In 1990, just as Monty Paulsen was wrapping up his winemaking degree at UC Davis, a sinking national economy forced his family to close their Sonoma winery.
His father, comedian and tongue-in-cheek presidential candidate Pat Paulsen, had become in 1976 one of the first celebrities to launch a winery. Pat Paulsen Vineyards' flagship wine was an Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon from the Paulsen Estate Vineyard. It fetched numerous gold medals and "best of show" accolades at wine competitions.
Now, 23 years later, as the country emerges from another recession, Monty has revived the winery and the brand in a hip, live-work space in West Oakland's Pacific Cannery Lofts. The wines of Pat Paulsen Vineyards are
The winery doubles as the East Bay Grape Bar, or EBGB, an underground wine bar where Monty showcases his new wines and hosts art classes, wine dinners and other community events for those in the know. It's a chic space with a marble wraparound bar and bubble chair dangling from the ceiling. He hopes to open to the public as a tasting room later this fall.
The new venture is as much a tribute to Monty's parents -- his mother, Jane, was a critical part of the winery -- as it is a nod to millennial wine drinkers, who will appreciate the funky concept and whimsical labels. So would Monty's father, who produced several
"His political humor was hip, groundbreaking and important to the progressive thinkers of the day," Monty says of his father, who died in 1997 from complications due to colon cancer. "I'd like to think the new Pat Paulsen Vineyards follows in that same vein, with a winemaking style that respects and seeks to get at the truth behind a particular vineyard's full potential, but which doesn't stand on ceremony in how it is presented."
Today, he sources petite sirah, zinfandel, cabernet franc and other varieties from reputed vineyards across California and as far away as Santiago, Chile, which is where the juice for his eponymous EBGB cabernet sauvignon comes from. His relationships with grape growers date back to the 1970s.
"It's been really great getting back in touch with some of the growers my parents worked with," he says.
After Pat Paulsen Vineyards shuttered in 1991, Monty, then 28, went on to earn his MBA at Duke University and teach oenology and wine business management at Napa Valley and Las Positas colleges. Eventually, he landed at Alameda's Rosenblum Cellars, where he worked as vice president of winemaking under Kent Rosenblum.
"One of the best winemaking bosses out there," Monty says. "He gave our staff lots of leeway in how we went about making wine, but he was also very demanding about quality."
He also developed friendships with other East Bay vintners, including Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars and Mike Dashe of Dashe Cellars. He appreciated what they were doing -- building an urban wine experience away from all the pomp of Napa Valley -- and knew he wanted to get on board. He just needed the inventory.
Production is small, about 1,000 cases, but it's growing. Over the past few years, Monty has collected small amounts of quality juice from his favorite consulting projects and used them to rebuild the Pat Paulsen portfolio. A good
"Each time I made a wine I liked, I'd ask the client, 'Hey, can I have 50 cases of that?' " Monty says. That's how he's rebuilding his family's winery, one case at a time.
pat paulsen vineyards
Monty Paulsen's wines are available at Wine Mine in Oakland, Domenico's in Danville and New Leaf Community Market in Capitola and San Jose. He plans to open to the public as a tasting room with regular hours by fall. Meanwhile, if you want to visit the underground wine bar at 1203 Pine St. in Oakland, sign up for the mailing list to find out about upcoming dinners and parties. Or, host your own there. Go to www.patpaulsenvineyards.com.