How To Have a Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in San Francisco’s East Bay Area
When you’re visiting the Bay Area around San Francisco and you’re a wine lover, it’s tempting to want to travel just an hour and a half up the road to Napa or Sonoma to quench your wine tasting thirst. However, time and money constraints may prevent you from indulging in a little wine country getaway whenever you want. But did you know there are some great wine tasting options just across from San Francisco in the East Bay? Instead of hitting the road to visit wineries outside of the Bay Area, simply jump on the BART, and head over to Berkeley and Alameda Island for an East Bay Urban Wine Tasting tour.
Berkeley Urban Wineries
Donkey & Goat is a very cool natural winery & tasting room that was founded in 2004 and is located on 5th Street in Berkeley. The vibe inside is “urban rustic,” and it is prefect for an afternoon of tasting through a portfolio of natural wines and learning all about the natural farming practices of the winery and why they are so important to the wines that end up in the bottles in front of you.
The winery is owned by Jared & Tracey Brandt, who are completely dedicated to a natural way of winemaking, including working with a small number of growers who also adhere to biodynamic and sustainable practices. At Donkey & Goat, only wild or native yeasts are used to ferment the wine, and the Brandts also boast an extremely limited use of sulfur and a lack of cold or heat stabilization to clarify their wines. The result is an “unfined” tasting experience, which can challenge even the most adventurous of wine-os. If you enjoy exploring Orange Wines and other types of unique styles or unfiltered wines, such as Brut Nature Sparkling Meunier with no sulfur, dosage, or riddling agent, then Donkey & Goat is the perfect urban winery for you.
Winetraveler Tip: Ask about the “Esoteric” wines at Donkey & Goat for something completely different than your average grocery story wine!
Not far from Donkey & Goat is another urban winery to visit in the West Berkeley warehouse district called Urbano Cellars. Founded in 2006 by “garage” winemakers, Bob Rawson & Fred Dick, Urbano Cellars was named for Urbano Drive in San Francisco where both men lived at one point. The quaint tasting room attached to their boutique Berkeley winery is nestled into a parking lot in an industrial-style neighborhood, but once inside, you get the feeling of being in a truly friendly urban tasting room.
And urban winery it is, as much of the winemaking production occurs in the warehouse adjacent to the tasting room, though the grapes are sourced from sustainable vineyards around California. While you enjoy a range of different wines from Chenin Blanc to Tempranillo, Viognier to Cabernet Franc, and their famous Fourth Street Red, Fourth Street White, and Fourth Street Rosé (for a limited time), you may have the opportunity to look out the door and watch some of the actual winemaking happening right in the parking lot in front of you. Not only is Urbano Cellars a fun urban tasting experience for wine travelers to the area, but they are also truly dedicated to the local community. One of their defining features is their red and white wine “on tap,” which can be added to reusable one-liter bottles that can be refilled as needed. Check the Urbano Cellars website for winery events or how to join their “Urbanite” wine club!
Winetraveler Tip: When you visit Urbano Cellars, you’re likely to meet owners, Bob and Fred, who pour the wines on weekends. Call ahead if you have a group of six or more because the tasting room is small and the team at Urbano Cellars can make accommodations for your group ahead of time.
Alameda Island Urban Wineries
If you’re a wine lover who is a sucker for great views, then look no further than Rock Wall Wine Company on the west side of Alameda Island. Located in an old airplane hangar on “Spirits Alley,” this Urban Winery has arguably the best view looking back over the Bay toward San Francisco. While you sip on Rock Wall Wines and dine on dishes by restaurant partner, Scolari’s At the Point, look out at the beautiful City by the Bay. Tasting at Rock Wall is like being in an urban oasis while gazing upon arguably one of the most beautiful city skylines in the country.
The tasting fee at Rock Wall is $20 for five wines but is waived with a bottle purchase of $30 or more. However, it’s safe to say with views like the one at this Urban Winery, you’ll definitely want to sit down and stay for a glass or more. Happy Hour runs from 4PM-6PM Monday-Friday, and there are always fun events scheduled at Rock Wall. Check their website for the next concert, bingo night, or festive holiday event.
Winetraveler Tip: If the weather is clear, plan your trip to taste at Rock Wall around sunset time. The city of San Francisco will be silhouetted by the beautiful burnt orange and yellow of the setting sun. It’s an urban view that is unmatched, and pairs perfectly with any of the Rock Wall wines.
Located near Rock Wall Wine Company in historic Alameda Point on “Spirits Alley” is Building 43 Winery. Building 43 focuses specifically on grape varieties from the Sierra Foothills AVA in California, such as Viognier, Syrah, and Petit Sirah. When you visit this urban winery, you can expect to be greeted by welcoming staff in a small and comfortable tasting room, and taste through wines such as the “Bomber Red” and others by winemaker Tod Hickman, who is also a Navy Veteran. You can only buy Building 43 wines at the winery, making these bottles quite exclusive urban winery picks.
Winetraveler Tip: Winemaker, Tod Hickman, is usually at the winery on Friday nights from 7-10PM to greet guests and answer questions. Stop by to meet Tod during that time!