THE INDEPENDENT SPIRITS OF ARTISAN ALLEY
By Marcy Gordon
Sonoma Discoveries Magazine
A few blocks off the Windsor Town green, in a quiet warehouse zone on Bell Road, there’s something special going on—The Artisan Alley Beverage District.
Like the house of artistic hepcats that threw the best parties in college, the Artisan Alley collective has attracted a group of cool people, making cool things—and best of all those cool things are wine, spirits and cider—the triumvirate of adult beverages.
The group of on-site beverage makers includes Colagrossi Wines, Tilted Shed Ciderworks, Sonoma Brothers Distilling, Two Shepherds Wine, and coming soon, the Barley and Bine Beer Café. It’s a one-stop made-on-site tasting room experience not to be missed.
Tilted Shed Ciderworks
Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli have backgrounds in fine arts and publishing, but their interest in the back-to-the-land movement and a desire to connect with people through agricultural products led them to open Tilted Shed Ciderworks.
“We are very inquisitive and slightly impetuous. We like to read and research and dig deep, so we started to read books on cider and cider apples and then one thing led to another and it just became an obsession,” says Cavalli.
Tilted Shed Ciderworks was the first cider tasting room in Sonoma County to take a wine tasting room approach to the ciders. They also hold sensory training and seminars for their cider club members, cider professionals and enthusiasts.
“For us it is about expressing the apple and showing what Sonoma county means in terms of cider. It’s a wonderful thing to explore. That’s why we do what we do!” states Cavalli.
And what they do is thoroughly delicious. Each year they work with up to 60 different varieties of apples (all organic, if not certified) to make five core ciders including Graviva, Inclinado, Smoked, Barred Rock, and Lost Orchard. In 2016 their first Estate Blend was made using 16 varieties from their own farm. Cider club members get first access to all releases and exclusive experimental batches called cider studies. For every cider, Heath presses and ferments the varieties separately and then blends together to form final batches.
For Heath and Cavalli, Artisan Alley provides a source of strength and community with the challenges of running a small business. Tilted Shed, like all the other members of Artisan Alley, has no employees.
“We borrow tables and chairs from Craig Colagrossi for our seminars and he borrows our forklift. We look to help each other out all the time and really root for each other’s success; it’s great.”
Suggested Sip: Lost Orchard Dry Cider—This dry-aged cider made with apples sourced from abandoned orchards has a through-line of crisp yet creamy baked apple flavors with great balance and a steely finish.
Craig Colagrossi first started making wine at home in 1995 and then began making wine commercially in 2009. Known for his Italian varietals such as Sangiovese and Barbera, he also makes Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot as single varietals and for blending options.
“I was given advice early on to make wines that are true to you, don’t follow trends or chase the customer. Make what you like and the customers will find you,” says Colagrossi. “We present a niche for the wine drinker that wants a small crafted experience.”
Colagrossi exudes friendliness and much like his wines, he, too, is warm, approachable and accessible. Tastings at the micro-winery are rarely standard.
“I like to be informal, we don’t have a cookie-cutter tasting experience – depending on what the customer is interested in, we may barrel taste or even do some blending. It’s always different. I keep it fun and like to add some educational aspect depending on what’s going on that week.”
As we spoke, and as if on cue, Scott Heath of Tilted Shed wandered in to borrow a table and chairs. Very much like a dorm room atmosphere, the camaraderie of Artisan Alley is plainly evident.
“I have a de-stemmer and a fruit scale that everyone uses and we all share equipment. It’s like a family, it’s very convivial. We are an eclectic group; adventurous and hardworking seems to be the common thread.”
Suggested Sip: 2015 Sangiovese—Grapes from Unti Vineyards in Dry Creek are used in this lush and juicy wine with a deep earthiness and rich fruit flavors.
The Sonoma Brothers small-batch spirits program is focused on grain-to-glass and fruit-to-glass distilling, using as much local fruit and grains as they can source and all-organic botanicals. The brothers, Chris and Brandon Matthies, born and raised in Sonoma, operate the distillery despite working full-time—Chris is a fireman in Santa Rosa and Brandon is a police officer.
Inspired by their uncle’s olive oil company, Olivier Napa Valley, they got the bug for a starting a small business.
“We grew up here and we wanted to bring something unique to the area. At the time there were only about three distilleries in the area, but now it’s a growing trend and we are right in there growing along with it. We were one of the first small distilleries in the area,” says Chris.
