Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
A new wineshop opened recently, just a few minutes walk from my front door. The shop is called Vintage Berkeley, and, appropriately, it’s on Vine Street, just across the street from the place I walk to each morning for espresso.
Interestingly, Vintage Berkeley is situated in the old East Bay Municipal Utilities District’s Vine Street Pumping Plant. It’s actually quite an attractive building to the eye, which is probably one of the features that led Peter Eastlake, the owner, to think about opening the shop there. Peter has spent the last several months working his way through the Byzantine process of acquiring permits and licensing, and has done a first-rate job of sprucing the place up. Because it’s a building of some historic interest (I think it’s probably a Berkeley Landmark) they can’t put a business sign on the building, so it’s still visibly identified, in very handsome lettering, I might add, as the East Bay Municipal Utilities District Vine Street Pumping Station.
Before I knew for sure what Peter would call his shop, I wondered if he wouldn’t just name it THE VINE STREET PUMPING PLANT. I have a sufficiently warped mind that it was easy to imagine gleaming stainless-steel pumps dispensing Zinfandels, Beaujolais, Gruner Veltliners, Tawny Ports, and so on. (Though, when I thought of my own wine being offered for sale there, I quickly banished the pump image.)
But the thought of wine as a public utility stayed with me a bit longer. As you may know, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and the author of the Declaration Of Independence, once declared; “Good wine is a necessity of life for me.” He also wrote that “a tax on wine is a tax on the health of our citizens.” I think that’s an interesting way to think about wine, though perhaps not the way we usually think of it.
We’ve sure had our ups and downs lately with public utilities. (Think Enron, think Halliburton, think getting hosed every time you look at your energy bill.) Seems like it’s supposed to get worse, too; as bad as the current situation is with declining oil production, the availability of water, especially here in the western US, is predicted to become mighty contentious. Yet it’s been suggested that much strife could be prevented if the public demanded that conservation became public policy.
Of course that would require a fundamental shift in the way we tend to live our lives; we’d have to start reminding our “public officials” that there still is a public out here, and that would take some time and some effort. A lot of it, what with City Council meetings, Zoning Board meetings, letters to the editor, letters to Assembly members, Senators, Congresspersons. Neighborhood watch groups. Holy cow! Who would watch TV???
But I digress; Vintage Berkeley, for those of you reading this, who are fortunate enough to spend any time in this neighborhood, carries a nice, eclectic selection of wines from all over the planet, and they’re also going to be doing some in-store tastings, and possibly some special events, as well. (One plot currently gestating involves an Edmunds St. John event, featuring not just wine, but music! I may have to get a little band together for the occasion, and show off some of the new material I’ve generated over the past five years. ) It’s been quite a while since there’s been a wine merchant serving this part of town, and I say it’s high time. So if you’re in the neighborhood, known far and wide as “the Gourmet Ghetto,” stop by and say hello to Peter, taste the flavor of the day, and enjoy the local culture.
Goin Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
As some of you know, we’re going to be leaving our current headquarters at Audubon Cellars in Berkeley (Audubon itself is moving, to smaller quarters, in Rutherford). The new address is “as-yet-undetermined,” which, as near as I can tell, is a popular hangout. We moved into Audubon just before the 1997 harvest, so we’ve been in that facility for eight harvests, now. The prospect of moving is daunting, and the prospect of a lengthy commute, especially in the age of ever-increasing fuel costs, is not something I welcome. Change, on the other hand, is the only certainty, and if I keep trying to go straight ahead just when the river decides to bend, I’m a lot more likely to run aground, I suppose.
Wherever we pitch our tent next will be the fourth location in 20 years, so it’s not like we haven’t had any practice being gypsies. (We spent eight years before the move to Audubon in our Emeryville facility, which has since become the Peaberry Coffee Roasting headquarters. Before that we spent our first four years in what had been Fretter Wine Cellars, and has most recently become GrapeLeaf Cellars. I don’t know what Audubon is to become next.) I moved all the barrels, and almost all the other stuff myself the last time; this time around I know I’ll need some help.
This seems destined to be a year of important changes, so I guess I’ll need to learn to get used to it. If things go well, the wines will just keep getting better and better. That’s something to look forward to. We’re getting ready to bottle some 2004 whites, and I know I’ve never made better white wines than these. (One of which, a Roussanne grown at Tablas Creek Vineyard, in the limestone hills west of Paso Robles, is breathtaking.) There will also be a small amount of 2004 Pinc Froid, back by popular demand (and fashioned, this time, from Counoise and Grenache.) And the 2004 Bone-Jolly is a revelation (and may lead to a sort of rapture, though if you end up with your clothes off, it may not have any religious import), and could lead to broad-scale conversion from the wilderness of blockbuster jammy fruit-bombs.
Thank You Very Much; I’m All Shook Up!
It’s an interesting thing being a winemaker and a singer-songwriter; sometimes I lose track of whatever boundaries there may be between the two. I remember having dreams in which a song was being discussed in the same terms by which wines are described. I have both a wine and a song called Rocks and Gravel. I’ve been convinced for quite a long time that the creative impulse behind both endeavours spring forth from the same point of origin.
And of course there are others in both fields of endeavour much more well-known than I. Kermit Lynch used to have a band, and is in the process of putting together an album. Boz Scaggs grows winegrapes in the hills west of Napa. B.R. Cohn, the Doobie Brothers manager has a winery. Even Bob Dylan has lent his name to some wines made in Italy. Doubtless there are more.
It could be said that both wine and music are paths to intoxication of an ecstatic, holy sort; certainly both have been used in that manner. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before the miraculous appearance of the character known as :
!!!!!!! W*I*N*E*L*V*I*S !!!!!!!
Watch this space for the latest developments!
Steve Edmunds (has left the building)