Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dashe Cellars and JC Cellars – A Dynamic Urban Duo in Oakland, California

Continuing the Urban Winery theme… I headed to the East Bay to Oakland California to visit three tasting rooms on the other side of the tunnel from Alameda near the docks and Jack London Square.

My first stop was at JC Cellars and Dashe Cellars which share a tasting room in a 15,000 square foot warehouse but have a separate tasting bar. It is a unique tasting experience because it is an opportunity to experience two distinct styles of wine making. One (JC Cellars) has a big bold California style and the other (Dashe Cellars) has a more elegant and reserved style of wine making. It is not that one is better than the other, they’re just different in their approach to wine making and different people with different preference may find one more appealing than the other.

I liked them both.

JC Cellars

I first sampled the line-up from JC Cellars, which in general has a big, bold, fruit forward style of wine making. The winery is named after Jeff Cohn who was previously a winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars, where he annually he crafted more than 70 different wines. Today, at the winery that now bares his name he is focused on 21 bottlings, with a specialization of Rhône varietals which he sources from such notable vineyards as Rockpile Vineyard in Sonoma County, Fess Parker in Santa Barbara County and Stagecoach in Napa.

Jeff began his own label, JC Cellars, in 1996 with the release of 75 cases of the 1996 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel. Eventually the humble production grew to over 5,000 cases annually In January 2006 Cohn finally parted ways with Rosenblum to focus exclusively on his own winery, but not before crafting the 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel, which placed 3rd on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list that year. This was a coup for not only Cohn but all of California’s winemaking industry, as no Zinfandel had ever appeared so high on the list before. In fact, no Zinfandel from California had ever even cracked the top ten.

All JC Cellars wines are fermented in open top fermenting vessels that range in size from a half ton to eight tons, where each bin is hand punched down five times per day. This time-consuming procedure allows maximum exposure of skins to juice, intensifying the flavor of the fruit while handling it as gently as possible.

Yeasts are individually selected for each wine depending on the fruit's flavor and what flavor profiles need to be accentuated for that particular vineyard. In addition to using Indigenous yeast from the vineyard; Jeff Cohn uses eight different types of red and white wine yeast strains, six of which come from both Northern and Southern Rhone. Each yeast highlights different aromatics and flavor profiles without overpowering the terroir aspect of the wines.

Wines are then aged up to 16 months or more in specially selected Burgundy shaped barrels, ranging in size from 60, 80, 132 and 600 gallons. These barrels play an integral role in the winemaking method, producing wines that have more elegance, richness and extra length to the palate. Cohn incorporates more than ten different cooperages, almost all of which are French oak, into the winery’s barrel program, of which 60% to 100% are new oak. When wine from the individual barrels is blended together, additional layers of flavors and aromatics are achieved.

Additionally, Cohn uses a Nomblot cement egg shaped fermenter for the fermentation of a portion of the white wines to gain an overall depth, roundness and to highlight the minerality of the vineyard.

While visiting JC Cellars I sampled the following wines (and spit into a cup, I am wine TASTING not DRINKING!):

My first pour was the 2008 Stagecoach Vineyard Marsanne, Napa Valley. This wine was aged 16 months in 30% new French oak and 70% one-year-old barrels. This is a very rich and voluptuous wine, with a tropical floral nose and concentrated fruit displaying coconuts, butterscotch, caramel and marzipan. It has a full creamy mouth feel and yet maintains good acidity all the way through finishing with a bit of hazelnut on the return. A beautiful wine for $38 a bottle.

The second sample and first red wine the 2009 Landy Sweetwater Springs Zinfandel. On the nose blueberries, raspberries, spice and a hint of vanilla. Very soft on entry followed by a mouth full of dried black fruits, raspberry jam and spice, well balanced with good acidity. A really nice wine for $38 a bottle.

The third pour was the most intriguing in the line-up, the 2008 Imposter. A unique blend of 36% Zinfandel, 29% Syrah, 22% Petite Sirah, 3% Tempranillo, 3% Carignane, 3% Grenache, and 1% Viognier this wine displays an intense and complex array of earth and fruit on nose with wild raspberries, new leather and spice. On the palate it has really good acidity and refined tannins. This wine sells for $35 and was my favorite so I took one home.

I was then blessed to sample two pours of the same wine from two different vintages. From the library, the 2004 Caldwell Vineyard Syrah, Napa Valley and the current release, the 2006 Caldwell Vineyard Syrah, Napa Valley. The grapes for these wines were planted in 1982 and although the wines were only two years apart there were some significant differences in their profiles. They both display blackberries, black cherries, blueberries, chocolate and cacao, black raspberries, and touch of white pepper. But the ’04 was earthier with more leather and dried tobacco whereas the ’06 was fresher and purely a fruit profile. I liked them both. The 2006 sells for $45 a bottle.

