Friday, June 17, 2016

Urban Wine Walk; Bringing the Vineyard to the Hood!

Sustainability in da hood?

Gentrification is defined as, "To renovate or improve (especially a house or a district) so that it conforms to middle class taste." But, before I go off on a tangent about the devastating effects of this practice, and the destruction of social and cultural capitol,  in major cities like Oakland, CA, allow me to say that the urban wineries, or more often the tasting rooms of distant wineries, found in Oakland and Berkley California have blended into the framework of some of the toughest, most neglected, crime ridden urban settings without destroying the flavor of "the hood!"

Beginning in or around the year 2000, the city of Oakland, California has seen a 25 percent drop in its' African American population due to gentrification. Areas that were once dominated by people of color, especially areas bordering the southwestern portion of the city, are now becoming hip new suburbanized urban areas along streets that once housed warehouses, factories and shipping companies. Neighborhoods located within these areas housed the many blue collar workers who supplied the labor force necessary to operate commercial and private businesses. However, as time moved forward, a once thriving industrial environment, lay waste to neglect, foreclosure and abandonment.

What is Hip...Now?
The Oakland Urban Wine Trail consists of 10 or more winery tasting rooms scattered over a 10-square mile path near Jack London Square.  Offerings range from the chic, waterside, Rosenbaum Cellars to the family friendly Cerruti Cellars. There is something for everyone's palate.  
Revitalizing the "Hood" for good!
The Route
We began our stroll at CampoVida...a great place for early evening wine tasting as they often have live music on hand, with a light lunch, snacks and wine. I was particularly impressed with their Rose wine. Rose's are fast becoming the new craze in all things vino. The tasting room was large, open and could accommodate large groups. We had about 30-40 people ready to stroll, and they expertly kept our glasses full. It is noteworthy to mention that CampoVida also has a bucolic location in Hopland Ca., where the atmosphere is laced with lush vineyards and gardens. Definitely worth checking out this summer.
Refillable House wine!
Traveling east, to burn off the light lunch of foot long sub sandwiches, antipasto salad, fresh fruit, granola bars, chocolate kisses, cookies and other low calorie edibles...snicker, snicker, we stopped at Urban Legend, located in the old ironworks waterfront district. For those who are not familiar with southeast Oakland, the area was once home to the largest population of blue collar labor in the greater bay area. Now, nearly abandoned, Urban Legend has done little to change the face of this once thriving area. In short, the building is not that pretty, but the wines are fairly good...if you like high octane fruit bombs! (My opinion, please keep reading.) In keeping with the "Oak Town" theme, the label art features a large industrial crane similar to those used at the nearby Port of Oakland. Additionally, they pride themselves on a refillable jug wine that is relatively affordable and drinkable. (Consists mainly of Barbera, and it rather bulky...just sayin') 

On to the next tasting room! We ambled, or stumbled further east to what I considered to be the pinnacle of our journey, Jeff Cohn Wines. Not to be too biased, but, DANG!!!
Cohn's wines offer the finesse and style that I prefer. 
Admittedly, I am a wine snob of sorts. When entering a tasting room, I have a few expectations that are essential in creating a memorable experience. For instance, a genuine greeting will set the tone for how I perceive the value of spending money. Our greeter could not have been more sincere and genuine. She at no time thrust a tasting fee at our throats, and noticing how many were in our party, offered us a high top table to make pouring and describing the wine's more efficient. I was extremely impressed that the wine glasses were of the highest quality crystal, and was the proper shape for the type pf wine being poured.(It really does matter.)   I'm already in love with this place. Because I was leading the tour, I refrained from a full tasting but was offered two tastes at no charge. Boom! Put this place on the radar...I will be back!

