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  • Writer's pictureBig Rick Stuart

Berkeley Is the Next Wine Route You Need to Visit

A Myriad winemakers have flocked to this industrial part of southwest Berkeley. Newcomers like Maître de Chai and Hammerling Wines offer small-production California wines alongside old favorites like Donkey & Goat and Broc Cellars, longtime natural wine producers. And they’re all just a short drive from north Oakland’s bars and restaurants, nestled in the East Bay.

Josh Hammerling, for one, will make you wonder why you haven’t always been drinking domestic bubbles. Hammerling Wines’ 2019 Sunflower Sutra, made with grapes from several cool climate vineyards, is a classic example of California sparkling wine—and exactly what you want to be sipping with freshly shucked oysters.

Hammerling set up shop in Berkeley because it’s “surrounded by wine country.”

“We’ll never have an estate vineyard of our own, so I wanted to position us to source fruit from distinctive sites in Mendocino Ridge, Russian River, Monterey, San Benito, and the Sierra Foothills,” Hammerling said. “It gives us a wonderful palette to work with in the cellar.”

For the winemakers behind Maître de Chai, Berkeley offered the opportunity to have their own space to create zinfandel, chenin blanc, and more. Alex Pitts, a former French Laundry chef, and Marty Winters, sommelier at the now-shuttered Restaurant at Meadowood, cook wood-fired pizzas on the weekends at their Fourth Street winery—each pie tossed into a Stefano Ferrara oven shipped over from Italy. Previously, the duo made wine in the corner of friends’ Napa facilities.

“Napa has become a place where small producers like ourselves struggle with the cost as well as miles of red tape with permitting and licensing from the county with opening a winery and tasting room operation,” the pair added. “The other option is to work through a custom crush facility where, in essence, the physical winemaking is done through emails and work orders.

“We feel that by having our own space, the soul of our wines are truly crafted with the hands that touch the grapes in the vineyard and winery.”

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