My final sample was the 2006 Ripken Vineyard Late Harvest Viognier, Lodi. This wine displays a common profile for a late-harvest Viognier – honey, canned peaches, dried apricots and orange peel. On the palate it is very viscous, almost oily and it coats your entire mouth. It is a hedonistic wine that needs no accompaniment for dessert. It sells for $24 a bottle.

To visit or for more information

JC Cellars
55 4th Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 1-510-465-5900

Dashe Cellars

After sampling wines from JC Cellars I then moved to the other end of the wine bar to taste an impressive line-up of wines from Dashe Cellars.

The winery was founded by the husband and wife winemaking team of Michael and Anne Dashe who have complementary advanced degrees in enology from the University of Bordeaux and the University of California at Davis as well as a combined 40+ years of experience of winemaking having worked at such notable wineries as Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château La Dominique, Ridge Vineyards, Cloudy Bay, Far Niente, Chappellet, and Schramsberg Wine Cellars. 

Dashe Cellars has an impressive portfolio of wines that includes Zinfandel, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Riesling with a production of approximately 10,000 cases.

To create these wines, Michael applies traditional and “natural” winemaking techniques, including small-lot fermentation, the use of indigenous yeasts, and little-or-no fining or filtration. To moderate oak influence, the winery’s barrel program incorporates large-format oak vessels including 900-gallon foudres and 120-gallon puncheons, as well as older traditional French barrels. During blending, Michael and Anne work side-by-side to achieve a sophisticated and engaging synthesis of French and American winemaking.

While visiting Dashe Cellars I sampled the following wines:

My first wine was the 2010 McFadden Far, Riesling from Potter Valley. The grapes for this wine are sourced from these 30 year-old vines, growing in the rocky, chalky soil of the McFadden Farm in Potter Valley. This is a very sharp, dry, and steely wine with a reserved nose of white peaches, lemon-lime, lemon zest, dried pineapples and wet stone. This is not your common California tropical fruity style Riesling. If you prefer a more austere German/Austrian style wine, this one is for you for only $20 a bottle.

The second sample was a real gem, a value priced wine that would pair well with a number of different types of food, the 2010 Vin Gris, Dry Creek Valley. This is a Dry Rosé made from a blend of 55% Grenache, 30% Petite Sirah, and 15% Zinfandel. On the nose I picked up watermelon, pomegranate, and a hint of cinnamon. On the plate it has crisp acidity and a very long finish. A steal at only $14 a bottle. Needless to say, I brought one home and I’m eager to dry this one with some smoked salmon.

The third pour was the 2009 “Les Enfants Terrible” (The Terrible Children) Grenache from the Dry Creek Valley. A lighter-styled red wine, light red plums, violets and a hint of dry earth. This wine sells for $24 a bottle.

My next two wines were both Zinfandels with radically different profiles that display the different between younger vines verses older vines.

The fourth red wine I then sampled was the 2008 Florence Vineyard Zinfandel from 6 year-old vines. A vibrant fresh fruity wine displaying violets, red plums, raspberries, and spice. Very soft on the palate with bright acidity. A bit pricy at $32 a bottle.

I then tasted the 2007 Louvau Vineyard Zinfandel, made from grapes from 85 year-old vines. This wine displays lavender, dark plums, dried dark fruits, and a lot more spice than the previous wine. This wine is bigger, earthier, and has more grip on the palate. Well balanced with a prolonged finish. An absolutely superb wine for $32 a bottle – I brought one home.

My next wine was not on the menu, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley. This wine is a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot.  This wine displays everything I have come to expect form the Alexander Valley which has a very distinct profile that distinguishes itself from all the Napa Valley sub-AVAs. This wine displays black currants (a standard Cabernet characteristic) followed by mint, eucalyptus, with silky voluptuous tannins with a very lengthy dry finish. A really fine Cab for $38, there are many like this on the market that sell for twice this price. If my cellar wasn’t already full of Cabs, I would have brought one home.

My final wine was the 2009 Late Harvest Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. A simple sweet wine displaying intense boysenberries, dried dark fruit, and raisons. A very S-W-E-E-T wine that has a full mouth full of flavor without being syrupy. This wine sells for $24 (375 ML).

To visit or for more information

Dashe Cellars
55 4th Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 1-510-452-1800

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