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Oakland hosts an important wine tasting–and in my neighborhood!

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They started calling my neighborhood in Oakland “Uptown” a few years ago. That was when the restaurants began moving in, and the new condos and bars and clubs, making it one of the Bay Area’s hottest ‘hoods. But one thing Uptown never had was a fancy wine tasting event for the public.

Well, Saturday night brought a breakthrough of sorts. It was called the Spring Wine Event, and it was held in a place called Impact Hub, a former auto showroom (I think it was Cadillac-Porsche) back when this stretch of Broadway was called Auto Row. The redeveloper has taken the industrial-sized place and turned it into a high-ceilinged, post-modern space perfect for events of this sort.

I’d been invited to the tasting by a guy, Michael DeFlorimonte, whom I’d never heard of, so I called him up to ask why he’d reached out to me. Seems a winemaker had recommended he ask me, especially since I live only a ten-minute walk away. So Mike did, and I’m so glad. He explained to me that the event was largely for the African-American community, which is fantastic, because that community has been overlooked and underserved by the broader wine industry, which seems like it focuses its efforts (at the premium end, at any rate) elsewhere—why, I’ve never known.

Anyway, this was a glamorous event. I was underdressed, as I usually am. Most of the wines being poured were from tiny new wineries I’d never heard of, many of them produced at a facility on Treasure Island, which is familiar to Bay Area motorists as the mid-way point on the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. I’m going to have to go out there one of these days to check out this interesting, urban wine scene.

Here are some of the wines I really liked: L’Objet Wines 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve, a $32 blend of Russian River, Santa Maria Valley, Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast; Longevity 2013 Pijot Grigio ($24), from Livermore Valley, actually a rosé and a very good one; Urban Legend 2012 Windem Ranch Sauvignon Blanc ($19), which confirms everything I’ve always liked about Lake County; and Greyscale 2011 Cuvée Blanc ($34), a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend from Napa Valley made in the Graves style. There were a few wines that were pretty ordinary, and two in particular that were disasters: both from a high-end, expensive Napa Valley producer whose name I will not reveal, but whom you all would recognize. They were awful, horrible, crimes against wine, and my first thought on tasting them was, “Wow. They dumped these wines at a tasting where they thought people might not be that discerning.” I considered saying something to the pourer, but then reconsidered: not my problem. But it was very sad. Does this sort of thing go on very much? Did the winery think no one would notice because it was “only” downtown Oakland? Someone noticed: me.

  1. TomHill says:

    Steve sez:” the event was largely for the African-American community, which is fantastic, because that community has been overlooked and underserved by the broader wine industry, which seems like it focuses its efforts (at the premium end, at any rate) elsewhere—why, I’ve never known.”

    Interesting observation. Any suggestions on just how the wine industry could go about reaching out to this cummunity?
    Tom

  2. I think this event in Oakland is a perfect example of the wine industry reaching out.

  3. david weintraub says:

    Hilarious.

  4. Thomas Thomas says:

    On your statement about the two High End producers who in your words sent wines that “were awful, horrible, crimes against wine”……and you wondered “Wow. They dumped these wines at a tasting where they thought people might not be that discerning.”

    Steve, this is nothing new and it happens more than it should..well it should never happen in my opinion. It angers me when I read of this type of behavior. It would really be nice if these companies were called out, because I think it would have a chilling (and hopefully positive) effect on wine producers to make sure consumers get their best products regardless of the perceived level of sophistication….Just my opinion.

  5. Thomas Thomas, I don’t know how often it happens. In my experience it’s rare but in this instance it blew me away.

  6. kcphillips says:

    Steve’s in an awkward spot–since he’s in the industry, he can’t really afford/risk calling big players out publicly, though I’d sure like to see this happen. However, he did report a disreputable industry practice (I have no idea how common), and he should be credited for his integrity here.

  7. Dear kcphillips, what you say is not true. My disinclination to “name names” in situations like this is well known and predates my new job for many years. I see no reason to embarrass individual wineries. This blog has never been about “Gotcha!” which is a disreputable tactic.

  8. kcphillips says:

    I stand by what I said. My comments had nothing to do with “gotcha.” Maybe you shouldn’t have brought this up in the first place if you’re not willing to follow through with exposing what you seem to think is a corrupt practice by some in the wine industry–you can’t really have it both ways. Note, however, that Thomas Thomas in a post above clearly calls for “gotcha,” stating, “It would be nice if these companies were called out.” My response was much more conciliatory.

    I’m a wine consumer only, though not a disinterred one–no industry connections of any kind. I only see what you publish in your blog.

    I follow your commentaries because they’re thoughtful and interesting and I do appreciate your many years in the industry.

  9. I think it’s enough to bring it to the winery’s attention privately.

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