Melody Fuller and Michael Silacci of Opus One winery. Photo: Clifford Blueitt/ABC Photography
Melody Fuller tastes Opus One wine with winemaker Michael Silacci at an Oakland Wine Festival preview event at the Waterfront Hotel April 21. Photo: Clifford Blueitt/ABC Photography

Oakland is getting its first ever wine festival. Next month, food and wine writer Melody Fuller, in conjunction with several high-profile California wineries and East Bay chefs, will host a day-long event of classes, panels and tastings July 18 at Mills College in East Oakland.

Fuller is an alumna of Mills and serves as the food and wine editor for Alameda County Renew Magazine. She hopes that the Oakland Wine Festival will facilitate the same conversations and hospitality that she has experienced when traveling to vineyards in both California and abroad. “The Oakland Wine Festival is the result of the desire to further acknowledge an overlooked – yet key – community of wine lovers who appreciate having world-class vintners and chefs within arm’s reach,” she said in a statement. “We couldn’t think of a more perfect way to showcase a treasure of wines and unbridled wine making talents.”

The one-day festival first began to take shape last year through conversations between Fuller and her friends in the wine world. She says that was determined to build a unique festival for Oakland. Indeed, two of the day’s events are more intimate than what is normally experienced at large food and wine festivals.

At lunch, guests are seated with a winemaker at each table. Each table will be served the same four course menu, but the selected winemakers will all have chosen different wine pairings for the meal. “Its super exciting because all the winemakers interpret the pairing differently,” Fuller said. “What could go with cheese, the trio of salads, and the sandwiches,” is all flexible. Plus, she added, the luncheon will be intimate, so guests can “hear and be heard, which is critical.”

In the afternoon, a “Elegant Baby Grand Tasting” will be held, in which each guest will have an opportunity to sit down and chat with select winemakers. Attendees can schedule up to five conversations.

Rounding out the event will be a series of twelve dinners; one, featuring wine from Silverado and food from James Syhabout of Commis, Hawker Fare, and The Dock, will take place on the Mills campus. The other dinners will be held at Oakland restaurants. These meals will be “true winemaker dinners,” as each chef will develop the menu to suit the chosen winemaker. Fuller herself made the pairings. “I had a lot of fun deciding how to pair the chefs and wineries,” she said.

Guests taste wine at Pican. Photo: Clifford Blueitt/ABC Photography
Guests taste wine from Pride Mountain Vineyards at an Oakland Wine Festival preview event held at Oakland’s Picán May 5. Photo: Clifford Blueitt/ABC Photography
Guests taste wine from Pride Mountain Vineyards at an Oakland Wine Festival preview event held at Oakland’s Picán May 5. Photo: Clifford Blueitt/ABC Photography

In addition to Syhabout, the festival counts over 30 chefs among its participants. “A key part of our mission is to build new relationships and deepen old relationships between winemakers, wineries, wine aficionados and curious wine enthusiasts from Oakland and the Greater Bay Area,” said Fuller in a statement. Fuller has signed on the likes of Paul Canales (Duende), Tanya Holland (Brown Sugar Kitchen), Jerome Fressinier (Picán), Anthony Salguero (Michel Bistro), Nelson German (alaMar), Craig DiFonzo (Lungomare), Roger Rungpha (Ozumo), Jonah Rhodehamel (Oliveto), Rocky Maselli (A16 Rockridge), Michael Cook (A’Cote) and Michael Baker (Lake Chalet).

The winery list is even longer (find a full list here); those participating in the dinners include Cain Vineyard and Winery, Cakebread Cellars, Chappellet Winery, Corley Family Napa Valley Monticello Vineyards, Gallegos Wines, Hestan Vineyards, Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, Matthiasson Wines, Rosenblum Cellars, Silverado Vineyards, Sonoma-Loeb and Trefethen Family Vineyards.

The Oakland Wine Festival is not only concerned with enjoying food and wine. Fuller has partnered with ten local charities, counting them as “benefitting partners.” 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to the group, which includes Children’s Hospital Oakland’s Family House, the Cameron Fuller-Holloway Memorial Fund at St. Mary’s College High School and two alternative family services.

While the wine festival is the first of its kind to be held in Oakland, the East Bay Vintners Alliance, whose members are all wineries located in the East Bay, holds an annual Urban Wine Experience event. This year, it takes place Saturday, Aug. 1 at Jack London Square.

Tickets for the Oakland Wine Festival, which range in price from $45 for a single session to $545 for a full-day package, are available at the festival’s website

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Kate Williams

Kate Williams has been writing about food since 2009. After spending two years developing recipes for cookbooks at America’s Test Kitchen, she moved to Berkeley and began work as a freelance writer and...