AWG Correspondent

Martin D. Redmond

Jeff Cohn Cellars Photos

Jeff Cohn Cellars Review

Region: California

Reviewed: November 9, 2013 by Martin D. Redmond
Published: December 1, 2013

I have the good fortune of living in the East Bay between Oakland and San Jose. It's a wine-lovers paradise. Napa Valley, Sonoma, the Santa Cruz Mountain, and Livermore Valley wine regions are all within a 90 minute drive.

Even so, I frequently find myself also taking advantage of the multitude of urban wineries in the East Bay. That's because the East Bay features some of California's finest urban wineries. While they may lack the bucolic vibe of a winery located amidst the vineyards, what they do have is access to great fruit from diverse vineyard sources, and proximity to all that an urban environment has to offer - restaurants, theatres, museums, etc. It's a 20-30 minute drive for me, and 30 minutes, or so from San Francisco by car, ferry or BART. One of my favorite such urban wineries is JC Cellars in Oakland.

JC Cellars is located in 15,000 square foot warehouse they share with Dashe Cellars, close to Jack London Square in downtown Oakland, California.

The "JC" in JC Cellars ("JCC") stands for Jeff Cohn, the President and Winemaker for JC Cellars. His wife Alexandra is the CFO for the winery. Jeff got his start in the hospitality industry, before realizing that becoming a winemaker was his ultimate goal.

Jeff relocated from his native Maryland to California in 1993 in pursuit of his dream. He earned his master's degree in agriculture chemistry, with an emphasis on enology, from California State University, Fresno in 1996. That same year he established his own label JC Cellars. Upon graduation he joined Rosenblum Cellars as an enologist. He was promoted to winemaker in 2000, and vice president of winemaking and production 2004. He left Rosenblum in 2006 to focus exclusively on his own winery, but not before crafting the 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel, which placed 3rd on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list that year. It was the first time a Zinfandel had ever cracked the top 10 of the list.

JC Cellars is best known for their single vineyard Zinfandels, and Rhone blends. Their impressive portfolio of wines includes white and red Rhône blends, Syrah, Petite Sirah, a few other "red blends" (most notably, the Imposter and Smoke and Mirrors) Pinot Noir, a Rosé, a newly release single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and a dessert wine.

Jeff has access to some great fruit, including renowned vineyards such as Rockpile in Sonoma, Stagecoach in Napa, and Dusi in Paso Robles. And Jeff certainly knows how to make great fruit into great wine. JCC has earned boatloads of 90+ point wines from major wine publications like Wine Spectator, and the Wine Advocate.

Most of the wines are priced between $20-$50 range, although he does have a several single vineyard wines (Syrah and a recently released Cabernet Sauvignon) priced at either $60 or $85.

Tasting Experience:  Since JC Cellars is a working winery, adjacent to the tastefully decorated space with a long wooden wine bar shared with JC Cellars, you'll see massive stainless steel tanks, plenty of wine aging in oak barrels, grape bins, equipment, etc. The relationship between the JC Cellars tasting room staff, and the Dashe Cellars tasting room staff is friendly. For example, if you let the JC Cellars tasting room staff know you plan to also taste at the Dashe, they'll happily recommend the order in which you taste the wines, and it's not a problem to go back and forth. Thomas guided us through our tasting, and he along with the rest of the tasting room staff is friendly and very knowledgeable.

In addition to their Oakland tasting room, JC Cellars wine is also poured at the Vintner's Collective in Napa.

The Wines:  I recently had pleasure of tasting through their current lineup of wines:

• 2010 Boules Petanque – A Viognier that is a joint venture between François Villard & JC Cellars.

The wine is produced in France, and then shipped here. It has lifted stone fruit, honeysuckle and spice aromas with peach, honey, vanilla flavors. Nicely balanced, with a smooth mouthfeel and a long finish. My favorite JCC white wine.

2011 First Date – A Marsanne/Roussanne blend that is full bodied, and fruit forward with an enticing stone fruit, and vanilla character and good acidity.

2011 St Pete's Zinfandel – Fantastic Zinfandel from a small 120 year-old small vineyard behind St. Peter's Catholic Church. It shows enticing bramble, mixed berry, and spice aromas with fresh, round, and lush blackberry, black raspberry, cherry, and baking spice flavors. Long finish. My red wine of the day.

2011 Smoke and Mirrors – A blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel with Zinfandel with mixed black and red fruit, spice, toasty oak, and a bit of cacao aromas. On the palate, it's intense, and fruit forward with good acidity and raspberry, black cherry, and bittersweet chocolate flavors.

2011 Imposter – An exotic kitchen sink blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre,and Roussanne with an promising spicy, roast meat and dark red fruit aromas and intense mixed berry, spice and vanilla flavor.

2007 Ripken Vineyard Late Harvest Viognier - Copper color with a rich stone fruit, caramel and honey character. A delightfully different dessert wine.

Their tagline is “Bold California Wine with French Sophistication”, and that rings true to me. The JCC wines are bold, fruit forward, and hedonistic yet sophisticated.

Insiders Tip:  Downtown Oakland has undergone quite a bit of redevelopment. There are lots of great restaurants, not only in Jack London square, but also in the Uptown area of Oakland. A couple of my favorites that are walking distance from JC Cellars are Nido, a wonderful Mexican restaurant right around the corner from JC Cellars and the ever popular Chop Bar. Why not pick up a bottle of wine, and head over to a local restaurant? And if you're local, or visiting in January, JC Cellars annually hosts a magnificent all-you-can eat crab feed featuring their outstanding wines. But don't dawdle; it's a sell-out every year!

Address & Contact Information: 160 Franklin St Oakland, California 94607. Telephone: 510-465-5900, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Apr 1-Sep 30: Thurs-Sun 12:00-6:00; Oct 1 - Mar 31: Thurs-Sun 12:00-5:00.

Overall Rating:  

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