There is a thriving Urban Winery scene just waiting for you to discover it in the San Francisco East Bay. The surroundings may have more asphalt, warehouses, and freeway sounds than a rural wine country experience, but you can still find fermentation vats, oak barrels, and skilled winemakers selling quality products out of tasting rooms here. Since these Urban Wineries source their grapes from a variety of regions, wine tasting excursions to Oakland and Berkeley involve varietals ranging from Grenache Blanc and Riesling to Counoise, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. In a good way.
Just make sure to plan your trip to the East Bay well as the regular tasting room hours at many of these wineries are limited (your best bet may be to make this a weekend getaway).
Favorite Tasting Rooms in the San Francisco East Bay
Broc Cellars (1300 5th Street, Berkeley, 510-424-7323)
Headed up by Chris Brockway, this small winery in the East Bay focuses on wines that reflect their terroir. The philosophy here is that vineyards only develop their true character and complexity when they have to struggle to survive, and a wine’s true character comes from using only sustainably, organically, or biodynamically grown grapes from those vineyards. Old-school urban winemaking here means that grapes are pitchforked whole-cluster into the fermenters, fermentation is allowed to happen spontaneously, all wines are basket pressed, and little to no sulphur is used in the wines until bottling.
The artisan winemaking here excels and is a delightful surprise. We’ve generally preferred their red wines to their whites and highly recommend the Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Counoise, and Grenache here. Tasting Room open Saturday and Sunday, 1:00 to 5:00 pm.
Dashe Cellars (1951 Monarch Street, Hangar 25, Alameda, 510-452-1800)
In 1996, winemakers and spouses Michael and Anne Dashe founded Dashe Cellars (he’s from California, she’s from France). Focused on crafting exceptional single-vineyard wines, Dashe Cellars blends the two winemakers’ combined 40-plus years of experience. The Dashes are some of the pioneers of the Bay Area urban winemaking movement and while they have a tasting room in Healdsburg as well, we prefer the tasting experience in Oakland.
Of the many sophisticated wines made here, our consistent favorites have been the McFadden Farm “Les Enfants Terribles” Zinfandel and the Florence Vineyard Zinfandel. Les Enfants Terribles, French for “the rebel children,” is used here to reflect the wine’s unorthodox flavor profile. Tasting Room open Thursday through Sunday, 12:00 -5:00 pm, and until 6:00 during Spring and Summer (although closed on some holidays)
Donkey & Goat Winery (1340 5th Street, Berkeley, 510-868-9174)
Donkey & Goat is owned and operated by Tracey and Jared Brandt and they strive to make wine as naturally as possible here in the East Bay. All of the wines are fermented in wood vats (no plastic allowed) and there is a lot of manual labor involved (picking, sorting, foot stomping, punch down). For aging, the Brandts do not use any new oak barrels, and their lots only see 35% or fewer 1 year old barrels. The concept here is “We make our wines for the table not the cocktail glass.”
We’ve liked almost everything we’ve ever tried here – sparkling wines, whites, blushes, and reds. However, our favorites have been their Grenache Blanc, Improbably Chardonnay, Grenache Noir, Broken Leg Pinot Noir, Porquois Pas? Merlot, Perli Vineyards Syrah, and a red wine blend called Five Thirteen (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise and Cinsault). Tasting Room open Friday – Sunday, 2:00 to 6:00 pm.
Urban Legend Cellars (1951 Monarch Street, Alameda, 510-545-4356)
Urban Legend Cellars is a classic Mom and Pop business with Marilee and Steve Shaffer filling those roles. The wines made here tend to bring forward the true fruit flavors of the grapes, in a balanced framework of firm acids, round tannins, and very light oak. If you’ve been searching for a good Teroldego or Petit Verdot, drive on over to 2nd Street here in the East Bay.
They make small lots of many different wines here, and we have been impressed by many of them: Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County Riesling, Rosata di Barbera, Holland Landing Vineyard Barbera, Undici (Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend), Teroldego, and Petit Verdot. Tasting Room open Friday – Saturday, 1:00 to 6:00 pm.