The evolution of an urban winery collective is curious to watch. While a collective can define an area over time, the initial one or two wineries popping up just don’t seem to quite justify the need for a name. This 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 wineries 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 Street). But at the heart of this area beats the ever revolving small wine facility at 805 Camelia. Since the 1970s, this facility has been used for winemaking, once being home to Broc and now shared between Eno and Lusu Cellars.
Winemaker David Teixeira, and owner of Lusu Cellars, definitely adds to this space’s layered 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, Teixeira is not a winemaker who woke up one day and decided to start dappling in wine because of stories 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 he embraced and has 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.
While working with a number of Rhone, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese varietals, Teixeira grew up making wine specifically from old vine Carignan, and became fascinated with Mataro (Mourvedre) and California’s historic field blends that largely involved Zinfandel. To me, Teixeira’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.
But Teixeira’s wines also give voice to varietals that were once just perceived as workhorse varietals. His Zinfandel is destemmed but dried in the sun to combat this grape’s 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. Teixeira’s fastidious exploration of Zinfandel reminds me of Aaron Jackson of Aaron Wines and his desire to shake hands intimately with Petite Sirah from Paso Robles.
Familial winemaking roots grow deep; for Teixeira, his will come full circle when he is finally able to produce a small batch of Madeira.
Lusu Cellars has inspired Vine Graft to tap into its own roots by creating a California Field Blend Flight, offering wines that speak to history and place.