The Urban Wine Movement Heads to Richmond

Kevin and Barbara Brown of R&B Cellars, along with Jeff Cohn of Jeff Cohn Cellars, are bringing new life via wine, cider, and beer to the waterfront.


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Barbara and Kevin Brown of R&B Cellars are pioneers on the Richmond waterfront.

Photo by Pat Mazzera

The Canal Boulevard exit off Interstate 580 West, just before the Richmond Bridge, isn’t much to look at. Heading south, visitors are greeted by rusty railroad tracks and the Conoco-Phillips oil terminal—its presence announced by the “76” emblazoned upon the facility’s exterior walls and signs warning against harmful chemicals. Then, a big metal sign appears, hoisted up by woven iron posts, reads: Point Potrero, Historic Richmond Shipyard No. 3.

A circuitous passage around the old Permanente Metals Corporation shipyard—now occupied by a fleet of brand-new Subarus lined in rows like soldiers—leads you to the pier, where a steel warehouse overlooks the water. This is the home of Riggers Loft, the newest destination for Bay Area wine connoisseurs.

Last year, Kevin and Barbara Brown, the founders of R&B Cellars, left their home at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. After looking at facilities in Alameda, a friend mentioned Richmond as a possibility. The old historic shipyard, they learned, was open for development.

“We saw potential with a view,” Barbara Brown explained. “There’s been no looking back at all.”

The Browns’ Riggers Loft Wine Company is the building’s official tenant, though they lease space to several other beverage makers. The shared, cooperative-style tasting room offers a one-of-a-kind waterfront view, expansive ceilings, and décor that smacks of the building’s World War II roots. It also runs along The Bay Trail, accessible by bike.

Jeff Cohn of Jeff Cohn Cellars, a former lead winemaker for Rosenblum Cellars, headlines the space’s crop vintners. Charlie and Margaret Dollbaum of Carica Wines followed the Browns from Rock Wall to Riggers Loft. Other tenants include Bob Lynch’s Irish Monkey Cellars, which relocated from East Oakland, and Galatea Effect, whose high-end wines are designed by Joel Clapick with the help of Cohn.

The loft’s newest member, Far West Cider Co., offers the loft’s only non-wine product. Founder Adam Chinchiolo, a fourth-generation apple grower, sources apples from his family’s farm in San Joaquin County; he expects to have his growlers and kegs available for distribution this summer.

The sunrises and the sunsets, Cohn says, are his favorite aspects of the new headquarters. He waxes poetic about his sleepless first harvest on the pier: “To see a sunrise and a sunset in the same day, there really isn’t something more spectacular. It’s beautiful over here.”

Whether a full-fledged community of winemakers and brewers is forming at Shipyard 3 remains to be seen, but momentum seems to be gathering. This summer, for instance, East Brother Beer Co. will open its doors down the road. It’s tagline, “Beer is Labor,” is a fitting nod to the most prolific American shipyard in World War II.

As for Riggers Loft, the Browns have big plans for the space in the coming months. The space boasts events nearly every night it’s open. On Fridays and Saturdays, it houses musical guests, a riff on the theme “the marriage of music and wine” that the Browns infuse their R&B products with. On July 3, along with the historic ship Red Oak Victory, the space will host five food trucks and a barbecue, and there will be a scavenger hunt on the ship itself, among other activities. Then, the space will offer a front-row view to the fireworks from the Craneway Pavilion, a show perennially accompanied by the Oakland Symphony. On July 4, the space will offer wine tasting, a 16-piece band, and more fireworks.

Winemaker Cohn believes wine is magical. In fact, he regularly informs his employees that they’re creating magic. And, as he leaves Riggers Loft, Cohn says rhetorically, “If you’re not making magic everyday, then what the hell are you doing with your life?”

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