We’re spoiled with good grapes around here, and we know a thing or two about vino. Yet, the whole wine tasting experience can sometimes make you feel like a tool. Happily, a new generation of bottle shops is popping in Oakland, where welcoming proprietors and neighborhood vibes encourage you to browse, taste, learn, open a bottle, and stay much longer than you intended.
We recently made our way around the wine shops of Oaktown and hit upon five distinct shops that are disrupting the wine buying experience. What they share in common is a focus on natural wines, highly curated selections, and owners who care about the stories behind every bottle on their shelves. We left each of these—bottle in hand—happy, informed, and with a healthy buzz, and we’re sure you will, too. Treat yourself to a nice bottle—it is rosé season, after all.
Oakland Yard is a lively store in the heart of Temescal that prides itself on serving wines with integrity, made honestly without chemicals or pesticides or any of the other “weird shit” that often goes into wine. Owners Max Davis and Daniel Schmidt look for “dynamic, small-production wines that are balanced and expressive. Wines that have some real energy,” Schmidt says, and waxes on: “There are a lot of shitty homogenized wines still being sold out there. Max and I have a preference for refreshing, lively wines, and, for the most part, we are looking for wines that are ready to be consumed as soon as you are ready to pop that cork. I hated going to shops when I was younger and [getting] pushed to buy some wound-up, tannic Bordeaux and to ‘lay it down for 10 years, blah blah.’ I get it. It’s just not how I want to roll, and not how folks I meet and talk to and listen to and drink with do either. I like when wines are fun, maybe even surprisingly so. And again, above all, delicious. We like wines that are delicious.” Which is perfect, because we also like wines that are fun and delicious! Oakland Yard does tastings on Thursdays and Sundays. You can always order a glass of one of the few wines they have open, or pop a bottle of your choosing with a $5 corkage fee.
Bottles du jour:
Schmidt is loving Aupo, Pipeno: “I’m drinking a lot of lighter, chillable reds. This is a super affordable, crazy delicious wine (just $12) by Vina Maitia, made from 120-year-old dry farmed vines in Chile. It’s juicy, dry, youthful, and fresh—completely delightful for easy drinking by the lake or picnicking in Mosswood Park.”
Davis is digging Marc Ollivier’s Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet: “My go-to wine because its bracing acidity is lively and fresh, and the wine’s salty, stony mineral flavors make it both thirst-quenching and appetizing.”
Swing by and say hi to the guys during the 40th Street Block Party on July 14th, 11am to 5pm.
// 420 40th St. (Temescal), oaklandyardwineshop.com
It’s a little too easy to hang around Bay Grape, owned by Josiah Baldivino—a somm who’s worked for Daniel Boulud and Michael Mina—and Stevie Stacionis, a somm who also has credits in wine and travel writing. Their space is light and airy, cozy and casual, with a focus on community. “We really hope to build relationships with, and between, our guests,” says Stacionis, whose staff is eager to guide you through the curated selection of wines from small, sustainable producers. This is a great place to pick up a bottle for dinner, but it’s an even better spot for sharing a bottle with friends (there’s a $5 corkage fee). Don’t miss Friday evening bubbly tastings and Sunday School with a sommelier. “We really emphasize learning, in a super low-key way, and hope to help our guests learn more about what they like and how to describe it.”
Bottle du jour: 2016 Matthiasson Rosé
“It’s one of our go-to wines—we try to stock a case of in our personal refrigerator!” Staciones says. “It’s super fresh, bright, salty, grapefruity; the producers (a husband-wife duo) are some of our favorite people in the world.”
On July 28th, Stacionis will be hosting Bâtonnage, a day-long forum about women in the wine industry at a private residence in Napa. Panelists will include women from across the field, including A16 and SPQR owner/sommelier Shelley Lindgren and Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant owner Debbie Zachareas. There will be lunch, lots to learn, plus plenty of swag. Can’t make it? Show your solidarity by purchasing a limited edition tote bag ($149), stocked with six wines made by women in California.
// 376 Grand Ave. (Oakland), baygrapewine.com
What sets Ordinaire apart? Candlelight. (And also a playful sense of humor.) This beautiful, rustic shop, opened on Grand Avenue in 2012, makes for a romantic date or relaxing hang time with a close friend. You can sample wine on tap, buy a glass or bottle, and pair it with a cheeseboard and other small plates. Ordinaire focuses on wines made from organic grapes, with no additives and little to no sulfur, and owner Bradford Taylor is pretty excited about them: “We love pouring these eclectic and surprising wines in a laid-back environment,” he says. “We are happy to discuss each wine at length, or just let you slam a few glasses while waiting for takeout down the street.” His goal is for visitors to leave both with a greater understanding of wine as an agricultural product, as well as with a buzz and a damn good bottle they can’t wait to share with friends.
Bottle du jour: Casot de Mailloles Soula ($45)
“All Grenache grown on a steep slate cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. It channels all the warmth of the South (of France), but with the salty freshness of the sea. It’s a longtime favorite, but particularly beautiful this year. About 10 cases come to California.”
// 3354 Grand Ave. (Grand Lake), ordinairewine.com
Minimo has it all: beautiful design, helpful employees, and a selection of small-production natural wines, mostly from California and Europe, that work for all budgets (there’s a big selection under $20). Proprietors Erin Coburn and Sarah Miller strive to showcase up-and-coming talent, and especially women winemakers. “Our inspiration for opening the shop was to create an accessible and engaging experience for customers to learn the stories behind small independent wineries who believe in the importance of sustainable farming practices,” says Coburn. We love the rotating themed flights, composed of three wines the ladies are currently crushing on, served up on Wednesday evenings and all day on Saturdays. Stop by for a tasting or pop a bottle (sans corkage) at the long communal table inside the store in Jack London Square.
Bottle du jour: Mendo Benchlands
“It’s a blend of nero d’avola and zinfandel sourced from Mendocino, and it’s filled with a medley of delicious fresh berries and wild herbs,” Coburn says. Winemaker Martha Stoumen “is a rising star in California’s natural wine movement, sourcing fruit from sustainably farmed vineyards and making her wines with little intervention. We love everything she’s done so far!”
Minimo hosts countless winemaker tastings and special events—think book signings and even yoga classes. Keep watch for upcoming events on their site.
// 420 Third St. (Jack London Square), minimowine.com
Another wine bar-meets-shop, The Punchdown is a popular spot in Uptown Oakland to pick up a bottle to go, but in-store flights (try the “Cal-Exit”) with tasty food pairings are reason to stick around. Owners DC Looney and Lisa Costa have traveled around the world visiting wine bars and wineries, and they met while working as harvest interns at a winery in Sonoma. “We started our own wine bar off the cuff, no strings attached,” says Looney, “and we have a real identity with our new space because we had a big hand in the design.” The shop stocks an ever-rotating selection of natural bottles from international producers, many of them hard to find.
Bottles du jour:
Looney’s loving Opi D’Aqui “Les Cliquets.” “It’s a grenache from the Languedoc Roussillon in France. This wine is øø (nothing added or taken away, no SO2). It’s electric—you can probably take it into a dark room and it will glow.”
Costa craves Rosato from Le Coste in Lazio, Italy. “It’s a fresh, alive, and interesting take on rosé from the slopes of a volcanic lake.”
Swing by any day of the week for happy hour until 6pm.
// 1737 Broadway (Uptown), punchdownwine.com
This article has been updated since it was originally published in May 2017.