Where to Buy Wine in Berkeley, California

Buying wine in Berkeley, California? Without a doubt there are plenty of choices.  Berkeley has long been at the forefront of the foodie movement in America, it's now doing the same for the wine industry.

You'll learn about not only the wine market in Berkeley California, but also how the wider wine industry is changing.

Berkeley and the wider American wine market are changing by the day, with a clear focus on moving more online, offering more instructional tastings in person and without a doubt, to more urban wineries.

UC Berkeley is in may ways, still the center of the city of Berkeley
UC Berkeley is in may ways, still the center of the city of Berkeley

If one were to write a history of the Slow Food movement in America, without a doubt, the first chapter and quite a few of the following ones would need to be based in Berkeley California.

After all, Alice Waters brought the movement into the mainstream and despite all the jokes about $5 heads of broccoli, her restaurant, Chez Panisse was among the first to truly care only about locally sourced ingredients and how those could push the quality of her cooking to extreme levels.

In a sea of chain restaurants indistinguishable from city to city and from season to season, Chez Panisse was the standard bearer of a true farm to table experience. It’s a trend that has extended across the country to this day.

In the world of fine wine, things aren’t quite the same. While Berkeley is again, without a doubt, at the forefront of the urban wine movement in America (and really, the world, more on this in a minute) it’s the city’s proximity to both Napa Valley and Sonoma that makes it such a hotbed of wine competition.

Add in a population that’s 40% foreign-born and you get a bunch of folks interested in international wines while having access to the best of what America can produce.

So there’s a lot of wine consumed, by a wealthy population, with a variety of interests and backgrounds. In many ways, that helps to make Berkeley among America’s most competitive wine markets.

Where to buy wine in Berkeley California:

Kermit Lynch: A household name if you like fine wine, Kermit Lynch made a name for himself traveling the back roads of France, bringing smaller production wines to America. The results? A small shop, in what must have been among America’s cheapest commercial spaces, has become synonymous with French wine in America. This is America’s foremost wine importer and at times you’ll still find Lynch and some of his family walking between the cases of wine, piled on top of each other in much the same way that they were some 40 years ago. For anyone in the wine trade, Kermit Lynch is the gold standard that we all aspire to.

An added tip: Want perhaps the best avocado toast in the San Francisco Bay Area? Sure, avocado toast has been mocked by the rest of the country, but it’s a total thing here.  You can find Yelp lists, you can find best of articles and more.

Probably the best I’ve ever had (and to be honest, yeah I’d have this every morning if I could) is at Bartavelle.  

Bartavelle is directly next door to Kermit Lynch. So stop in for a couple of slices of avocado toast and then shop for some of the best French wine in America with a full stomach.

Here’s me, sharing a bottle of wine in front of Bartavelle a year or two ago:

Mark in front of Bartavelle
Mark in front of Bartavelle

Uncorked Ventures Wine Club: One of the things I love best about the Bay Area, how businesses tend to build upon themselves. Coffee is a great example, the nation’s first espresso was made here. Irish Coffee was invented here. A generation ago, the guys behind Pete’s started making small batch coffee in Berkeley. They even taught the Starbucks folks how to roast beans (seriously, they did). While others have paved the way in the wine space, things are changing. The full disclosure, this is my small business and I’m attempting to bridge the divide between increasing online sales and the type of in face, person to person, sourcing of wine that others in the industry have done for so long. How do you do that? I think I can by not only sourcing wine in person but writing one of the industry’s best wine blogs and sharing information in a real way on social media and elsewhere. The concept of a wine of the month club isn’t a new one, far from it. In fact, the first entrant into space started in the early 1970s, but for quite some time wine clubs existed for little reason other than to move wine that couldn’t be sold in regular channels. I think they can also function to sell high-quality wine from smaller producers that are struggling for mainstream acceptance.

Donkey and Goat: Any winery willing to put forth a manifesto, is worth buying a couple of bottles according to me. So why are Donkey and Goat important in the wine industry? Plenty of people throughout the industry are talking about moving toward more balanced wine. But, few are willing to take concrete steps to do that, other than picking grapes a bit earlier than we did in previous generations. That’s not the situation at Donkey and Goat. Instead, they’re fighting the ultimate fight in winemaking. Really, to make wine you don’t need anything other than grapes, something to put them at any time. But winemakers use sulfur as a stabilizer and as a way to make sure that microbial content doesn’t take hold. Going without sulfur, or even with significantly less sulfur, makes not only a more natural wine but adds a lot of pressure to make sure your other winemaking choices are completely on point and accurate.

Donkey & Goat wine
Donkey & Goat wine

Broc Cellars: Owner and winemaker Chris Brockway is an interesting case study in how small start-up wineries grow. By day, Chris is a wine broker helping to sell others wine. His winery isn’t a virtual one, instead, he functions in a converted warehouse in West Berkeley. His story matches an increasing number of new age winemakers, start by learning how to sell wine. Eventually, you’ll attempt making your own and hopefully, all those sales relationships that you’ve built over the years bring in enough easy sales to keep you afloat. That’s why Chris deserves a mention before anything else, for those not born into wine families, or without a formal wine degree, his is a path that can be realistically followed with a little bit of hard work and some sales chops. Plus, he takes some risks with his wine, namely a carbonic Carignane.

Solano Cellars: This is perhaps the most popular traditional wine store in the neighborhood and there’s a bigger industry connection than most realize. The shop was opened some 20+ years ago by Bill Easton, who eventually sold when he decided to open his own winery, Terre Rouge. Alcohol laws in the United States don’t allow anyone to own both a winery and a retail store. These days Solano Cellars proudly offers a wide assortment of wines under $20, while also offering instructional tastings which should be an absolute must for any wine shop, anywhere in America.

Ok, so if you want to buy wine in Berkeley California, I think you’ll agree there are plenty of great choices. Some are relatively old school, some are really new and all show a different part of the wine industry and how it continues to change and evolve. While buying wine in Berkeley is decidedly different than buying wine in Paris, or beer in Prague because wine isn't produced en masse in Berkeley, it's