The evolution of a collective of urban wineries is curious to watch. Clearly, the places define the area, but one or two wineries popping up doesn’t seem to quite justify the need for a name, which is why Broc Cellars and Donkey & Goat have, for some time been the old kids on the nameless urban winery block in Berkeley, making wine in facilities that support their production and storage needs. But then more move in and suddenly at four or five, you have a bonafide collective in your midst and names start to evolve around that area that will be inclusive enough to consider all the beverage neighbors in the area.
In the arena of food and drinks, North Berkeley is mutating into being known as The Drinks District or SoFo (South of Fourth St., which to me, sounds a little too SF-like). But at the heart of this area beats the ever revolving small wine facility at 805 Camelia. Since the 70s, this facility has been used for winemaking, once being home to Broc and now shared between Eno and Lusu Cellars.
David Teixeira, winemaker for Lusu, definitely adds to this space’s layered winemaking history not just with his own production but with his family’s long history of Portuguese winemaking.
Roots resting alongside other roots with exciting entanglements in the future, David is not a winemaker who woke up one day and decided to start dappling in wine because of stories that his family passed on to him; his is a long history that had him making wine when he was very young, as his family made wine religiously each year, applying old world techniques that David embraced and incorporated into his own style.
On the day we set out to taste at Lusu, I had not put two and two together in that the space was the former home of Broc and that I had been there before. I was delighted to see that Lusu was now in this space; it felt like a kind of homecoming for me as this was the first urban wine facility I had encountered years ago. Still just as small as I recalled and having a newfound appreciation for crafting beautiful wines in tiny spaces given my recent harvest internship at August West, I was eager to see what sort of juice Lusu was churning out.
David was cordially waiting for us and had several of his wines out to taste through. He spoke with passion about how he made each wine, but I appreciated his style and tone – he was tired from just having come out of harvest but clear about what he hoped to accomplish with his winemaking efforts in years to come.
While David works with a number of Rhone, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese varietals, he grew up working specifically with old vine Carignan, and became fascinated with Mataro (a clone of Mourvedre) and California’s historic field blends that largely involved Zinfandel. To me, David’s blends are unique in that you can literally sense each varietal involved. When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that the wine is disjointed; quite the opposite – it’s harmonious. His practices and vineyard selections really give voice to each varietal in his blends; it’s quite remarkable.
But David’s wines also seem to me to give a realistic “workhorse voice” (if you will) to varietals that were once just that – workhorse varietals. His Zinfandel is destemmed but dried in the sun to combat this grape’s known excessive fruitiness, allowing for the acid to shine and other more dormant flavors to arise, such as tea leaves. This is just one technique he has adopted from his Portuguese winemaking roots and has applied to a non-Portuguese grape.
Personally, I have always admired winemakers who go after varietals that drive them. David’s fastidious exploration of Zinfandel reminds me of Aaron Jackson of Aaron Wines and his passion for shaking hands intimately with Petite Sirah down in Paso Robles.
I now know firsthand that harvest is physically demanding as you burn both ends of the candle, but when you are passionate about working with the fruit, that trumps any exhaustion and amazingly somehow rejuvenates you. Therefore, the tiredness I sensed in David’s voice earlier was not from working with fruit, but from the demands of having to work two other jobs to make ends meet and spend time with his wife while supporting his burgeoning winemaking efforts.
As someone who is also trying to stick to her guns and not let my wine passions become eclipsed by work while learning to balance these passions with my personal life, I really related and respected David’s struggle because it takes a lot of patience and faith in yourself. Having a loving partner who believes in you and takes part in your passions is also a wonderful thing to experience together at the end of the day. I look forward to the day when he can quit one of those jobs to increase his production and tap into his roots even further with a small batch of Madeira.
David’s wines at Lusu Cellars have inspired me to tap into my California roots by creating a California Field Blend Flight for Vine Graft with wines that speak to history and place.