Next we visited Cerrito Cellars located on the embarcadero. After imbibing heavily at Jeff Cohn, we were in need of sustenance, and Cerrito offered up complimentary cheese, crackers and meats. Gnoshing away, (We cleared the free food without abandon, as they continued to refill the platters. So ghetto, I know!) the decor is reminiscent of an old fashioned saloon...which I believe it may have been. The room was large, a bit too noisy for my taste, and offered several bench seats designed to accommodate bringing in your own food. Wines were okay to my palate, but the group seemed to find them likable as they spent more money here and at Urban Legend than anywhere else. (Two bottles at Urban Legend equalled one at Cohn.) Again, as the tour guide, it was best that the bulk of this stop involved rehydrating myself with water as the weather was hot for an Oakland afternoon. 
Must come back and try this place

Heading back to the waterfront, I was happy to see a brew house near the center of Jack London Square. Although there was no time to stop in, for those who do brew, this place looked worthy of a return visit.

We concluded the tour at Rosenbaum Cellars located on the waterfront. If memory serves me well, this location may have been a floating hotel called the "Boatel" that I remember as a child. Rosenbaum is very nice and inviting. The wines are a bit pricey, but worth the extra $$. Outdoor seating provides a harbor well as the back side of the now nearly empty Alameda Island military installation. Large yachts cruise by,  outside speakers provide good music and the breeze was a welcome treat after the wine stroll.

I have had the pleasure of leading two wine strolls along the urban wine trail, and really like this way of wine tasting. Each winery provided a relaxed atmosphere and a good selection of wine for any palate. I give this excursion three slaps upside the head...and this is a good thing, and hope that all will consider venturing into "The Hood" to do some wine tasting.

Until next time,

Siatah's who sip!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Port, cigars and truffles? Resurrecting a crappy day in Napa by visiting Prager Port Works

Girl Gotta Do What a Girl Gotta Do!
I should have known better than to apply for a tasting room position at a Highway 29, unnamed, pretentious, high octane fruit bomb flabby wine winery. With Napa temperature's peaking at an incredible 102 degrees at the end of May 2016, the last thing I needed was to be interviewed by someone wearing thigh length leather boots and a multi-colored, "Did your grandmother knit this?" tacky fitted dress, who began the interview with snarky remarks and a condescending attitude. But enough about this for now. (The desire to write a blog about this experience is way too tempting.) What saved the day...and the tank full of gas used to get to said pretentious, high octane flabby wine winery, was a visit, or more accurately a need to cleanse my palate, and a desire to purge the experience from my psyche. (I later wrote them a really nice thank you but no thank you email...which was either unread or ignored. Go figure?)

Come hither, lass!
Jesus Take the Wheel!
Quickly driving away from the interview from Hell along Highway 29, without giving away the name of the flabby wine winery near the local A&W Rootbeer stand,  I became keenly aware of all that was around me. Having driven this road several million times, I never really noticed the vast number of wineries and their proximity to one another. What used to appear as space between each winery now seemed to be a continuous row of similar beckoning tourist traps. This was definitely NOT a place that I would want to further my career in the wine industry. (Did I mention that after sitting through a berating  "If you can sell, you will do well working here" lecture, I was directed to the tasting bar to become familiar with aforementioned winery's flabby wine and then told that this "Familiarity" tasting would be comped?
Additionally, as a special favor...wait for it...they would sell me a bottle of high octane flabby wine with a 30 percent discount! Let the church say, "Hard Sell?"
  Anyhoo, a short drive north and I found myself staring at a signpost that read," Prager Port Works. "

Seriously, enough about the flabby wine winery. Let's talk Port!

I had been referring folks to Prager Port Works for many years, but had never visited myself. Not being a Port fan may have had something to do with this, but in essence, I am really not into anything liquid and sweet. Port wine is definitely sweet, and the grapes used to create such wine play a huge part in how the wine presents itself. Working in Amador County and Lodi for several years, many of the Port wines that crossed my path were made from Zinfandel. In previous blogs, I do not hide my sometime disdain for anything Zin. Port wine made from this arrogant grape tend to take on a raisin characteristic reminiscent of a Saturday morning serving of Kellogg's Raisin Bran with the addition of one or two cups of added sugar. Fortunately, the Pragers' make no Port from Zinfandel grapes. (Hallelujah!) They do however make a wonderful vintage (long aging) Port from Petite Syrah, a teasing (White) Port from Chardonnay and a Tawny (Wood) Port from Cabernet Sauvignon. All capable of creating an orgasm from within the glass...which you get to keep if you pay the $20.00 tasting fee. (Orgasms are not included)

Nuff said!

