This has been one of those sagas of unbelievable disappointment and dashed hopes, met by promise after unmet promise until, finally, the impossible happens - that dream spot comes along.
After a long search for a location where they could each have a place to serve their respective wines to customers as well as make their wines, Rosie Mangin (Rosa Fierro Cellars), Chris Ehrenberg (Ehrenberg Cellars and Schmidt), and Frankie Favalora (Favalora Vineyard Winery) have finally moved their respective brands into spacious new quarters at 346 Earhart Drive. In doing so, they’ve effectively expanded the boundaries of Livermore wine country westward.
Located in a light industrial mall with mostly Monday-Friday businesses, the new spot offers plentiful parking, and is large enough to house their winemaking operations as well.
Each winery will have its own tasting bar, and they also have a room large enough to hold joint events. Being adjacent to Eight Bridges Brewing is a big plus; they plan to build an inside entrance to the brewery, facilitating traffic between the two spaces. They’re already planning some big collaborative events with food trucks, and the parking lot is fair game for hosting outdoor music and dancing.
The circuitous journey has had big speedbumps and detours. After they thought they had a place all set on Graham Court, the deal fell through. They ended up having to move a lot of barrels and equipment into Mitchell Katz’s facility while they nomadically wandered the byways of Livermore like a trio of gypsies, looking for a place to call home. Says Ehrenberg, “I can’t stress enough how important that was to us. Mitch really helped us out. He’s really a great guy.”
The trio plan to hold a Grand Opening on Saturday, October 6, from 2 to 8 p.m., so if you’re attending the Livermore Winegrowers Open House at the airport that day, which goes from 10 to 4 p.m., you’re already halfway to Earhart, named for I wonder who, so come on by and check out this nifty place, where fun is the order of the day. The Rustic Roadhouse food truck will be there from 3 to 8 p.m., and there will be live music from 3 to 7 p.m. Eight Bridges will be holding their Comedy Night beginning at 8 p.m., so you can continue the merriment into the evening.
What can you expect when you come here for a tasting? Well, in the case of Favalora, Zin, Barbera and Carignane, from his estate vineyards and a couple of others in Contra Costa County. Rosie’s lineup features Chardonnay and Cabernet from Livermore, along with Zin from Frank and Merlot from Sonoma. Chris Ehrenberg gets Barbera, Carignane and Zin from Frank, along with a bunch of cool stuff from Amador and Lodi.
Wines you won’t want to miss are the trio of rosés they’re pouring, each one as different as the personalities who make them. That’s part of the charm of tasting here. Each brand offers a totally unique experience, in terms of varietals and in terms of style.
Frankie’s winemaking style is fruit-forward and fairly ripe -- easy to drink, approachable and quaffable. His 2017 Rosé of Carignane, Barbera and Zin is tangy, with a good mouthfeel. From the estate vineyard he named for his daughter Sophia, it leaves a big impression.
Ehrenberg’s 2017 Rosé is also made of Carignane and Barbera, sourced from Frank, and comes across lush, with pretty strawberry candy. He almost clipped off his fingers with the pruning shears while attempting to harvest the grapes. Ouch.
Rosie’s 2017 Delicada Rosa Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, which hails from the Thatcher Bay and 3 Steves Vineyards in Livermore, was done in the saignée method. She made them individually and then blended before bottling. She calls it “Delicada” as kind of a back-handed reference to a photographer she met while she was still making wine at Tenuta. He told her that his girlfriend was “really delicate.” She just giggled. The cellar joke became that Rosie was anything but delicate, so she decided to have the last laugh by making this wine. It’s really pretty, with cream soda, strawberry watermelon sherbet and bubblegum in the nose and strawberry shortcake throughout. You could say it’s sort of delicate, and that’s not a bad thing.
You’ll also be able to taste her 2013 and 2014 De La Luna Merlots from Moon Mountain, her two Cabernets from Thatcher Bay in Livermore, as well as her two Chardonnays and her 2014 Quatro, a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith Ranch in Livermore Valley, 49% Merlot from Moon Vineyard in Carneros and 1% Cabernet Franc. It was a gold medal winner at the 2017 San Francisco International Competition.
For harvest 2018, Rosie plans to get Chardonnay from Tenuta, from which she will make both oaked and unoaked versions. She’ll source Cabernet from Thatcher for her rosé, Zin from Favalora Vineyard and hopefully, Merlot from Moon Mountain. She’d really love to get some Sachau Merlot at some point.
