007. Each series are made from special vineyards that largely focus on sustainable and organic growing techniques. A combination of conscious growing, low elevation, and a slightly lowered alcohol contact these are a heavenly series. The 2014 Grenache Les Enfants, the fourth in the series, that I tried left me thinking of wines I enjoyed when I was in Europe this fall: well balanced, Old-World, berry and cherry rich flavors. This particular wine is almost as much of a well-written postcard as it is a graceful glass- either way, it is a lovely surprise.