Urbano Cellars to Close in April, Ushering in Maître de Chai

The small winery has been operating in West Berkeley since 2011 and is closing for retirement, making way for another winery from Napa to move in.

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The owners and winemakers of Urbano Cellars in West Berkeley recently announced plans to retire and close Urbano Cellars by the end of April 2020. If you've been meaning to try Urbano Cellars' wine or stock up, now is the perfect opportunity — all bottles of wine are on sale, with prices as low as $15 per liter. But don't worry, West Berkeley isn't down a winery. Maître de Chai, a Napa winery, is taking over the Urbano Cellars space. It expects to open to the public for tasting room hours this summer.

Urbano Cellars traces its roots back to a San Francisco garage. Wine enthusiasts Bob Rawson and Fred Dick started out making wine in Rawson's garage (it was the bigger of the two, they say). When they founded Urbano Cellars in 2006, they worked out of small wineries in Oakland and Emeryville. In 2011, they moved to their current location at 2323 B Fourth St., where Rawson and Dick make all their wines and operate a weekend-only tasting room.

Urbano Cellars is known for its "food-friendly" wines, acidic enough to cut through oily foods without overwhelming the food. Urbano also is known for making unusual varietals of wine, shying away from zinfandels and chardonnays in favor of less well-known varietals such as Barberas and Terodelgos. Rawson and Dick run pretty much every aspect of the winery themselves, from the winemaking to the business side of things. When customers visit the winery, they'll usually find Rawson and Dick running the tasting room. They cited tiring six-day work weeks as part of their reason for retirement, though Rawson said he'll miss the strong community that Urbano Cellars built over the years.

"Being able to produce a product that we love to produce and that our customers really like, that has been quite satisfying," Rawson said. "We're really just thankful to our community and our customers over the years that have really, really supported us and have come here a lot — many of whom have become friends."

Meanwhile, Maître de Chai, which was established by winemakers Marty Winters and Alex Pitts in 2012, is making the move from Napa to Berkeley. This will be the winery's first space of its own; the wines are currently made in custom crush facilities in Napa.

Maître de Chai primarily makes its wine using grapes from dry-farmed, old-vine vineyards in California. "We saw some of these old vine sauvignon blanc or hundred-year-old zinfandel that people were kind of skipping over to make other different styles," Winters said. "We were amazed that some of these really noble and incredible vineyards that have a window into California's past were getting skipped over."

The winery also works with vineyards that are either organic or transitioning to organic. "Converting a lot of these old vine vineyards over to dry farming and organics is something that we really wanted to showcase," Winters said. The wines are also natural and low-intervention.

"We don't really add or take away anything. If a wine needs sulfur, we'll add it, and if it doesn't, we won't," Winters said.

Some of the winery's signature varietals include the Herron sauvignon blanc, a sparkling and still chenin blanc, and a chardonnay. To learn more about Maître de Chai, visit the website, MDC.wine or visit the winery on Instagram @mdcwine.

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