Grapeleaf Cellars is a very small winery and custom crush facility in Berkeley, California. I’m not sure if it has the claim to fame of being the only winery in Berkeley, but it’s the only one that I know of. The proprieter and winemaker Tom Leaf has been making wine there for several years.
I’ve met Tom on a number of occasions and have had several opportunities to visit his modest but serviceable facilities in Berkeley. Tom sources his grapes from places all over the California wine country — Sonoma, Paso Robles, Amador County, to name a few. He produces wine in small lots and focuses primarily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with dabblings of Syrah and Zinfandel, matching each varietal and batch of grapes with carefully chosen barrels. Tom is very particular about his oak, and having tasted wine with him on several occasions, its clear that he has an often uncanny ability to identify the type of oak used in a given wine, something my palate has not even begun to approach.
In this case, Tom has chosen particularly ripe grapes from the Nicholson Ranch area of Sonoma, near the B.R. Cohn Winery, and fermented them in medium toast french oak, leaving the wine with a surprisingly distinctive flavor. Tom thinks that this is one of the best wines he has made.
This wine is dark — brooding dark red, and that darkness is echoed in its nose which, right out of the bottle, is extremely un-syrah like. When I first smelled the wine I thought it was a Cabernet because of the extremely heavy chocolate and cherry aromas, tinged with a bit of jasmine. As the wine opened up over the next hour, these aromas shifted to more blackberry and other jammy notes that one would expect from a syrah. In the mouth the wine is cool and clean with blackberry and blueberry flavors with hints of black pepper. The finish is somewhat astringent, with a slight hint of medicinal quality, but a solid wine nonetheless.
This is a good barbecue wine, and one that would go well with spicy foods. I’d be tempted to try it with beef and andouille burgers with asiago cheese.
Overall Score: 8.5/9
How much?: $25
You may purchase these wines directly from Tom:
805 Camelia St.
Berkeley, CA 94710