AWG Correspondent

Martin D. Redmond

Urban Legend Cellars Photos

Urban Legend Cellars Review

Region: California

Reviewed: September 27, 2015 by Martin D. Redmond
Published: January 19, 2016

Several years ago a wine-loving friend of mine, who lives in Oakland, California, asked me if I’d ever tried wine made from a grape called Teroldego. I didn’t know the grape at all. I told him I hadn’t. He told me I had to try it, and that there was a winery in Oakland that was specializing in wines made from Italian grape varieties. I’m a big fan of Italian wines, so an urban winery producing grapes from Italian grape varieties was certainly worth checking out.

That was my introduction to Urban Legend Winery. Not long thereafter, I tried the wines of Urban Legend, and not only was their Teroldego a delightful revelation, so were each of their other wines!

Urban Legend was founded in 2009 by Owners Marilee and Steve Shaffer. The pair are self-described “serial entrepreneurs” and each has a background outside of wine.

Marilee Shaffer’s past careers include working in bio-tech doing academic research to discover effective bacterial vaccines, development of molecular cloning methods with a focus on DNA sequencing, and biotech equipment sales engineering and marketing (ask about her exhibit at the Smithsonian).

She is right handed and left brained and handles the winery’s accounting when she's not fulfilling her destiny as Empress of Fermentation, the iron-handed Despot of Barrel Topping and resident chemistry tutor for cellar apprentices (and wine geek visitors such as yours truly).

Steve’s background is in engineering. He holds fundamental patents in computer system and fiber optic networking. He is the “designer” of the Urban Legend wines (as well as their multi-tiered wooden tasting bar). He has a passion for lesser-known grape varieties and a flair for barreling and blending that results in distinctive, food friendly wines.

On my most recent visit to the tasting room, Marilee was in the house. When I inquired about the house style, she replied that the winery’s first focus is on food friendliness because wine and food are impossible to separate. She went on to elaborate that “the house style is round tannins and crisp acid. Barrels are used to add structure, not flavoring”.

What I really appreciate about Urban Legend is their commitment to diversity. Marilee put it best when she told me “We’re in, frankly, the most diverse place in the country for palate, for cuisine, for people. So rather than restricting ourselves to one path or another where we’re making large lots of three or four varieties…we’ve embraced the diversity of regions, varieties and styles”.

As a result, their annual case production of 2,000-2,500 cases includes a diverse lineup small-lot, well-crafted wine.

Tasting Experience:  The entrance to Urban Legend has a distinctly urban warehouse appearance. The facade of the building is brick, and the winery is located in the middle of a block of industrial-looking buildings. However, the exterior belies the warm, inviting interior of the tasting room. Once you step inside the wooden and glass entry doors, a multi-tiered tile and wood tasting bar designed and built by Steve is the centerpiece of the tasting room. The intimate tasting room space features painted walls and floors. You’ll note art work on the walls and a multitude of ribbons and awards behind the tasting bar. Adjacent to the tasting room are stack of barrels and wine-making equipment.

The tasting room staff is fun, friendly and knowledgeable. On my most recent visit, the tasting menu included eight different wines – Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, a red Rhone blend, Merlot, two Italian grape varieties – Dolcetto and Teroldego, and an everyday red blend of Mourvedre, Teroldego, Dolcetto and Grenache (how’s that for diversity of blending?) sold in refillable growlers and named after one of Oakland’s neighborhoods.

My favorites were the 2010 “There” Merlot sourced from the Rutherford AVA in Napa Valley. It offered rich blueberry and cherry fruit with a dusting of mocha. The 2011 Dolcetto, LBS Ranch was light-bodied, fresh and juicy with mixed cherry fruit aromas and flavors. The 2012 Teroldego, Holland Landing Vineyard was harmonious, dark and delicious with black fruit, dried herb and a hint of lavender aromas followed by blackberry, vanilla and a hint of pepper flavors with a very appealing vein of minerality.

Insider’s Tip:  If you’re up to a bit of walking, it would be an easy to moderate walk to or from Urban Legend to a few other urban wineries in Jack London Square. Rosenblum Cellars, Jeff Cohn Cellars and Dashe Cellars are within a mile and a half of Urban Legend. And if you’re hungry, Urban Legend 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 Cellars. It’s a charming seafood spot in an 1890-built landmark featuring patio dining, marina views & a lively upstairs bar.

Address & Contact Information: 621 4th Street Oakland, California 94607. Telephone: 510-545-4356, website: Tasting Hours: Fri-Sun 1:00-6:00.

Overall Rating:  

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