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Wine Country in the Burbs

Contra Costa reclaims its vineyard roots.


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That may take some time. Speeding down Interstate 680, most people, even locals, are unaware that beyond the concrete barriers lie lush vineyards, such as the century-old vines of the county’s oldest winery, Viano Vineyards, in Martinez. Nor do they notice the dozens of backyard vineyards tucked away in Lamorinda’s oak-dotted hillsides, the hand-tended vines at the northern edge of Mount Diablo, and the chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and syrah grapes growing in residential Walnut Creek’s Shadowbrook Winery.

This lack of visibility isn’t stopping the county’s more than a dozen wineries. At this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Contra Costa wineries collected 40 medals—more than double last year’s total. Shadowbrook won a medal for each of the five wines it entered. Among Shadowbrook’s medals was the county’s first “double gold,” awarded to the 2006 Rosé. The four-year-old microwinery produces just 700 cases of wine a year, with first dibs going to the 100-plus wine club members. The remaining bottles are snatched up by local wine merchants and upscale restaurants, including Bing Crosby’s.

Of the 75 members of the Lamorinda Winegrowers Association, few are commercially licensed to sell the wines they make. Parkmon Vineyards, one of the exceptions, has 1,500 vines on an acre of hillside above owners Dave Parker and Shari Simon’s Moraga residence. Since 2006, they have been producing small lots of wine, using grapes from their own vineyards and other sources. The couple sells its wines to dozens of restaurants, such as Metro Lafayette and Prima, and wine stores, including “outsiders” such as Redwood City’s popular K&L Wine Merchants.

It’s not surprising that the rich agricultural land in Brentwood is filled with vineyards. Many people who drink wine have heard of Contra Costa’s best-known winery, Tamayo Family Vineyards, which produces the award-winning Cana Proprietary Estate Blend made entirely from grapes grown at the Brentwood vineyard. Tamayo’s Mark Enlow says the winery hopes to open its new family-friendly tasting room by harvest time this fall.

Nearby, Hannah Nicole Vineyards will welcome visiting wine lovers to its 18,000-square-foot winery, tasting room, and event center, which is scheduled to open later this month.

Neighboring Bloomfield Vineyards, the county’s largest grape grower, demonstrates the appeal of Brentwood fruit to outside wineries: It sells 99 percent of its grapes to wineries such as Kendall-Jackson and Mondavi. The vintner produces enough to make about 1,200 cases for its Bloomfield Vineyards label. Locals can enjoy tastings at Rebecca Bloomfield and Dafne Swisher’s Co. Co. County Wine Company in Brentwood, which specializes in wines of the region.

“I really do feel there is something happening here,” says Ghiozzi. “People are buying wine in leaps and bounds, and they’re buying our wine. Plus, you get used to drinking something produced locally, and it’s better for you. You get used to your own terroir.”

We’ve learned that it’s best to “buy local” when it comes to what we put on our dinner table. Local winemakers want to extend that to the wine bottle that sits in the center.

Diablo Picks
Thirty-one wines, brown-bagged and numbered. Seven focused tasters seated in the cozy upstairs tasting room at The Wine Steward in Pleasanton. The mission? Sample each of the Contra Costa wines submitted by 10 wineries, and narrow them down to a list of favorite Diablo Picks.

  • Bloomfield Vineyards 2007 Viognier “Good freshness, clarity. There’s peach, but lemon oil, too. Good balance.”
  • Hannah Nicole Vineyards 2007 Viognier “Pretty tropical fruits, with good acidity that keeps it zesty.”
  • Tamayo Vineyards 2008 Cana Bailey Viognier “Creamy pineapple, rich flavors.”
  • Bloomfield Vineyards 2007 Chardonnay “Crisp Chardonnay, with real elegance.”
  • Parkmon Vineyards 2007 Sangiovese “Good juicy zip.”
  • Parkmon Vineyards 2006 Syrah (Santa Barbara) “Pepper, meat, Syrah!”
  • New Departures (Alhambra Wine) 2005 Syrah (Reserve) “Plenty of spice and meat.”
  • Shadowbrook Winery 2006 Syrah “Mild, stewed fruits, plus some tropics.”
  • Happy Valley Cellars 2006 Zinfandel “Good rich berries, clean and fresh Zin stuff.”
  • Hannah Nicole Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel “Good spice.”

Honorable Mention
Cline Cellars 2007 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Cline Cellars is in Sonoma, but we had to mention this panel favorite made from Oakley grapes. As taster Bill Craig said, “Long live Contra Costa Mourvèdre!”

Contra Costa Wineries
Want a glass of local wine to go with your Farmers Market dinner? Check out the list of Contra Costa wineries below. To make the cut, these wineries had to be licensed in the county and had to use Contra Costa grapes. Just go to the winery’s web site to find out how you can taste and where you can pick up the latest releases. 

Tasters included Jim Denham, buyer and operator, The Wine Steward; Peter Eastlake, wine director, Vintage Berkeley; Eric Edgar, wine bar manager, The Wine Steward; Bill Craig, representative, Angeles Wine Company; Sally Dalke, wine bar server and sommelier in training; Susan Dowdney Safipour, Diablo editor; Michaela Jarvis, Diablo executive editor.


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