Alameda's Dashe Cellars Will Change Your Mind About Zinfandel
BY ESTHER MOBLEY
Dashe Cellars, a 23-year fixture of the East Bay winemaking scene, was turning out restrained, light-bodied, ethereal versions of grape varieties like Zinfandel long before that style was in vogue.
That’s simply the sort of wine that Mike and Anne Dashe like to drink. Their preferences are informed by their love of French wines: Anne grew up in France, and Mike trained there as a young winemaker. He fell in love with Zin while working as the assistant winemaker at Ridge Vineyards. When he and Anne launched their own wine in 1996, they made Zinfandel the focus – but their minimalist approach made for a very different sort of wine than other California wineries were producing at the time.
The Dashe Cellars lineup is split into two tiers: the signature wines, which are typically vineyard designates; and Les Enfants Terribles, which are lighter and more youthful, often fermented by carbonic maceration, which imbues juicy, fruit-candy flavors. Zinfandel appears at both ends of the portfolio, so you can taste ageworthy, structured Zinfandel from sites like the Florence Vineyard and the Bedrock Vineyard, but you can also taste crushable, translucent Les Enfants Terribles Zinfandels (many of them still single-vineyard wines). Mike Dashe remains the director of winemaking, working with winemaker Rene Calderon.
In 2019, Dashe Cellars had to move out of its longtime winery and tasting room space in Oakland. That wasn’t by choice, say Mike and Anne Dashe, but as a result they’ve ended up in a larger space with better scenery in the former Naval Air Station Alameda, nearby Rock Wall Wine Co., Hangar One and St. George distilleries, Almanac Beer Co. and more. They share their winemaking space, a former airplane hangar, with Urban Legend winery. A tasting bar is situated in a corner near the entrance, surrounded by the tanks, barrels and large oak casks. On clear days, they open up the huge hangar doors for guests to enjoy the view.
Instead of the freeway buzz you’d hear from the Oakland tasting room, here you’ll hear the sounds of nature: The short space that separates Dashe Cellars from the Bay is a bird sanctuary, and visitors enjoying a glass of wine on the outdoor patio might be able to spot herons, ospreys or least terns. The Dashes are still working on improving the space – they’re planning to build a deck, for instance – but already they’re hosting food trucks, bands and a mobile outdoor bar on weekends. They offer “golden hour” specials on Thursdays and Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. for prime sunset viewing.
Tastings at the standing bar inside the cellar are $15 and include five wines; a “Grape to Glass” tour is also available, which concludes with a sit-down tasting with a library wine, for $35 per person. Currently, the Alameda ferry lets off about a mile away, but there are plans underway to add another ferry stop just a five minute walk from Dashe Cellars.
WHAT TO TRY: Zinfandel is Dashe Cellars’ specialty, and Mike and Anne Dashe consider themselves crusaders for the grape variety, determined to prove that it can make a serious, versatile, restrained wine that pairs well with more than just barbecue. If you think you’re not a Zin fan, let the Dashes try to change your mind with both the signature Zins and the Les Enfants Terribles line.
Still, there’s more to Dashe Cellars than just Zin. Look for the Comet, a hearty, spicy Sonoma County red blend; the delicious Evangelho Vineyard Carignan; and the Heringer Vineyard Cabernet Franc, which tastes like chocolate-covered goji berries.
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Photo: Paul Kuroda/Special to The Chronicle