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!