At the end of the Mustard Season (late March) all the vineyards get plowed and the flowers are mowed under. At this time bud break is beginning but the only vineyards that are picturesque are the old gnarly vines. Last year at this time I ventured out the Alexander Valley and up into the Sierra Foothills to capture these ancient vines. However, this past weekend we were getting more clouds than sunshine in Northern California along with a few April showers which makes taking pictures difficult. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit another urban winery that has been on “must see” list for quite some time – Broc Cellars in Berkeley, California.
The city of Berkeley, named after Bishop George Berkeley, is located in northern Alameda County on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay. To the south are the cities of Oakland and Emeryville and to the north are Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington. To the east it runs along the border of Contra Costa County, which generally follows the ridgeline of the Berkeley Hills.
The city is most known for being the home of the University of California, Berkeley, the oldest of the University of California system, as well as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It is also notoriously one of the most politically liberal in the nation. So, this city is where you’d expect to find a host of paraphernalia shops, not a winery.
Yet, this is where Chris Brockway chose as a home for his urban winery Broc Cellars. The winery is a small hole-in-the-wall building located in an industrial/residential neighborhood on the west side of Berkeley. It has a very tiny closet size tasting room adjacent to the production area all of which is not much bigger than a garage.
Chris grew up in Omaha and attended the University of Nebraska where he majored in Philosophy. After college, he spent time working in Omaha restaurants then in Seattle Washington where he began to take an interest in wine. He then moved to California to take classes at UC Davis but then transitioned to Cal State Fresno, which has its own functioning winery. There he studied both winemaking and viticulture and earned his second degree in enology. In 2002 Brockway moved to the Bay Area and started his winemaking career at JC Cellars, an urban winery in Oakland.
In 2004 Brockway started making his own wine and has worked exclusively for his own labels since 2006. He is also involved in a collaborative at Broadside Wines with Brian Terrizzi of Giornata, an Italian-varietal specialist located in San Luis Obispo County.
Brockaway sources his fruit from sustainable, organic or biodynamic vineyards throughout California. In making his wines he uses a low-tech facility all native yeasts, minimal sulfur, and techniques like carbonic maceration, where fermentation begins inside the grape itself before crushing.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
The first sample was the 2012 Vine Starr, Central Coast. This is a southern Rhone white wine blend of 85% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul and 5% Counoise. This wine was aged in partial neutral oak and stainless steel. On the nose I picked up tropical fruits, pineapple, bananas and lemon/lime citrus. On the palate it is dry, fairly light with medium (-) body, with medium (+) crisp acidity and a long finish. This wine was my favorite in the line-up and I brought two of them home for $24 each.
The second pour was 2012 Picpoul, Paso Robles. This southern Rhone varietal is a rarely seen in California. The nose on this wine is very subtle with faints notes of lemon/lime, mandarin orange and tangerines. It light bodied, has crisp acidity and a prolonged finish. This wine sells for $24 a bottle.
The third wine was the 2011 “Skin Contact” Roussanne, El Dorado. This wine is golden yellow. On the nose it has subtle hints of honey, apricots and melon. On the palate it is medium bodied with medium acidity. Roussanne usually has some floral notes but this one doesn’t so if I was tasting this blind I would have guessed that it was a dry Furmint. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.
The fourth pour was the 2012 Rosé, Santa Ynez Valley. This wine is a blend of 50% Counoise and 50% Cinsault, made from partial contact with the skin. On the nose I picked up very faint hints of strawberries, cranberries and watermelon. On the palate it is light, crisp and tangy. This wine is not currently on the web site and I didn’t ask for the price.
The first red wine in the line-up was the 2011 Cassia Grenache, Santa Barbara County. This wine is ruby red at the base with pinkish hues at the rim. On the nose it has medium intensity of strawberries, tart cherries and just a faint hint of green vegetal notes. On the palate is medium (-) bodied, has refined tannins, medium (+) acidity and a long finish with a bitter edge. This wine sells for $27 a bottle.
The second red wine was the 2011 Carbonic Carignan, Alexander Valley. This wine is bright ruby red with a floral nose followed by red raspberries, cranberries and blueberries. On the palate it is medium-light bodied, with refined gritty tannins, crisp acidity and it is slightly tart. As with all of Broc’s wine, this one is fairly low in alcohol (hence the light to medium body) with only 12.8% alcohol. This wine sells for $25 a bottle.
The third red wine pour was the 2011 Vine Starr Zinfandel, Sonoma. On the nose I picked up wild berries, bramble bush, under ripe strawberries, raspberries, black tea and a hint of black pepper. Most California Zins have at least 14.5% alcohol and many are as high as 16%. However, this one was harvested a little earlier with some green berries remaining so the alcohol is relatively low at 13.3 %. This wine sells for $27 a bottle.
The final sample was the 2011 Luna Matta Mourvedre. On the nose of this wine is smoky up front which then gives way to black fruits, pepper and a hint of anise. On the palate this wine has medium body, medium (+) tannins, and medium acidity. This wine sells for $36 a bottle.
Overall, I would describe Broc Cellars wines as being non-typical for California. They seem more Old World in style with lower alcohol, medium intensity and high acidity. Yet they are well balanced with good structure and are food friendly as they won’t dominate the palate.
For more information or to visit:
805 Camelia Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Open Saturday and Sunday 1 – 5 PM.