There's Always Time for Port!

Entering the small parlor like tasting room, Prager is anything but pretentious, and the owners know how to make their guests feel at home. I was immediately greeted by John Prager and his brother Jeff who reminded me of the ZZ Top duo sans the beards, dark glasses and morose wardrobe. Heavy metal Rock and Roll music blared quietly from speakers throughout the cozy room. No sterile elevator operatics going on in here.The walls were adorned with ribbons won at various competitions and dollar bills...a tradition began by patriarch Jim Prager.

Company "Website" created in "Windows!"

It was difficult to miss the "Website" which was created in "Windows" by the door entering the salon. John Prager explained this phenomenon with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye. One could not help laughing at this tidbit of lore, which made the willingness to put aside any reservations I may have had about imbibing in sweet wine. Unlike the aforementioned flabby wine winery, I was asked if I could handle tasting multiple wines. When I said that I couldn't, John happily allowed me to sample a few along with some very tasty glazed of charge!

Wait... What? This Port is Not That Sweet!
Nectar of the Gods!

Beginning with the white Port, John explained the Prager process of using wine grapes that his family felt would create a delicate styled Port wine.
As he poured the golden nectar into my glass, the gentle floral aromas of honey, sage and cream wafted upward and tantalized my olfactory nerves.
 Amazingly, the often cloying, cough syrup characteristic that was more familiar was non existent. This was a Port that could have come home with me.
Royal Escort Port
Paired with a Snickerdoodle cookie or a Snicker's candy bar, the delicacy of this Port would not overpower the flavor of the treat, only enhance it. In fact, this Port would do well enough alone...provided that a beach, blanket and sunset could be added to the mix.

Next up, John poured a darker, more silky Port from an unusual bottle. I was so enamored of the previous offering that I had to take a lap around the room and mingle with a few exuberant guests.
The Prager family does well!
As I leisurely strolled around the 100 foot square room, John shared with us the story of the dollar bills attached to the walls. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that the bills come from around the world. A testament to the diversity of Port drinkers who visit the winery. The story goes something like this.
As many business owners do, the first dollar earned is usually attached to the wall of a business as a sign for good luck. You will have to visit Prager get the rest of the story as I cannot tell it as well as John does. ( I know, unfair!)
 John then poured the next deep, ruby colored Port into my glass. I began to experience a flashback of how I used to describe Port when I worked in Amador County. The memories  of customers laughing hysterically flooded my head as the aroma of wood and spice drifted dangerously close to my eagerly awaiting palate. If I allowed the wine to enter my mouth, there would be no stopping me from eating my own sales pitch, for I had sold many a bottle of Port describing it a to unwary customers in an irresistible way. Here is the legendary sales pitch.

Me: So, now that you have tasted all of our wines, time for dessert!
Customer: Oh, no, I don't like Port!
Me: Oh, you WILL like this Port!
Customer: Why?
Me: Well, this Port requires a fireplace, a Luther Vandross CD, a pair of handcuffs and a whip!
Customer: If it's this good, I'll take two bottles!
They usually did!

Prager Port Works is by far one of the best experiences in wine tasting along Highway 29 that I have ever enjoined. Their laid back unpretentious atmosphere, and lack of formality make this a stop worthy destination. They carry a selection of cigars; John said they were low in inventory at the moment, but more would be added soon, still wines...yes they make these as well and some classy treats to accompany their Port. The location is tucked down a alleyway just off the main road and if you get there soon, there may still be some fruit on one of the loquat trees that is easy to pick and pairs well with Port.
John Prager
I give this location three slaps upside the head...and this is a REALLY good thing, for hosting me and making an otherwise crappy day in Napa that much better! Check out their YouTube Videos for more in depth information from the Pragers' themselves.
Click here;

Until next time,