If you're into buying local food, why not pair it with local wine? The East Bay has a burgeoning winemaking scene.

On July 31, dozens of winemakers and restauranteurs from Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley joined hundreds of wine lovers from both sides of the Bay for the fifth annual Urban Wine Xperience. This event filled the former Barnes & Noble location at Jack London Square with good music, food, wine, and fun.

Here are some highlights from the day — including photos, videos, and a bit about what makes East Bay wines special…

At the Urban Wine Xperience

This annual event is offered by the East Bay Vintners Alliance, a group of nearly two dozen winemaking operations located from Alameda through Berkeley. Most of these wineries get their grapes from West Coast vineyards, and at least one imports grapes from Rhone, France. All Alliance member wineries make, age, and sell their wine in or around Oakland — and have Oakland-area tasting rooms

The Xperience drew several hundred people, and generally people seemed to be having a good time. Here's what a few attendees had to say:

…And in this video, local vintners and other Urban Wine Xperience exhibitors discuss their wine and how the local wine business is evolving.

What was the best wine? Oakland Local reporters Amy Gahran and Staci Baird sampled many.

Among the whites, we were most impressed by the 2008 Kick Ranch sauvignon blanc from Carica Wines, based in Alameda. It's crisp and dry, a good summer wine, and sells for $21/bottle.

Among the reds, we preferred the 2007 Swingsville zinfandel from R&B Cellars, also based in Alameda. This rich, flavorful red is not too heavy and costs $12/bottle.

While Xperience attendees could taste, order, and pay for wines at this event, they couldn't actually leave with their bottles, due to state alcohol sales regulations. Orders were available for shipping or pickup at the wineries. While a bit frustrating, this didn't seem to deter the many determined wine shoppers at the event.

One of the more unusual offerings was from Andrew Lane Wines, which produces wine in a former submarine factory near Oakland. Since 2005, this winery has been selling wine on tap — a method that's become popular among trendy Bay Area wine bars.

“The beauty of this way of serving wine,” said winemaker Lane, as he pulled a glass of merlot from something that looked like a small, classy keg, “is that you get no spoilage. We use nitrogen to push the wine softly out of the tap.”

So far Lane sells wine on tap only to local restaurants (such as the new SR24 in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood), but he'll soon start offering it to caterers and individuals for events. Lane said for a case worth's of wine, buying it on tap saves about $20-$25.

Of the several local restaurants serving food at this event, our favorite was Pappo. This Alameda restaurant offers New American cuisine with a focus on local and seasonal food. Plus: They always have duck on the menu.

In this video, Chef John Thiel explains “Duck Dogs,” which he was serving at this event:

One of the event's sponsors, Nirvino, has created a social media tool that helps people to discover and share wines and beers, based on geography. This is available on the web and via an iPhone app. (Android app coming soon, says Meli James of Nirvino.)

What's special about wine in the East Bay?

Fred Dick, co-owner of Urbano Cellars Winery in Emeryville, explained, “We're an hour away from the best wine grapes grown in the world — but the grapes don't care where they're made into wine. Here in the East Bay it's fairly cool most of the time, which is perfect for winemaking. We don't have to pay as much for air conditioning, and that helps keep costs down.”

According to Steve Shaffer, co-owner of Oakland-based Urban Legend Cellars, the City of Oakland offers economic development services to encourage food and beverage companies to set up business in Oakland.

“The city government was instrumental in helping us solve problems with finding the space we eventually leased — a building that had stood empty for 12 years,” said Shaffer. “They helped us through the permitting process. For a business involved in selling alcohol, it turns out that getting approval from the police department is critical. The city helped get us in touch with the right people in the police department. They were also instrumental in helping us get redevelopment grant money. Oakland really wanted to welcome us in.”

NOTE: Bay Area journalist and videographer Staci Baird shot the photos and video for this story and produced the first two video montages. Music courtesy of Omani.

About The Author