There is something very special about touring wine country– the rolling hills, panoramic views of vineyards, and quaint tasting rooms dotted along a scenic 2-lane highway. When you visit Napa or Sonoma, just a couple hours outside the bustle of the city, you feel worlds away from the large metropolis of the Bay Area–in the stunning “motherland” of wine. However close wine country may be to you when you visit San Francisco, spending a few days in Napa (because you will most definitely need more than one), can be pretty pricey, and narrowing down the wineries you will visit with a tight schedule can seem rather daunting. If you’re lacking in time, but still want an authentic wine tasting experience, join me on this quick tour of some of the most interesting new urban wineries popping up around the East Bay area–specifically in Berkeley and an island called Alameda.
First stop on our urban winery tour is somewhat hidden between buildings in the evolving warehouse district of west Berkeley on the other side of town from the UC campus. Nestled inside an industrial parking lot is a tiny little tasting room with a lot of interesting wines to offer. Urbano Cellars, founded in 2006 by “garage” winemakers, Bob Rawson & Fred Dick, is a winery gem that should not be ignored on your urban winery tour. The winery has grown into its current location on 4th Street in Berkeley where much of the winemaking production occurs in the warehouse adjacent to the tasting room. While you enjoy a range of different wines from Chenin Blanc to Tempranillo to Barbera, and beyond, you may have the opportunity to look out the tasting room door and watch some of the actual winemaking happening right in the parking lot in front of you. Because this is a winery in an urban setting, the grapes are sourced from vineyards in the Northern & Central California growing regions, but that does not mean that visiting this winery is any less of an authentic wine-tasting experience. One of the more unique aspects of Urbano’s wine offering is the option to try both red & white wine “on tap.” Urbanites in the area can purchase refillable growlers to take wine home and bring back empty for a continuous supply of delicious local wine. I always like the idea of supporting local businesses, and Urbano has definitely provided an easy way for Bay Area residents to do that.
Visit Urbano Winery’s tasting bar on the weekends:
2323 B Fourth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Donkey & Goat Winery
Next stop on our urban winery tour is just a quick walk down the road–or a 5 min Uber ride if you are feeling the need to safely commute by car between wineries. If you choose to walk, you can walk straight up 4th Street past all the new boutique shops & restaurants popping up on the west side of town. Donkey & Goat is a very cool little winery & tasting room located on 5th Street further north of our first stop. When you walk through a rather nondescript warehouse door, you are greeted with a very “urban rustic” vibe to the tasting room. My immediate reaction to this tasting bar was that I could easily spend the day here just listening to happy tunes and tasting these wines.
Donkey & Goat is owned by Jared & Tracey Brandt, who adhere to a completely natural way of wine growing & making. Again, because this is an urban winery, the grapes are sourced from vineyards throughout Northern California, but the emphasis is on the natural methods of grape-growing, with many of the grapes sourced from vineyards that support biodynamic farming practices. Natural winemaking practices used by Donkey & Goat include techniques such as only using wild or native yeasts to ferment the wine, and even the traditional method of “foot stomping” for grape crushing. The Brandts also boast an extremely limited use of sulfur, and a lack of cold or heat stabilization to clarify their wines. This creates a very interesting “unfined” tasting experience. Have you ever had an Orange Wine? At Donkey & Goat, you can try a Pinot Gris with an orange tint due to the skins of the grapes having more contact than usual with the juice of a white wine. Needless to say, this winery is quite the treat for adventurous wine-os who are looking for a natural kind of uniquely urban tasting experience.
Visit Donkey & Goat Winery on the weekends
1340 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Rock Wall Wine Company
Our final stop on this urban winery tour will take us across the bridge to a magical island called Alameda. You will definitely need to summon an Uber or another type of safe ride, because we are leaving Berkeley for this wine experience. Even though it is beyond a walk away, you won’t want to skip out on a visit to Rock Wall Wine Company.
If stunning views are what you are missing on this urban wine tour, Rock Wall will most definitely satisfy your craving to see something scenic. As you drive up to the old airplane hangers on the western side of Alameda island, you may start to feel like maybe this wine tour is getting to be a little too industrial for your taste. Where are all the vine-lined rolling hills & stone-cornered wine tasting cottages of rural wine country? There’s nothing to see here but an old, abandoned airplane hanger and miles of concrete!
As you walk up to the tasting room at Rock Wall, you may catch a glimpse of what is beyond the building on the other side, and if you’ve timed your visit just right for later in the afternoon–approaching sunset–get ready to enjoy one of the most underrated views in all of the Bay Area. But First! Start your visit with a tasting inside, or a glass of half-priced wine at happy hour. Once you choose the wine you would like to sip for a while, exit through the back of the building and prepare to be stunned by how beautiful the city of San Francisco looks directly across the Bay; peaceful and silhouetted in all its crazy glory. Rock Wall is perfectly situated on this heavily industrial concrete park, with the most incredible panoramic views of the whole San Francisco Bay area– with the Bay’s namesake city protruding from the water in the distance. There are few places in the East Bay area that can boast a better view. How lucky that we are able to enjoy this unbelievably unique Bay Area view on our urban winery tour.
Visit Rock Wall Wine Company
2301 Monarch Street #300
Alameda, CA 94501