Vineyards in Berkeley?

Bob Riskin’s Lost Canyon Winery—one member of the East Bay Vintner’s Association.

No, not exactly, but we have plenty of wineries here in the East Bay’s waterside cities—15 of them, at last count.

In the summer of 2006, the East Bay Vintner’s Association came to life with the objective of promoting the wineries located in Alameda, Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville. These urban wine makers, who started to meet informally in late 2005 for dinner and drinks, found they had a shared history—most had clocked time in other wineries and wanted to start their own labels, but none had the cash for property in Napa and Sonoma.

“I think land in Napa is $80,000 to $100,00 per acre. Even warehouse space is expensive,” explains Brendan Eliason, owner of Emeryville’s Periscope Cellars and one of the original members of the casual group. Like the others, Eliason found that warehouses close to the Bay offer lower rents, and with refrigerated trucks, it’s easy enough to bring grapes from far-flung vineyards.

The East Bay wine makers went from casual dinner partners to official organization when they planned the Urban Wine Experience, a tasting of East Bay wines hosted at Alameda giant Rosenblum Cellars. The event, held on August 26, 2006, gave visitors a chance to see what’s on offer in our backyards.

And what’s on offer is a lot of good wine. Edmunds St. John and Rosenblum have strong fan bases, but I filled my notebook with plusses and stars as I tasted the wines from the lesser-known wineries, from Blacksmith’s pretty and mineral-laden 2005 Chenin Blanc to A Donkey and Goat’s earthy and delicately fruity 2004 Carson Ridge Vineyard Syrah.

“I’m ecstatic with everyone’s wines,” says Eliason, whose eight-grape-blend 2004 Cuvee Alpha earned a plus in my tasting notes, “and we want our group to stand for the best wines in California.”

Keep an eye on the group’s website, Another tasting should happen this spring.

—Derrick Schneider

Photo by Melissa Schneider