Afternoon traffic bustles below on J Street, as we soak in the view from the Elks Tower penthouse. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Diablo from this balcony 14 floors above downtown Sacramento. The area's surrounding wine country and its bucolic vineyards seem so far away, yet inside the shabby-chic penthouse, plenty of local wine is available for the sipping.
This penthouse (921 11th St., Sacramento) doubles as the tasting room for Rail Bridge Cellars, which was among the first urban wineries to open shop in the city. Its physical winery remains at 400 North 16th St., but Rail Bridge Cellars' penthouse space (Saturday 1-8 p.m. or by appointment) remains a go-to spot for sipping local wine in style.
Four other spots offer the urban winery experience in Sacramento's central city. There's been talk the past few months of business owners forming an official urban wine trail in Sacramento, which would be bookended by Revolution Wines to the east (2831 S St.) and The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento (900 Second St.) to the west.
An official consortium has yet to be formed, but planning continues. Meanwhile, we're taking an early journey along the urban wine trail to see how it might work. The trail makes most sense going east to west (or vice versa), but in this case, because of timing reasons, we started in the city center, headed west and then back east. While much of the trail is walkable, an evening of all five stops would require some kind of motorized transportation (and, of course, a designated driver).
Michelle Mark, tasting room manager of Rail Bridge Cellars, is trying to develop the urban wine trail as her thesis for earning a master's degree in recreational administration at California State University, Sacramento.
"We want people to know all the things they can do that are wine-related in Sacramento," Mark said. "Putting that plan together is still a work in progress."
Back on ground level, we stroll to the K Street mall, then alongside the light-rail tracks. We're taking the 5-minute walk from Rail Bridge Cellars to Downtown & Vine, which opened in December at 12th and K streets. The original idea for Downtown & Vine (Monday-Friday 12-8 p.m., Saturday 12-9 p.m.) was to operate as a tasting room for 12 Northern California wineries, including such locals as Fiddletown Cellars and Vino Noceto of Amador County.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has since thrown a whammy into those plans. Downtown & Vine, which doesn't bottle any of its own wine, is now planning to operate as a more traditional wine bar, and will soon add beer to its menu and expand its food offerings to include tapas and other small plates.
Plenty of wines are still available, with flights of three 2-ounce tastes costing between $7.75 and $17.50. The grilled cheese sandwich bar is worth the order. As we scan the wines available at Downtown & Vine's bottle shop including cabernet sauvignon from Napa's Round Pound a crowd begins to trickle inside. A local ad club is about to hold a mixer, and the room's handsome white chairs have been organized accordingly.
That's our cue to hoof it to Old Sacramento and The Underground Tasting Room at 2nd and I streets. This tasting is below street level, so look for the sign that says, "Winery is downstairs."
This space functions as a tasting room for three wineries: Twisted Twig and Fenton Herriott Vineyards of El Dorado County, and Clarksburg's Rendez-Vous. The Underground Tasting Room (Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.) is run by Chuck and Yvette Ziolkowski of Twisted Twig.
The small, rustic space includes a gift shop with local jams, sauces, vinegars and other ingredients. No wine is actually made here, but flights from each winery cost $10 and include five pours (1 ounce each). For those who want to mix and match, seven pours from a combination of wineries cost $12.50.
Yvette Ziolkowski, who is manning the shop this recent afternoon, says she hopes The Underground Tasting Room will appeal to locals and tourists alike.
"It helps people realize there's great wine right here," said Ziolkowski. "If you're staying at the Sheraton and want to go wine tasting, you don't have to drive an hour."
And here comes a group of tourists, who in this case are from Stockton and Montana and ready to step up to the bar and taste local wines. Let's get out of the way and head to midtown.
Ficklin-Wilcox ranks as the newest urban wine tasting room in town, opening at 920 20th St. in the spring, not far from the MARRS building and trendy Maverique Style House hair salon. Ficklin-Wilcox's home base is far from these midtown streets, and actually located in the small central valley town of Madera.
Step inside Ficklin-Wilcox (Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m-6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.), where the overhead music jump cuts from abstract hip-hop to Cheap Trick's classic rock, and you'll find a veritable house of port-styled wines. Flights start at just $6, and the shop carries more than 30 ports for sipping. Table wines are available, too. (Ficklin-Wilcox also doubles as a houseware shop.)
The last stop is perhaps Sacramento's signature urban winery. Revolution Wines opened in 2007, first occupying a space near a Subway sandwiches location on 21st and P streets. Revolution Wines moved to larger digs in 2010 at 2831 S St., and currently produces about 6,000 cases annually about three times the amount it was bottling on P Street.
Revolution Wines (Tuesday-Thursday 12-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 12-10 p.m., Sunday 12-9 p.m.) remains the only urban winery in Sacramento that has its winemaking operations on the same premises as its tasting room. The 2013 harvest is still in its beginning stages, and a fresh lot of albarino ferments in the production space adjacent to Revolution's tasting room.
An after-work crowd sips on Revolution's wines and nibbles on cheese plates as we check out the scene. Revolution runs a bistro in the tasting room that includes such items as seared scallops try pairing that one with Revolution's albarino when it's ready and a charcuterie plate of cured meats.
It's not a bad deal: all of this wine around the city, without even needing to hop on the freeway.
Call The Bee's Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter@chris_macias.