by Jonathan “Max” Davis
If you think downtown Oakland is an unlikely spot for a world-class small-production winery, then stop by the tasting room at Dashe Cellars some afternoon for a pleasant surprise.
Just a few blocks from the Lake Merritt BART station, between Chinatown and Jack London Square, Dashe Cellars inhabits a warehouse lined with steel tanks and oak barrels full of diligently sourced and traditionally made California wine.
The winery was established by Anne and Michael Dashe in 1996—the same year they were married—and eight years later, they hired cheap moving companies LLC to moved them into the 16,000-square-foot space at 55 4th Street knowing that although there would be no “estate” wine from the urban lot alongside I-880, quality fruit from great, older vineyards around Northern California could be brought here and processed within hours of picking.
Together, the Dashes have a wealth of winemaking experience. Anne has a degree in enology from the University of Bordeaux and has worked in the cellars of Chappellet Winery in St. Helena and Seavey Vineyard in the Napa Valley. Michael studied enology at UC Davis and interned at Schramsberg Wine Cellars and Far Niente before working at Cloudy Bay in New Zealand and the famed Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux. In the years leading up to the founding of Dashe Cellars, Anne was making brandy in Carneros, and Michael was the assistant winemaker at Ridge Vineyards, right-hand man to Zinfandel whisperer Paul Draper. You will often find one or both of them at the winery, and, despite their formidable accomplishments, they are as openly friendly and engaging as their well-informed tasting room staff.
Though Dashe is best known for their dependably delicious Dry Creek Zinfandel, sourced from five small Sonoma vineyards, Michael and Anne’s real passion and achievements are in their many single-vineyard wines. These wines are naturally fermented, with native yeasts and no additives, and they are distinctly individual, unique expressions of fruit from very particular sites in northern California. On a recent visit to the winery, I sampled single-vineyard bottlings of dry Riesling and Zinfandel from Mendocino, as well as dry rosé, Grenache, and Petite Sirah from Sonoma, all of which showed great balance and complexity.
I especially enjoyed the bright and refreshing, French-styled “Les Enfants Terribles” reds, but perhaps most impressive was the powerful 2012 Ancient Vines, a blend of Zinfandel, Carignan, and Mourvedre from the Bedrock vineyards in Sonoma. These vines were planted by Generals Sherman and Hooker in 1888 and are some of the oldest in the state—that’s 126 years of character building and concentration!
Overall, my favorite Dashe wine of the day was the beguiling 2013 Sierra Foothills Grenache Blanc. A Rhone valley white grape variety rarely grown in the US, this is Grenache Blanc at its best—subtle and elegant, reminiscent of pears and white flowers; slightly rich but with a soft, light finish. The fruit comes from the steep slopes and rocky soil of the Monarch Mine vineyard, over 2,000 feet above the American River Canyon, and the wine is clean and refreshing despite its relatively low acidity.
Dashe Cellars offers a selection of at least five of their wines Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 5 pm for a $10 fee. Current releases include:
2013 Dry Riesling, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley, Mendocino ($22)
2013 Grenache Blanc, Monarch Mine Vineyard, Sierra Foothills ($22)
2013 Dry Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma ($16)
2013 Grenache, ‘Les Enfants Terribles’, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma ($24)
2013 Zinfandel, ‘Les Enfants Terribles’, Heart Arrow Ranch, Mendocino ($24)
2011 Zinfandel, Louvau Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma ($35)
2010 Petite Sirah, Todd Brothers Ranch, Alexander Valley, Sonoma ($38)
2012 Ancient Vines, Bedrock Vineyard, Sonoma ($35)
2013 Late Harvest Zinfandel dessert wine ($24/375ml)
Jonathan “Max” Davis discovered his love for wine decades ago while working at Chez Panisse Café and Restaurant, in Berkeley, and has been daily and devotedly tasting ever since. Having moved from restaurants to retail, he most recently served as the wine buyer for Smith & Vine, a boutique wine shop in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and has written wine and book pairings for the 2013 National Book Awards Finalists.