After the Blessing of the Grapes earlier in August, I made my way to Vasco Road to pay a visit to Alexandra Atterbury of Omega Road Winery. Harvest was indeed underway, as her parents and a couple of hard-working helpers were busily putting Verdelho from Ron Siletto’s vineyard in Lodi into the crusher/destemmer. The light green juice poured out like rays of lime-colored light through faded stained glass in an abandoned church.
The grapes were mighty tasty: something you wouldn’t mind partaking of at a 9 or 10am communion service. Verdelho is a darn sight more compatible with a sticky wafer than the plonk normally passed off for communion wine. Since Apple is working on a white wine emoji, maybe it’s time we offered people a choice in church as well. But I digress.
Atterbury expects to bring in at least 13 different varieties for this harvest, mostly in small lots of 2 tons each. One of them will be Torrontes, which clearly broadens and brightens her already cheery, ever-present smile. “We jumped at the chance to get Torrontes!” she says excitedly. It came in at the end of August and will already be in tank by the time you read this.
She admits they’re a little obsessed with lesser-known grapes. “My Dad has a lot of relationships with growers: we used to have a grape broker,” she explains. And in this business, one grower tip always leads to another, and pretty soon you have an amazing cornucopia of grapes at your disposal. They’ve made Viognier from a Lodi vineyard, where they hope to get some for a late harvest wine this year. From Madera will come Alicante Bouschet and she’s also expecting to acquire some Tempranillo.
The Livermore Valley will be the source of several lots, including Zinfandel from the Sblendorio Vineyard, Cabernet from 3 Steves Vineyard, and Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah from Bodegas Aguirre, where they sourced Petite in 2017. They’ll also get some Grenache from Fenestra and they’re also looking for some from Paso Robles.
“I love a beautiful Grenache!” she says with that million-dollar smile of hers. She mentions that they used to source the grape from a Livermore vineyard which they loved, but is apparently no longer at their disposal. They’re also contemplating a rosé this year, but the jury is still out on that caper.
Sometime in early September, they’ll be getting fruit from a vineyard in Dublin they helped plant. They met the owner through taking classes at Las Positas, and helped him put in a thousand Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines, essentially planting a field blend. Atterbury expects to begin harvesting grapes from that vineyard, called Calcelta, in honor of the owner’s Irish heritage, sometime in early September. “The majority of the vineyard is Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Alexandra. “It should be very exciting. The relationships with vineyard owners and managers is so rewarding.”
Alexandra and her Dad, Ken Henkelman, have been making wines together under the Omega Road label for 6 years now. Ken originally got into winemaking after a tour of duty in the Army. He worked at Robert Mondavi Winery with winemaker Michael Grgich. Life took him in a different direction, but wine was always on his mind. Atterbury, who lives in Danville, spends most of her time at her day job, where she works in IT for Kaiser. When Ken started home winemaking about 10 years ago, she got involved, loved it and they decided to make a go of it together commercially.
Where did the winery name originate, you wonder? Omega Road in San Ramon was the site of their first location, a warehouse in an industrial office building complex. They soon ran out of space, and began looking at Livermore. “We love this community,” says Alexandra. “My Dad grew up in Napa, but he was always visiting here. This community is fantastic! This is our fifth harvest in this location.”
On the tasting room front, Atterbury is pleased to show me around the new space directly across the parking lot from their present location: it will become the tasting room going forward, along with barrel storage with room for some case goods. They’ll also be able to hold seated functions, like educational classes and special tastings in the future. Atterbury is doing graduate work through the University of Phoenix, in Food Studies, and is fascinated by where food comes from and who the purveyors are in the local area.
Their current space will be dedicated to office and winery operations. Atterbury feels really lucky they found a place in the same complex that will allow them to provide a far more comfortable tasting environment and room to grow. They will install an L-shaped bar, complete with cool art and a beautiful rug that her parent’s have in their home. She thinks it’s from the Middle East: Afghanistan, perhaps. It’s always been a favorite of hers. She plans to hang it on the wall in the new tasting room, which she hopes to have open by the end of September.
Omega Road will hold its first wine club release party on Friday, September 7, from 4—7pm, when they will release Verdelho and Alicante Bouschet, and perhaps a rosé of Primitivo.
Augmenting their own fermentations, Omega Road is set to bottle some of Tom Doczy’s creations as well. They have been in the expert care of Winemaker Aaron Luna of Fenestra since the untimely passing of the John Christopher Cellars founder earlier this year. Doczy built a loyal following for his Livermore wines, especially his Chardonnay, Cabernet from the Madden Vineyard and Syrah.
Atterbury was encouraged by Jeff Greenhagen, a local wine lover who used to pour at John Christopher Cellars, to partner with him to preserve the legacy of this much-loved man. Greenhagen also owns a wine touring company called Whine No More.
Omega Cellars will bottle a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (which Atterbury believes to be from the Madden Vineyard) and a 2016 Petite Sirah (sourced from Bodegas Aguirre) from 16 barrels that have been stored at Fenestra. Each bottle will bear a commemorative label that pays homage to John Christopher Cellars. It’s an eye-catching beauty that would please Tom Doczy to no end. Plans are to sell the wines by the case, beginning with a release party to be announced.
Visit Omega Cellars the 2nd and 4th weekends of each month at 2135 S. Vasco Road, Unit C.