Taft Street Winery
Sonoma County region
Incredible wines that are considered among the best values in the entire wine industry
It all started back in the early 1970’s for brothers Mike and John Tierney. The Oakland natives were both students at the time, Mike in graduate school pursuing his doctorate in anthropology and John an undergrad studying geography at the nearby University of California at Berkeley.
Interestingly, the Tierney Family had spent many of their summers vacationing in the nearby wine canyons of Sonoma County and the area became something of a second home to the youths during their teens. And throughout those times, both brothers sought to support themselves with a variety of restaurant jobs that continued their early interest in both Sonoma and the wonderful wines that were locally produced.
When John Tierney graduated, he moved to Sonoma where he worked for Château Souverain for a number of years in various capacities. When he decided to move back to Berkeley in the mid-1970’s, he brought with him a wealth of expertise in winemaking.
Since the house that Mike lived in dated back to 1918 and its garage was too small to fit a car into, a decision was made to begin making wines on an amateur basis. The garage was upgraded and production was slowly begun. The first wines were called Taft Street Garage or even Le Garage, and were mostly for local consumption by friends and family.
Another local Berkeley business, called Wine and the People, was the source for grapes and equipment and the enterprise slowly grew. By the late 1970’s, the garage facility was producing around 1,000 gallons, a neat feat in itself until a disgruntled neighbor reported Taft Street to the BATF.
Even though the incident was soon settled, the Tierney brothers and their cadre of friends and relatives, who were also to become owners of Taft Street, knew something better lay ahead.
“My brother made a wine and won the Best of Show Award for Amateur Winemaking at the California State Fair,” Mike Tierney recalled. “That was all the encouragement we needed. All our friends exhorted us to take some action and it really sounded like a great idea. We made a decision to get into the business for real and our Taft Street Garage brand became the Taft Street Winery.”
On April 1, 1982, Taft Street Winery secured its bond and became a professional entity. Its first release amounted to between 1,500 and 2,000 cases, and met with instant critical acclaim.
For the next eight years, Taft Street grew and in 1990, reached an agreement with Wm. Grant & Sons (originally a Scotch producer) to represent their products. Wm. Grant urged Taft Street to expand its operation and within a few years the winery’s total production was up to 65,000 cases.
“By the advent of the millennium,” offered Tierney, “we did some real soul searching and decided to dissolve the Wm. Grant relationship. We started out being a Sonoma County winery and had gotten away from that with constant expansion through the decade. We all knew that something was necessary to bring us back to where we wanted to be.”
Today’s Taft Street Winery is comprised of approximately twelve different ownership entities, all belonging to close friends or family. The winery has settled into a more comfortable level of production around 22,000 cases, all of it originating in Sonoma County.
Taft Street Winery focuses on the primary varietals of the area and is particularly pleased with its multiple award-winning Chardonnays and Merlots.
“This is where we really wanted to be,” Tierney added. “After all, we lived and grew up in Sonoma and we have finally returned to our roots.”
Taft Street Winery has come a long way since its inception in Mike Tierney’s garage. As mentioned above, it is a tribute to hard work and determination. It also happens to produce some really incredible wines that are considered among the best values in the entire wine industry.
About the Vineyard
The grapes for Taft Street’s 2007 ‘Garagistes’ Pinot Noir came from Joe Keith’s Manchester Ridge Vineyard in the Mendocino Ridge appellation. Located in coastal Mendocino County, California, the boundaries of this region include a range of coastal mountains adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. Although this area covers more than 250,000 acres, the only land suitable for grape growing lies on hilltops 1,500 feet or higher in elevation. This prestigious area is freed from fog and the vines enjoy long sun-filied days with sharply contrasting cool nights. The resulting fruit possesses the classic balance of fruit and acidity, so important in the production of the very best Pinot Noirs.
Currently planted to 19 acres of Pinot Noir and 11 acres of Chardonnay, this highly coveted site is depended upon by a handful of wineries for producing award-winning wines of supreme quality. The wines from Manchester Ridge Vineyard are distinctly vibrant, with a wonderful delicacy yet intensity of flavor. They have purity and grace, and Taft Street’s 2007 ‘Garagistes’ Pinot Noir demonstrates just that.
The Art of Fine Wine
Sonoma Vineyard by Russian River
Painted by Lynne Ricciardi during the spring season when mustard blooms and the vineyard colors are striking.
This barn and vineyard are close to the famed Martinelli Vineyards on Russian River Road.
Evelyn White - Winemaker
Evelyn White has been the winemaker at Taft Street since 2007, and brings almost 30 years of experience to the growing winery.
After graduating from Sonoma State University with a degree in Biology and Chemistry, Evelyn took a temporary harvest position at Château St. Jean, and ended up as a laboratory technician for the winery. She enrolled in several enology and viticulture courses at Santa Rosa College to further her winemaking education, and then became the assistant winemaker for Lyeth Winery in Geyserville. In 1992, she moved to Clos du Bois Wines, where she spent 11 years and became the head winemaker, and in 2004 she joined Delicato Family Vineyards.
Today, Evelyn enjoys winemaking for Taft Street Winery and also serves as a member of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture. In her free time, Evelyn takes part in cooking, gardening, and traveling worldwide with her husband.
Mike Tierney - President of Taft Street Winery
Even at the tender age of 66, it is abundantly clear to anyone who knows Mike Tierney that his sense of humor is still perfectly intact. He has survived more than three decades in the winery business and still has a positive attitude toward the future.
He is the president of Taft Street Winery because in his words, ‘I am the oldest one around.”
Mike was teaching at the University of the South Pacific (possessing possibly the most grandiose set of campuses in the entire world) when he decided to return home and get his doctorate. That completed, Mike admits he fell under the spell of his younger brother John, who had been utterly bitten by the wine bug.
‘I completed my academic work and looked around and decided I really didn’t want to teach all the rest of my life,” he recently admitted. ‘About the same time, John became really interested in wine and we decided to do something about it.
That ‘something’ involved an East Bay tradition known as Wine and the People, and its farsighted owner Peter Brehm. Brehm was among the first entrepreneurs to approach a number of iconic Napa and Sonoma growers and buy surplus grapes. Brehm resold the grapes to amateur winemakers like John Tierney at a fraction of the cost a normal winery would have paid. The results were almost incredible for a number of his customers.
‘My brother made a wine and won the Best of Show Award for Amateur Winemaking at the California State Fair,” Tierney recalled. ‘That was all the encouragement we needed. All our friends exhorted us to take some action and it really sounded like a great idea. We made a decision to get into the business for real and our Taft Street Garage brand became the Taft Street Winery.”
John Tierney became the entity’s winemaker and Mike handled the winery’s marketing. A number of their closest friends and family invested in the project and the winery slowly grew in statue and production. Taft Street Winery did well enough to attract the attention of an international marketing company and became a part of that company in 1990.
‘I’m not sure that the decision was very wise,” Tierney admitted. ‘They wanted us to grow and the only way we could do that was to get grapes from Monterey and other areas to make the wines. It started to take us away from our real interest, which, of course, was Sonoma County.”
When that relationship ceased a decade later, Mike Tierney was the leading force that made Taft Street return to its initial set of values, those being Sonoma County wines. He knew a value-oriented philosophy was still the correct way to approach the future and he urged his partners to head in that direction.