In a handsome old brick building, at the corner of Third and Jackson, near Jack London Square, is the ultra new urban tasting room of Brooklyn West Winery. Though still very much under construction, its winemaker, Stew Epstein and assistant winemaker, Jeffery Fiegel, are spending their weekends among the curtained-off construction, seated on folding chairs at folding tables, pouring their wines for a steady stream of thirsty guests.
Lest you find yourself scratching your head as to what ties the winery to Brooklyn, the name refers specifically to the family histories of Mr. Epstein and his wife, Michelle. Their parents were Brooklyn natives who made the move west, where Stew and Michelle were born, and so the name addresses the kismet of what brought these two near-Brooklynites together, a few thousand miles west. They are also keen to point out that the area of East Oakland was previously the town of Brooklyn, California before it was annexed by Oakland in 1872.
While its cool labels and various allusions to Brooklyn may take one’s mind to a kind of hipsterdom, the reality is that Brooklyn West isn’t hipster in any sense of the word, nor snobbish in the least. Rather, it has a very casual and welcoming business model that caters specifically to drawing in people new or somewhat unfamiliar to the world of wine. Wine-speak and general wine geekery doesn’t seem to happen here. Guests may expect, at best, an easy primer on California wine, and at least, a perfectly fine way to burn 20 to 30 minutes and cop a wine buzz.
In keeping with the easy, inclusive nature of the concept, the wines themselves provide few challenges to the taster. In the current California wine market, the trend is toward further defining the “New California” style, which tends toward earlier harvested, sustainably farmed grapes, with searing, sour acids, occasional oxidative and/or bacterial flavors and aromas, and less of an emphasis on the presence of ripe fruit flavors on the palate.
Brooklyn West’s wines, on the other hand, are made with mass appeal in mind. It prefers that its growers (it does not own nor farm any vineyards) embrace sustainable farming practices, though it does not insist upon them. Winemaking here is “modern,” which is to say that modern winemaking practices, such as the use of commercial yeasts, enzymes, filtration and/or fining, and various other chemical adjustments are employed. The resulting wines are more or less classically Californian, with plenty of fruit and oak present on the lion’s share of the palate.
On my visit, I tasted through the following: a 2012 Santa Barbara chardonnay ($33 per bottle); a 2013 Rio Blanco riesling ($25 per bottle); the Rockridge Red, a blend of barbera, grenache and petit sirah ($28 per bottle); a 2009 tempranillo ($35 per bottle); the Olive Hill Vineyard 2011 cabernet sauvignon ($52 per bottle); and the 2012 Aria late harvest blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc 2012 ($30 for a 375 ml bottle).
These aren’t groundbreaking wines, and you won’t see a line of sommeliers teeming to get in, but that isn’t the point. This is a tasting room with wines that are made in the most commonly beloved style, right in the heart of one of the more handsome and easily accessible neighborhoods in Oakland.
Should you visit the tasting room, $15 will buy a guided sampling of five wines, all of which are available to buy. The tasting fee is waived with a purchase of two or more bottles. In its current skeletal form, the tasting room is open Friday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Sometime after the build-out is completed in late March, its hours will extend into the week, and will likely extend its hours until 9 or 10 p.m., with more of a wine bar-focus. Wine classes, taught by the winemakers, will be offered around that time as well, with topics ranging from wine pairing to assemblage of blends.
Collin Casey has worked in the wine business his entire adult life, including 11 years as a sommelier. He lives in Oakland.