Behind the Wine, Within the Whiskey

I learned a lot about libations last weekend while visiting not one but two Elysian Fields of alcohol within a short stroll of each other on the scenic Alameda waterfront.

First was the Rock Wall Wine Company, whose Open House on Saturday afternoon featured food booths, wine tasting and tours of the vast facility, which is located inside a 40,000-square-foot historic former military airplane hangar. It was inspiring to learn how grapes from the Napa Valley, Sonoma County and even nearby Contra Costa County are transformed into Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah a virtual stone’s throw from downtown Oakland. Let’s raise a glass to urban winemaking.

My favorite wines of the day were Rock Wall’s Sparkling Grenache Rosé and Sparkling Brut. Bubbles always win. Yummy food samples on offer at the Open House were courtesy of Ozumo, Kind Bars, Coco Tutti, Munch India and many more — including Le Truc, a wildly popular food truck whose freshly prepared fare is now served Monday through Saturday in Rock Wall’s tasting room.

Then it was a short walk through the pouring rain to St. George Spirits for a taste of those utterly innovative Botanivore and Terroir gins. The latter is actually made with Douglas fir trees, so it literally tastes like Christmas. Another taste sensation was the Buddha’s hand citron-infused vodka, dazzlingly aromatic and made with one of nature’s strangest-looking fruits:

St. George occupies yet another hangar. The free tour took in this gigantic space where bourbon, eau de vie, fruit liqueurs, and much more — including absinthe — is made. Among many interesting tidbits, we learned this crucial one: The only difference between Scotch whiskey and regular whiskey is that Scotch whiskey is made in Scotland. So there.

St. George was the first American distillery to sell absinthe to the public once it ceased being illegal in 2007; the formula went through nine different revisions until it reached its current wormwoody, fennely perfection. This picture shows some of the herbs and spices that made the grade:

Anneli Rufus

All photos by Kristan Lawson.