A generation ago, my little outpost in the east bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area wouldn’t have truly afforded me any local wineries. Sure some wineries were sourcing grapes from the truly hot vineyards on the other side of “the hill” and it was still only an hour drive to Napa Valley or Sonoma, but there weren’t many local wineries to speak of.
That’s changing rapidly these days both because of the urban winery movement as well as the general appreciation for food and wine that I find here in the east bay.
One of the vanguards of that movement into urban spaces has been Dashe Cellars. Operated by a husband and wife team, Michael & Anne Dashe, the winery benefits from its founders having about the best list of qualifications you’re ever set to find. Between the two of them, who incidentally share winemaking duties, you’ll find job experience at the likes of Château Lafite-Rothschild, Ridge, Far Niete, Chappellet and Schramsberg. Education wise, they aren’t much worse off either with a Davis degree and a University of Bordeaux degree between them. I think we can agree that the pedigree of the winemaking talent isn’t to be questioned.
Dashe Cellars itself is located in an up and coming section of Oakland California, close to Jack London Square. It’s a real working winery and offers an interesting mix of access to winemakers and vineyard staff, with a convenient location and tasting room. In reality, when people say that we need more urban wineries, Dashe is largely the model they’re hoping for in their own town.
The wines at Dashe were originally focused on single vineyard Dry Creek Zinfandel. With 9 current Zinfandel’s for sale, I think it is safe to say that varietal is still the focus at Dashe although they also craft a range of other red and white wines. Dashe also hasn’t experienced the huge run up in prices that we’ve seen elsewhere as the economy has begun to improve in the past few years, with most of their single vineyard Zinfandel offerings, still sitting at $35 per bottle, or under.
If you’re up for a visit to Dashe during your next trip to San Francisco (please take BART, seriously you’re there in under 30 minutes door to door, quicker and easier than driving) try as many of the Zinfandel’s as they’ll allow, but don’t miss the Les Enfants line of wines.
There is a whole movement in the wine industry about crafting more natural wines. While some wineries take that to the extreme through biodynamic means, there wines are special and interesting in that they use native yeasts. The whole native yeast concept was originally explained to me by the winemaker at Alpha Omega in Napa Valley, Jean Hoefliger. Grapes have naturally occurant yeasts on the skins which will cause fermentation to occur in time, but there are generally many different strains. As fermentation begins, some of the strains may begin fermentation and then fizzle out so to speak, only to have other strains eventually take over.
Winemakers generally have two issues with using natural yeasts. First, they add an element of surprise to the entire process. If you don’t know exactly what strains of yeast you have, it isn’t possible to know before fermentation begins exactly how long the process is likely to last. Many winemakers say they get enough surprises in the vineyard, they don’t need them at the winery in addition.
Secondly, so many wines are made at custom crush and other shared facilities that using natural yeasts isn’t always an option. With synthetic or other chosen yeasts around in such large quantities, it’s impossible to keep them completely separated.
Dashe doesn’t have either issue since the facility in Oakland is a working winery of their own and they get to choose who gets to use the facility with them. With two highly trained winemakers on staff, who both own the business, it makes sense that no amount of attention is going to bother them.
In any case, I applaud Dashe for crafting a series of Les Enfants wines. Currently they have a Zinfandel as well as a Grenache available from that line, both underpriced in my estimation given the work involved and quality of the wines, at $24.
Lastly, since I know a number of our readers do like white wine more so than red-Dashe does craft a range of white wines including Riesling and Vin Gris. Although I find there to be more red wines than I could ever enjoy being produced on site, the dry Alsace style of Riesling is an interesting choice. I’m seeing that style of Riesling being produced by more and more wineries sourcing grapes from Sonoma. If you’re a wine drinker ready for a bit of an adventure, especially if you don’t love oaky Chardonnay, give the Riesling a try.