The airy, indoor-outdoor tasting room at Berkeley’s Vinca Minor. Credit: Vinca Minor/Facebook

Vinca Minor
1335 Fourth St. (near Camelia Street), Berkeley

We’ve come a long way from grazing boards and cheese pairings with vineyard views. These days, wineries are hiring top-notch chefs to create inventive menus and bring in interior designers to curate a specific vibe, having realized that wine tasting is best marketed as an experience for all the senses. For urban, kitchen-less wineries that can’t hire a permanent chef, pop-ups have become a fun, easygoing solution  — and no one does pop-ups quite like Vinca Minor. 

Located on West Berkeley’s Fourth Street, Vinca Minor’s sun-lit, simple space is smack dab in what’s become a mini-destination for understated East Bay wineries. Broc Cellars, occasionally slinging Year of the Snake pastries on weekends, is a few steps away, and on the other side of University Avenue there’s Matre de Chai, with its cool concrete backyard and tinned fish spreads. At Vinca Minor, they’re pairing their selection of natural wines with the latest, most coveted food operations, bringing them in to serve their crowd-drawing dishes for the long term.

“I came on in 2020, which was obviously a very weird time to start a new job, and as things started opening up a bit, we started doing these small events,” Cassidy Miller told Nosh. She’s Vinca Minor’s assistant winemaker, as well as its tasting room manager and event curator.

“We don’t have a kitchen ourselves, but we did want to offer people some food, so we started doing pop-ups, mainly finding them through Instagram.” 

And Instagram delivered. In recent months, Vinca Minor has featured the outstanding okonomiyaki pop-up Okkon and threw a candlelit dinner with cult Oakland dinner series Hi Felicia. It’s hosted up-and-coming East Bay brands like the Yami Yami, an artisanal pate de fruit by Yamina Merzoug Castro, and Soya, a cake project by Jodi Cruz. These days, two pop-ups are front and center: Dos Raicez on Friday nights, and Mishmish on Saturdays, during the day. 

Dos Raicez is a Mexican food truck specializing in succulent tacos, crunchy tostadas and Peruvian fish dishes like tiraditos. “In May 2021 they did a party with us, and we were so happy with them, so we started to partner every Friday night, for them to have a space to interact with the community,” Miller said.

Mishmish Souq, a vegan Palestinian pop-up by chef Michelle Nazzal, is all about colorful mezzes and stews — think cashew labneh, blue lake beans in tomato and baharat and coconut semolina cake. Mishmish came onboard after participating at the winery’s rose release party, and just started popping up at Vinca Minor on the regular last weekend.

Both pop-ups, Miller said, excel in bold, fresh flavors that pair well with Vinca Minor’s light wines. “We love to bring in cuisines that are just a little bit different, beyond charcuterie,” she said.

“I think it’s exciting to be in Berkeley, where we’ve created a little natural wine community,” Miller said. “People don’t have to drive — it’s an inviting, inclusive experience, approachable, casual and fun, and we don’t want you to come in thinking you know everything about wine. Sometimes the more serious Napa wineries can feel a little intimidating, and also expensive,” she said.

And so, instead of tasting note talks and worry over “pairings,” you get sidewalk seating and a hodgepodge of people, from solo beanie-wearing men equipped with a book, to families with dogs and children. The food is truly made on the spot in creative conditions, in which the lack of a kitchen is bypassed with lots of prep and some improvisational tools.

Dos Raicez has a trailer they cook out of, parked right outside of the winery, while Michelle from Mishmish uses a hotplate. “Her food is insane, and she just started,” Miller said of Mishmash, “so it’s exciting to bring her as one of our residents. It’s been fun to grow together.”