Above, The back deck at Rock Wall Wine Company with a view of San Francisco and the Bay. Photo by Michelle Sieling.
By Michelle A. Sieling
When you think of wine tasting, the city of Alameda may not be the first place that comes to mind. But with wine tasting venues like Rockwall Wine Company, Rosenblum Cellars and R&B Cellars (found at Alameda Vinters Club), you’ll find the fundamentals.
Though it’s not wine country, the city of Alameda seems like a world away from the rest of the Bay Area. Not only does its location on an island physically separate it from the rest of the Bay Area, but with its historic homes and the 25 mph enforced island speed limit slowing down the pace of the city, you’ll feel transported back to an earlier time. The slower rhythm of the city makes it a good place to settle back and sip your wine.
For a wine tasting tour of the island, let’s take it from the top (of Alameda). When the Navy closed the air station on the north end of the island, they left a lot of massive spaces that were ripe for new businesses like the Rock Wall Wine Company. The winery operates out of a converted 40,000 square-foot airplane hangar. It’s set due north of a defensive rock wall which made up the perimeter of the base, hence the name. It’s not only a winery for the Rock Wall label, but a wine services center that provides the venue and tools for other local winemakers and boutique brands.
The tasting room is usually packed on the weekends with guests, many of whom make an afternoon of it by also visiting Rock Wall Wine Company’s neighbor, Hangar 1 Vodka. What also draws visitors here, besides the winery’s Zinfandels, are the panoramic views of San Francisco. Rock Wall Wine Company offers everything in the tasting room from sweet and fruity sparkling whites and rosés to bolder Petite Sirahs and Tannats. $15 will get you a tasting of five wines, but the fee is waived if you buy a bottle.
Visitors are encouraged to sit out on the patio and enjoy a glass or share a bottle of wine while looking out over the bay. To make a picnic out of it, there’s a selection of sandwiches, burgers and salads available at the Rock Wall Bistro, though hours are limited.
Just outside of the base and next to the ferry terminal is Rosenblum Cellars, originally founded, but no longer owned, by the father-daughter team behind Rock Wall Wine Company. Also known for its Zinfandels – in this case, more than 20 varieties – this winery also offers Rhône-style red wines like Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, as well as white and dessert wines. Tastings of five wines also run $15, but there’s no waiving of the fee for purchase of a bottle.
It may not have a view, but the space is made for lounging, with ample couch space, in addition to the tables for pool and foosball. There are also plenty of picnic benches outdoors where you can enjoy a bottle of wine.
Last up on the tour is Alameda Vinters Club near Park Street downtown, where you can enjoy wines from R&B Cellars, and other wines from Alameda producers such as Carica Wines, Ehrenberg Cellars and Urbano Cellars, and also a few foreign and domestic offerings. In a café-like setting, you’ll find Sauvingon Blancs, Grenaches, Zinfandels and more. You can choose a tasting of five wines from a set menu, or create one of your own. Most flights cost $10, but the ones featuring premium reds, like R&B Cellars own Cabernet Sauvingons, are $15. Wines are also available by the glass or bottle. Hungry visitors can nibble on appetizers or desserts from Cellar Door, formerly Angela’s Bistro and Bar, which is conveniently connected to Alameda Vintners Club.
Cellar Door is a warm neighborhood spot, where neighbors greet each other and the host takes time to check in with customers. It contains both a bar up front if you are looking for a quick cocktail, and a family-friendly dining area. While you are dining there, you can also purchase a bottle from the Alameda Wine Company next door, with which the restaurant also has a partnership. Cellar Door provides a TasteVin iPad from where you can peruse the wines available at the store and in the restaurant, and includes tasting notes along with pairings from the menu.
On my visit I only had a chance to sample the seared steak with mashed potatoes and delicate onion rings. If that meal was indicative of other items on the menu, it’s promising.