Our wine of the week is the Taft Street Chardonnay, chosen because it pairs well with all appetizers as well as the Ham and Salmon entrees on our Easter Menu. I really like this chardonnay – it has nice ripe tropical flavors and aromas, a slight touch of oak that provides a nice framework for the wine and refreshing acidity. This is NOT an oaky, buttery, lethargic chardonnay. Rather, it is both fun and tasty.
Taft Street is, in the most literal way, a Garagiste winery. The story begins on Taft Street in the Rockridge area of Oakland, not far from the University of California at Berkeley. Mike Tierney was a graduate student and his brother, John, was an undergraduate at Cal. They both were cooking part time in Berkeley restaurants and became intrigued with the developing food and wine scene. They started making wine and John proved his talents early on. He soon made wine not only for himself but for a rapidly growing fan club of family and friends. His efforts during this time earned him a BEST OF SHOW AWARD at the California State Fair – the state’s highest honor for a home winemaker.
John took a job at Wine and the People when they began importing winemaking equipment from Europe for small wineries and serious amateurs. Eventually Wine and the People became a winery with John as winemaker. It was there John met fellow employee Mike Martini, original Taft Street partner and later mayor and city council member of Santa Rosa.
Meanwhile, back at Taft Street things were jumping. Their house was built in 1918 and the garage could no longer comfortably fit a car, so they turned it into something infinitely more useful – a winery. They added wiring, a new layer of concrete, and they even included an air-conditioned area for cold stabilizing white wines. Barrels, stainless tanks, a basket press and hand corker completed the scene. By the late 1970’s, they were making up to 1000 gallons. With a little quality control and an ever growing following who loved the wine, the house and garage on Taft Street gained a reputation of its own.
Such a reputation had their next-door neighbor complaining to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). He asserted that they were illegally making alcohol. Mike got a call from an agent telling him she would be out the next day to investigate the complaint. A law left over from Prohibition states a family can make up to 200 gallons of wine a year for home consumption. They were able to satisfy the agent that more than five families were involved in making wine and we were well within the law.
They would become a boutique winery making small lots of handcrafted wines. They would continue what they had started in the garage, but now they would search for a winery site in Sonoma County, they had spent summers as kids and felt a close affinity to the Russian River area. They found a warehouse space in the sleepy town of Forestville and moved in early in 1982, just in time for that year’s harvest.
Today, Taft Street continues to make small lots of handcrafted wines from Sonoma and the Russian River Valley. Their wines are exceptional in both quality and value. Enjoy.