Ehrenberg’s Schmidt brand will join his Ehrenberg label on the bar, along with the wines from the 14 barrels he bought from Emily Coyne, after Tom passed away. Ehrenberg started making wine at Rockwall in 2008 and has been hooked ever since. His style is unapologetically big and fleshy.
There’s something fun about the first Zinfandel Chris made from the Sutherland Vineyard in Sunol. This 2015 Zinfandel has a nice twangy tang of blueberry and blackberry, along with good acid. The 2012 Ehrenberg Reserve Zin from Wilderotter Vineyard in Amador, was a double gold medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle. Big and portly of demeanor, it tastes like cherry and blackberry soda. Some Tom Coyne Mourvedre and Merlot contributed to the complexity here. Chris also has a Favalora Zin from Contra Costa, a Napa Cab (big and bold with lots of grilled pepper and good acid), as well as Zin, Barbera and Carignane from Lodi.
Under the Schmidt label, which honors his father, Chris Ehrenberg also has a Syrah, Zin and Petite Sirah. He’s very excited about the ETC dessert wines that contain some of Tom’s juice. “Emilee Coyne said I could use Tom’s name and picture on the label,” says Ehrenberg. The ETC late harvest Zin is a big fruity monster that would best be consumed seated in a comfortable chair you’re not planning to move from for a while. There’s also an ETC Cabernet port, sourced mostly from Tom Coyne’s legacy barrels. The fruit is from Livermore and El Dorado counties, and smells like brownies and chocolate syrup. Unsurprisingly, it tastes like Bosco with a pinch of black pepper.
Next it was time to dip into the Favalora selections. Athletic, handsome, with an easy-going demeanor and an LED smile, Frank got started in wine when he was 23. “I lived in Antioch and I played basketball,” he says. Everything changed when he met his father-in-law, Stan Planchon, who asked him, “Do you know anything about wine? With a name like Frankie Favalora, you need to know. I’m going to teach you.”
Frank says Stan had tasted Chris’s wines and liked them, and encouraged the two to team up. Ironically, at an event at Rosenblum Cellars where Chris was making wine, Shauna, Kent Rosenblum’s daughter, came by and said to Frankie, “You two need to get together!”
So it seemed inevitable that Chris and Frank would share not only sources of grapes, but they would also share a roof over their mutual wine ambitions some day. Frankie remembers the late Kent Rosenblum, who passed away earlier this month, telling him, “Wine takes over your lifestyle.” That it does.
After years of growing —Frank planted his vineyard in 1999 using Zin cuttings from the Planchon vineyard of his parents-in-law, Gertie and Stan, which dates back to 1902—he figured it was time. “I decided to get into wine now that I’m getting older and the kids are getting older (his kids, Gianina and Vinnie are 21 and 23 respectively), I figured we could have a future together.” He says his daughter Nina is really into wine, so Frankie is hopeful for the future.
On the tasting bar, you’ll find his 2015 Carignane from Frank’s cousin’s 100-year old dry-farmed vineyard on Live Oak Road in Contra Costa. It clocks in at 16.7% and smells of Bing cherry. It’s big and fleshy, with superb tannins. Carignane is known for its generous texture and thick skin and it gets really ripe out here with lots of hang time. Frank also has a 2016 Carignane from the Del Barba Vineyard, another old Contra Costa gem, this one with more layers, enticing pepper on the finish and good acid, along with coca cola and root beer flavors. He lets it hang until October.
If you’re a fan of ripe Zinfulness, Frank’s 2015 late harvest Zin from the St. Peter’s Church clone out of Manuel Madruga’s vineyard, also in Contra Costa, will ring your chimes. Frank says that Madruga planted the vineyard in 2000, at the urging of Kent Rosenblum, who was well-regarded as a master of Zin, who asked him to plant the St. Peter’s Church clone. Known for its big berries and elongated clusters, it has developed quite a reputation and following among Rosenblum devotees. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but to me it tasted like a sacramental wine, amped up by the addition of Late Harvest Petite Sirah from Tom Coyne’s stash.
Frank says he expects to have his rosé made and his Zin picked for red, before the middle of September.
Following the Grand Opening on October 6, the trio plans to hold regular hours every Saturday and Sunday, from noon until 6 p.m.