Visiting the source

It is often assumed that I get to travel all over the world or at least to California in order to pick the variety of wines served and sold here at Bitto and Orchard Wine Cellar. However this is only assumed by those who don’t own their own businesses! After 10 years in the business, I was finally able to take a trip out to California wine country for a few days and visit with some of the winemakers we support here at the restaurant and school. Despite the torrential (but welcome!) spring rains, my wife and I drove up from San Francisco through Berkeley, past Sonoma to the beautiful wine utopia that is Healdsburg.

However before leaving Berkeley, we stopped at the hip and urban Broc Cellars (www.broccellars.com) to visit with winemaker Chris Brockway. So often I see new products hitting the market that are “different” for the sake of being different, some attempt at differentiation based on shock value or trying to catch the “bleeding edge” of an upcoming trend. Hipster winemakers backed by some venture capital and a social media campaign with the actual wine being a second thought resulting in overpriced cult crap. And here in downtown Berkeley we find a winemaker vinifying Nero d’Avola, Counoise, Picpoul, Valdiguie, Carignan, Marsanne, Rousanne and a sparkling Chenin Blanc? If I didn't know better! It takes just a moment to realize Chris is much more a treasure hunter or mad scientist than hipster. Treasure hunter in that he has embarked on a quest to coax remarkable nuance and potential from varietals seldom showing their face in the marketplace. And not because they are “new” or “chic” but because the mad scientist passionately believes there is magic there desperately waiting to be discovered through care and craft. 

Chris stomping grapes in Berkely

My job means I have tasted hundred of varietals, many of which are locked into predetermined destinies. Counoise for instance, historically lives only for its pre-arranged, massively polygamous marriage with Grenache, Syrah and a dozen others in Chateauneuf de Pape. Only when too much has been made does it see itself alone in a bottle, downgraded to the lowly caste of a Vin du Pay. Nero d’Avola is grown in the heat Sicily and for centuries was only seen in the oxidized Marsalas. Over the past few years, it’s been bottled as a dry red and is known more for being affordable than for any sophistication. Broc Cellar's Counoise shows a remarkable bright raspberry and cranberry on the nose and vibrant acidity barely restrained by a little tannic grip. The Nero was the cleanest and most elegant I’ve ever had. The best Scilian Nero’s are still manly, unshaven creatures with a little manure on their boot bottoms. This is a fundamentally different, feminine “Nera” with a partial carbonic bringing crazy bright red fruit, dramatic acid and a whisp of sandy, earthy. 

Chris is committed to all organic or biodynamic with sparse SO2 made possible by utmost respect for the fruit. Seldom have I seen such dedication to purity of fruit from harvesting at night to natural yeasts to multiple fermentation techniques in concrete, oak, or beeswax lined terracotta. He has the courage of his own convictions that doesn’t seem fed by ego or accomplishment but instead by passion and curiosity of what treasures are awaiting discovery and creation in this year’s 130 year old Carignan or any of the other generally reclusive other varietals. Across his entire line up, the wines don’t come off as a “new take” on these varietals but more like a true appreciation and a long overdue realization of their potential. Well worth embarking on your own treasure hunt through the strip mined, Central Valley’s soul-less wasteland to discover. It’s California wine as it can be not as we’re told it should be. Enjoy!

Next stop Sonoma…. But I have to get back to work now!

Drink well, drink up!

Barney Treadway


Wine Shop Top Sellers

  • Gran Passione

    #1 Gran Passione

    From the land of Amarone comes a delicious Merlot based blend. To perfectly ripe Merlot (60%) is added juice from dried Corvina grapes ala Amarone. Rich, deep and smooth, this is a remarkable Merlot that may just change your Merlot worldview!
    (Holding the #1 spot for the past 5 years!)

  • Tintero Moscato

    #2 Tintero Moscato

    Sori Gramella refers to the one of the only single vineyard Moscatos, and Marco is the only producer to bottle this striking limestone amphitheater commercially. Once the 30 year old vines give up their bounty, and the grapes are harvested and pressed, they are kept in stainless steel at a low temperature to prevent fermentation until an order is received in order to provide the freshest wine possible. (behind by 4 bottles)

  • Sweet Sunset Chocolate Merlot

    #3 Sweet Sunset Chocolate Merlot

    First lets say that this is Not ChocoVine. This wine is actually made with eighty five percent Merlot and than has natural chocolate cream added to the mix. This is the wine for anyone looking for sweet red or the chocolate lover at home. Great gift for the holidays. (behind by 46 bottles)

  • Peter Adler Auslese Riesling

    #4 Peter Adler Auslese Riesling

    An amazing value for Auslese (certified ripeness) fruit from Germany's Mosel River Valley. Classic light petroleum and mineral nose yet flavor sweet and soft with hints of apricots and vanilla cake. A great German staple with pork of all kinds and cheeses from soft Brie to hard Gouda. (behind by 25 bottles)

Fun New Arrivals

  • Poseidon Pinot Noir

    Poseidon Pinot Noir

    From vineyards with a view of the bay comes this well balanced, lively and delicious Pinot Noir. A easy drinking, medium-bodied wine showing off some rare and black pepper spiced Hungarian oak to balance the raspberry aromas and flavors.

  • Chateau Redortier Beaumes de Venise

    Chateau Redortier Beaumes de Venise

    Wine geeks know of Gigondas and Vacqueras that show off Grenache like no other. Bordering both is Beaumes de Venise which is known for fortified Muscat. On a steep hillside (at 1500 ft!) twin sisters Sabine and Isabelle make this earthy, spicy blend of Grenache, Syrah and Counoise. A gorgeous wine.

  • Obsidian Cab

    Obsidian Cab

    A wonderful classic CA Cab with solid structure from the altitude and Hungarian oak. Reserved and dark on the nose with aromas of blackberries, hints of black licorice and coffee. Really nice and elegant. Touch on the masculine side with no jammy, jelly jar junk here. Wonderfully different.

  • Amon Ra

    Amon Ra

    The 2014 Amon Ra reflects the tried and true essence of the Glaetzer style - generosity of flavor with finesse of structure. The inky purple color displays the gentle but full extraction. The nose shows an abundance of dark blueberry, vanilla, black cherry and hints of cassis with notes of mixed spice and anise. Although still young and firmly wound, the vibrant blackberry and dried spice flavors integrate well with youthful yet supple tannins with the trademark loooong and sleek finish. Meant to go 10 to 15 years to hit its prime.