AWG Correspondent

Martin D. Redmond

Stage Left Cellars Photos

Stage Left Cellars Review

Region: California

Reviewed: May 2, 2015 by Martin D. Redmond
Published: July 7, 2015

More often than not, when a winemaker is asked about his/her favorite wine, the answer – similar to when a parent is asked about his/her favorite child - is usually something along the lines of “it depends” or “I don’t have a favorite, I appreciate what’s special about each”.

I feel the same way about my favorites among the 20+ urban wineries located in the East Bay area of the San Francisco Bay area.

Among my favorites is Stage Left Cellars, located in Oakland, California. What makes Stage Left special is its singular focus on making distinctive wines from Rhone grapes varieties, great customer service and a bit of inspiration on every bottle.

I’ll come back to the inspiration.

Stage Left Cellars is owned and operated by Melinda Doty and her husband Rich Williams. They collaborate on making their wines. Melinda told me it's Rich who has the “vision” (The Stage Left website describes Rich as “part mad scientist, part shepherd”), while she is the more like the “sous chef” when it comes to making their wines.

Both had corporate gigs before they decided to exit “Stage Left” and pursue their dream of opening a winery. Like so many winemakers, they were making wine in their garage before taking the plunge into commercial winemaking while living in Paso Robles. Their first commercial effort was the 2004 “Day Job” a blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvèdre.

Since then, their focus has turned to white and red Rhone-inspired blends and varietal wines. Fruit for their wine is sourced from low-yielding, sustainable, and often cool-climate vineyards from Santa Ynez, Russian River, Napa, Mendocino, Paso Robles and the Rogue Valley in Oregon.

When they began looking for a new space in 2009, they looked north, choosing the urban setting of Oakland.

Now, about that inspiration on every bottle. Each Stage Left bottle is embossed with words of inspiration similar to the header of their website which reads:

“What is the one idea you just cannot shake? Do you have the juice to pull it off? If not, why not? Your time is now. The world is waiting”

And each cork has “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” printed on it. And that’s exactly what you may be thinking if you don’t taste these wines!

Tasting Experience

Stage Left Cellar is located off the beaten path, just off the 880 freeway in proximity to Jack London Square. It’s a bit different than the majority of urban wineries in the area because there is no readily visible warehouse or winemaking accoutrement.

Instead, when you enter the spacious tasting room, you’re surrounded by the warmth of urban chic décor drenched in natural light. It includes exposed brick, tasteful art, and leather seating. One’s attention is immediately drawn to the comfy lounge area situated just to the left of the center of the space. There are two tasting bars. One is adjacent to the left of lounge area, and the other is directly across from the lounge area. The primary, minimalist tasting bar is on the left. It’s positioned in front of a large window that adds the bright, fresh vibe of the tasting room.

Melinda presides over the friendly, personable, and knowledgeable tasting room staff when she, herself, isn’t pouring the wines.

The Wines

During my most recent visit, there were 6 wines available for tasting, including three new releases.

· 2013 Central Coast Rosé: Pretty red fruit, blood orange, spice and a hint of floral aromas. It’s medium/full-bodied with tangy acidity, a savory character, and soft tannins that enhance its supple texture. It shows wild strawberry, raspberry, cranberry and piquant spice flavors with a bit of minerality. Mostly Syrah from Santa Barbara, this one is made for the table! Retail - $20

· 2012 Grenache: Very appealing kirsch, spice, marzipan and floral aromas. It’s medium-bodied, with a great mouth feel, and very good acidity with strawberry, cherry, spice and a kiss of cranberry flavors with a mineral driven finish. Outstanding. 100% Grenache Retail - $33

· 2012 Globetrotter: Captivating red currant, cherry, spice, damp earth, licorice and a hint of black pepper aromas. It’s very fresh with a supple texture and dusty well integrated tannins. It shows red currant, black cherry, and spice flavors. Well-structured and delicious! Blend of 42% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 18% Mourvedre. Retail - $33

· 2009 Escape Artist: Alluring roast meat, dark fruit, spice, and earthy aromas. With a bit of age on it, it’s full bodied with a blackberry, black currant, and peppery and spice flavors streaked with mouth-watering acidity, a bit of minerality and a long espresso laced finish. My favorite wine (barely edging out the Grenache) 100% Syrah Retail - $35

· 2011 Expat: Inky color with baked blackberry spice and a bit of oak aromas. On the palate it has a great texture, and bright acidity with blackberry, black currant, blueberry jam and vanilla flavors. Delightful and wonderful value. Blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Petite Sirah Retail - $24

· 2008 Breadwinner: Their flagship Syrah blend; It shows seductive baked black and red fruit, leather, cedar wood, roast coffee, spice and a kiss of lavender aromas. On the palate, it’s rich and complex with a wonderful backbone of acidity, well integrated tannins, and black cherry, blackberry, roast coffee and spice flavors and a very giving finish. Blend of 54% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, 17% Grenache, 9% Petite Sirah. Retail - $42

Insider’s Tips

It seems as though every time I’ve visited Stage Left, there are bicyclists parked at the tasting bar enjoying a break from their two wheel tour of the East Bay’s urban wineries. East Bay Wineries Bike Tours offers an opportunity to check out award winning wineries, along with urban and scenic views.

And if you’re hungry, Stage Left is a short drive away from the revitalized, vibrant and historic Jack London Square, and Old Oakland. There you will find a tempting and diverse selection of eateries. My favorites include Chop Bar, a rustic-chic gastropub offering all-day American comfort fare & cocktails, plus beer & wine on tap; Haven, an industrial chick eatery which serves up imaginative Californian cuisine and Nido for modern farm-to-table Mexican cuisine. And if seafood is your thing, check out Quinn’s Lighthouse which is walking distance from Stage Left. It’s a charming seafood spot in an 1890-built landmark featuring patio dining, marina views & a lively upstairs bar.

Address & Contact Information: 2102 Dennison Street, Suite A Oakland, California 94606. Telephone: 510-434-9930, email:, website: Tasting Hours: 1st Saturday of each month 11:00-5:00 and by appt..

Overall Rating:  

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