From the end of November until the beginning of the mustard season in February, most vineyards aren’t very picturesque. So, during this time of the year as a wine country traveler it is a good time to visit urban wineries. These wineries are unique because they are often located in industrial, inner-city or business districts where you don’t expect to find a winery tasting room. And most, if not all, of them don’t own their own vineyards but rather source their fruit from select premium grape growers. Many of them have long term contracts to ensure a consistent and reliable source of quality fruit.
Around the San Francisco Bay Area there are numerous wineries in unexpected places such as Alameda, Berkeley, Redwood City, Oakland, San Francisco and Treasure Island. Some are located in business parks, old warehouses, inner-town storefronts or even old military aircraft hangers. There are a few in the East Bay that are part of the Livermore Wine Growers Association that I have wanted to visit for quite some time. So, this past weekend I drove to visit the tasting room of Auburn James Winery.
Their 7,000 square foot winemaking facility is in Livermore and produces approximately 3,500 cases annually, but most Auburn James varietals and blends do not exceed 400 cases. The tasting room and impressionist art gallery, which showcases their wines, opened in May 2011 and is located in the heart of the quaint town of Danville. The décor is heavily laden with beautiful hardwood and the color scheme reminds me of a steak house.
While visiting I met with the tasting room host Dave Matherly. He is extremely hospitable and very knowledgeable about wines – a real professional. I arrived shortly after the tasting room opened around noon and being the only visitor we had quite a wine-geek conversation.
Later that evening I returned in order to take some night shots as they are one of the very few tasting rooms in California that are open as late as 8 PM. Most wineries in Livermore, Napa or elsewhere close between 4 and 5 PM. The great thing about being open so late is that becomes a great place to hang out and taste wine and they host live music. The risk of remaining open that late is that some people might confuse them with being a bar and complain when they don’t stay open ‘till after midnight. A tasting room is, after all, a place for wine TASTING 2-3 ounce samples in order to determine if you want to purchase a bottle – it is not about wine DRINKING so you can get drunk. However, they do sell wines “by the glass” for you to enjoy.
When I returned in the evening the place was humming, almost every seat was taken, servers were busy and a lovely young woman with a beautiful voice was playing piano and singing popular songs. I was also able to meet the proprietor Matthew Ospeck who teamworks with winemaker James Frost. Their first vintage together was the 2005 Raywood Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
Auburn James as several different flights to choose from. I was in a mood for Pinot Noir, so I chose the “Alternate Red” line-up and sampled the following wines:
My first pour was the 2008 Auburn James Pinot Noir – North Coast. On the nose it has aromas of strawberry jam, cherries, a hint of earth, a bit of smoke and just a hint of pencil eraser (or burnt rubber tires). For some that may sound like a bad thing, but it is the kind of earthy complexity that Pinot lovers often look for but are rarely found in California. A lot of California Pinots are fruity and spicy but tend to lack the earthy components commonly found in Oregon or Burgundian Pinots. The rarely found California Pinots like this tend to run for around $45, yet this one sells for only $34 so I brought one home. This wine is very limited in supply and currently is only available in the tasting room. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention it – I travel around with my own Pinot stemware but I didn’t need it because they serve their Pinots in PINOT NOIR Riedel stemware!
My second wine was the 2007 Auburn James Shale Peak Sangiovese. The vineyard is located in the arid dry climes of far northeastern Solano County. For a Sangio, this wine is very dark ruby red. The nose it is really tight so it requires a lot of breathing and swirling of the glass, but eventually I coaxed out of aromas of intense concentrated cherries, black currants, a hint of black licorice and just a waft of sweaty gym socks with a faint hint of herbs and earth. If I tasted this one blind I would have guessed that it had a little Cabernet as it seemed more like a Super-Tuscan. But it is 100% Sangiovese. That being the case I knew off the bat that this wasn’t a Sangiovese Grosso clone, so I thought it might be a Sangiovese Brunello. But when I returned to the tasting room in the evening to take some night shots, Matthew Ospeck informed me that it was a Sangiovese Piccolo. This wine is well balanced with medium tannins, medium (+) acidity and a medium (+) length finish. This wine is not listed on the web site and sells for $34 at the tasting room.
My next sample was the 2006 Auburn James Hidden Creek Livermore Valley Syrah. This wine is intensely purple at the base with a bit of ruby at the rim. On the nose it is BIG and jammy with layers of blueberries and blackberries and a hint of vanilla on the back end. On the palate it is big and round, silky smooth with a bit of heat on the finish. It has medium tannins, medium acidity and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $32 a bottle.
My final wine was not on the flight list, the 2009 Auburn James Diablo Rosso. It is a blend of 58% Tannat and 42% Cabernet Sauvignon. In all my travels I have only come across a half dozen or so Tannats in California and usually they tend to be quite tannic and simple. This wine is extremely dark at the base and violet at the rim. On the nose I picked up cassis, tobacco, and a hint of smoke and vanilla. On entry this wine is surprisingly silky with a touch of sweetness (1% R/S). It is very Zinfandel-like and definitely has the delicious factor going on. This wine is not listed on the web site and sells for $60 at the tasting room. A bit pricy but I brought one home.
For more information or to visit:
Auburn James Winery
Tasting Room & Gallery
321 Hartz Avenue, Suite #1
Danville, CA 94526
Tuesday - Wednesday 3:00pm – 8:00pm
Thursday - Friday 12:00pm -- 8:00pm
Saturday 12:00pm – 8:00pm
Sunday 12:00pm – 5:00pm