By Granate Sosnoff
In August, Adam Nelson, owner and winemaker at Two Mile Wines, plans to walk into his friend’s ramen shop and deliver two cases of gin they’ve crafted together. And barring any new, unforeseeable obstacle, Nelson and partners will make that happen.
After a long and successful career in tech with a significant ten-year side project creating Two Mile Wines in Oakland, Nelson is going all-in with his newest venture: Oakland Spirits, a distillery and incubator a few doors down from Two Mile.
Nelson, together with partners Mike Pierce, from San Francisco’s Maverick, and Bill Bedsworth and Matt Bramwell, two of the original backyard wine crew that launched Two Mile Wines, will be distilling and selling gin (and later bourbon, vodka, amaro and other fruit-infused spirits) by late summer.
Two Mile Wines is named after the two-mile area around UC Berkeley where the sale of alcohol was prohibited in the late 1800’s after a delegation of state legislators visited and witnessed some unruly undergraduates returning from a drinking ‘bout. Nelson and a large group of friends (including Bedsworth and Bramwell) originally launched Two Mile just outside this two-mile perimeter on Berkeley’s San Pablo Avenue.
Oakland Spirits will operate under the same guiding principles as Two Mile Wines: engage with the community, honor the craft and grit of making things, and build lasting relationships on the way. Two Mile does this in part by offering $6 wine by-the-glass on First Fridays and keeping wine prices affordable.
With Oakland Spirits, their plan is to sell modestly priced, highly drinkable craft booze. They’ll also support small distillers as an incubator and collaborate on unique products (think Tarragon Gin and the like) with local restaurants and bars.
The grand plan is to help grow a unique manufacturing district in Oakland: creating jobs and business opportunities based on intentionally low-automation crafts. It’s already happening on a small scale with Two Mile Wines, 25th Street Collective and soon Forage.
Nelson began to choose craft and manufacturing over tech while in his last consulting project involving tech and education in 2014. He ended up spending a fair amount of time with government officials involved in higher education and started to feel very strongly that Oakland needs more than tech in business and in education: “The die-hard focus on computer skills is crazy. We don’t value trade skills and craft skills at all in this country.”
Many forward-thinking investors and developers in Oakland tend to agree. One of his investors only funds non-tech ventures.
But enough about principles and big picture, what about the wine?
Nelson has brought on a new head winemaker, Zoe Schmitz, who most recently worked at Mondavi. Two Mile is committed to low-intervention winemaking that produces what both Schmitz and Nelson emphatically describe as “clean” wines where the flavors and beauty of the grapes are able to come through. This means using as few additives as possible and focusing on finding and sourcing the best grapes grown with the least intervention, i.e. organic (no spray, if not certified), biodynamic and farmed by people you like and trust.
In 2015 Two Mile Wines will produce 2,500 cases including a Viognier, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Albariño (Nelson is especially excited about it. “We’re gonna kill that wine,” he said.) Nelson is also planning blends, including one made from Carignane, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Syrah.
Till then, they’ve just released an impressive trio of Viognier, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Viognier – 2014 Brentwood $28
Viognier is often referred to as “the white wine for red wine drinkers” because of the complexity and robust flavors. Two Miles’ Viognier feels like you’re having a real glass of something and not waiting around for the next pour. Elegant wine I’d buy for a friend.
Syrah – 2013 Dry Creek, Sonoma $36
This is a signature wine, made from the same vines farmed by Unti Vineyards since 2006. Two Mile has perfected this outstanding Syrah and as long-time buyers say “rarely disappoints.” For my friend and me this rang true even through the disappointing June 7 loss by the Warriors to Cleveland. So, yeah, that took an excellent wine.
Pinot Noir – 2013 Sonoma $32
Not for those who enjoy a lighter version of Pinot Noir. It is, as stated in their tasting notes, “unapologetically intense, rich, concentrated and forward.” The vines are young; it will “grip you” and then soften. I liked it a lot and am personally drawn to French-style wines and Russian River Pinot Noirs, so this bottle suited me to a T.
I asked Nelson what he thought was an underrated wine variety, winemaker, or practice and he first drew a blank and then offered: “White wine with breakfast. An Albariño, or our Viognier. White wine and eggs.” Yes.
Granate Sosnoff is a nonprofit communications consultant and Mugsy pop up wine bar producer frequently in need of a good glass of wine and trying to grow her twitter @granate