“Nothing is automated, we do everything by hand. Everything we do is small batch and slow in small barrel and single-barrel lots, each batch numbered,” adds Brandon.
Their current offerings of gin, vodka, bourbon, rye and apple brandy can be sampled and purchased in their sleek barn-chic tasting room with rustic wood panels and corrugated tin shed siding. Dogs Max and Bailey add a relaxed and welcoming vibe.
Sonoma Brothers aim to change the minds of those who think they don’t like a particular spirit and illuminate what a true handcrafted spirit can be via guided tastings and an educational experience that helps bring new consumers along.
“Many of our customers come for the wine or cider and then see us here and want to learn more about us.” says Brandon. “It’s a great advantage to be situated with a group of like-minded individuals and businesses at Artisan Alley. Collaboration is huge, we did some apple brandy this year and Scott from Tilted Shed helped us press them. We all share a belief in a high level of craftsmanship.”
Suggested Sip: Barrel Aged Bourbon. This smooth sipper has smoky char notes and flavors of vanilla, caramel and cherry. (Add a shot to your morning coffee!)
Two Shepherds Wine
William Allen and Karen Daenen (featured in Sonoma Discoveries June/July 2016 issue) continue to grow their business and collect accolades for their mostly Rhône collection of wines. A chalkboard with a lengthy list of grapes and vineyard names (all now crossed off) is a testament to their ambitious 2016 harvest season. Two Shepherds’ offerings have expanded to include some custom-crush, private-label winemaking ventures and some new very small lot wines such as Pinot Meunier. Blends continue to be popular and their 2014 Pastoral Mélange red blend features Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan and Roussanne.
Arya, an Australian Shepherd and director of hospitality, welcomes tasting room visitors. People are encouraged to bring their own dogs along to frolic with Arya while they taste.
For Two Shepherds, the atmosphere of Artisan Alley suits the dig-in and make-it-happen approach they already employ. “The sense of camaraderie here and the spirit of cooperation is critical to what we do,” says Allen.
Although the concept for Artisan Alley was already under discussion when Two Shepherds arrived in July of 2015, Allen’s marketing background helped organize the formal group meetings and agendas, and established the lead in getting the logo and website finalized.
“People pitch in where they can with various skills. All of us are overwhelmed with two lives, half of us have kids to boot, but it works because we all cooperate and get along and have seen that we all benefit from collaboration.”
Suggested Sip: 2014 Pastoral Mélange, a red blend (50% Mourvedre, 17% Syrah, 17% Carignan, 16% Roussanne), light and delicious with bright red fruit flavors.
Barley and Bine Beer Café
Fate and synchronicity led beer aficionados and Healdsburg natives Lindsay Osborne and Jeff Reitz to Artisan Alley. After living in Portland they saw the possibilities for what a craft beer business could look like. They returned to Sonoma and decided to make their business a reality. While out scouting for a location, they randomly met winemaker Craig Colagrossi at Oliver’s taproom. Intrigued by Colagrossi’s Artisan Alley t-shirt, they struck up a conversation. Beer was the missing link at Artisan Alley; two days later they met with the landlord to see the space and signed a lease.
The Barley and Bine Beer Café (slated to be up and running by June 2017) will be a family-friendly café serving upscale pub food. The menu will consist of soups, sandwiches, chili, mac and cheese with special house-beer cheese sauce, and a charcuterie plate.
While not an actually brewery, the main draw of Barley and Bine Beer Café will be unique beers you can’t get anywhere else. At least half the beers will be local and the rest will be rare, hard-to-find brews.
“We will carry small quantities of hyper-exclusive beers in cans and bottles. When it’s gone, it’s gone,” says Reitz. “We’ll also have 28 beers on draft, along with wine from Two Shepherds and Colagrossi, and a cider from Tilted Shed on tap.”
Windsor on the Beverage Edge Forefront
Windsor is gaining cachet with those in the bev-know. With high-profile brewers like Barrel Brothers nearby, and Russian River Brewing Co. arriving soon, the city is on the cusp of becoming a destination for the beverage class. And Artisan Alley is poised as a model for future dreamers and beverage makers to come. The collective shines a light on what can be accomplished—via true love, true passion and true risk.
“I could not have dreamt of a better situation than here,” says Colagrossi. “It’s very inspiring to be in a place where so many people are diligently acting on their dreams and making them come true.” SD