When John Tudal purchased the unassuming, 6,000-square-foot, three-story property across from Jack London Square in Oakland three years ago, the real estate developer thought he was merely acquiring another old office building to refurbish. Little did he know that this once–cold storage building would be the catalyst to take him on a special journey home again.
This Webster Street location is dear to Tudal, because he was born across the Bay in Alameda, where his family raised radishes, spinach and lettuce on their 30-acre farm on Bay Farm Island. This is the neighborhood where the 120-year-old Oakland Produce Market still stands just a block away, where as a teenager Tudal would help truck his family’s fresh-picked bounty to sell. And now, it’s where he has chosen to open his Cerruti Cellars, a hip urban winery, tasting room and educational center.
“I never thought I’d be doing this here,’’ says Tudal, 57, who lives in Piedmont. “But I’ve always believed in Oakland. I lived here for 20 years. You used to never see people walking around here with strollers. This area is alive now.’’
With the East Bay home to 22 wineries now, and Oakland a hotbed of new restaurants and nightlife, Tudal thought this would be the ideal spot for Cerruti Cellars, which is located directly across the train tracks from the much-anticipated Jack London Market food hall, which is expected to open sometime in 2011.
Cerruti Cellars, which takes its moniker from his mother’s maiden name, produces about 10,000 cases annually of easy-to-drink, easy-on-the-pocketbook wines such as the well-known Tractor Shed Red, a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese and Zinfandel that was inspired by a real red tractor that Tudal drove on the family farm.
This marks Tudal’s second foray into winemaking, having taken over his family’s Tudal Winery just north of St. Helena, in 2001. That winery, which produces about 1,000 cases annually, primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the oldest vines in California, was started by his parents in the 1970s, after they sold their farm to retire to the Napa Valley. Those wines became a favorite of slugger Joe DiMaggio, who was always welcomed into the Tudal home with a big plate of homemade ravioli.
Tudal, a zealous, silver-haired winemaker who can bend your ear for hours on anything and everything wine-related, has already endured his share of ribbing from his Napa Valley neighbors about setting up shop in
“People in Napa think I’m crazy for opening here,’’ he says. “But you know, sometimes crazy is good.’’
You sure get that feeling that he may be crazy like a fox — in the best of ways — as you walk through Cerruti Cellars’ tasting and barrel rooms, done up in a rustic-chic, modern vibe with ceiling lights made from reclaimed barrel racks and staves, corrugated steel for bar paneling, recycled paint cans for spittoons and a whimsical bird bath in a corner with a red tractor prominently affixed to it.
Visitors will not only get to taste wines by the flight ($10 to $20), but help make it, too. Tudal hopes to truck in 2,500 gallons of pressed juice and invite wine club members
to take part in the bottling. Afterward, they can tote their bottles home, too.
An expanded outdoor deck facing revitalized Jack London Square is in the works, as is an on-site restaurant that will emphasize food and wine pairings.
Because his dad, who died four years ago, never intended to grow the wine business, Tudal doesn’t really think of himself as following in his father’s footsteps.
“I’m really following in my own,’’ Tudal says about his return to this iconic place.
Cerruti Cellars, 100 Webster St., Suite 100, Oakland, (510) 550-2900, www.cerruticellars.com