John Locke (left) and Alex Krause of Birichino
Dining Reviews

Alex Krause and John Locke to Open Birichino Tasting Room

Birichino will offer an intimate wine tasting experience with an old-world feel

John Locke (left) and Alex Krause of Birichino strike a classic pose. PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN LOCKE

The mid-century building at 204 Church St. offers plenty of creamy natural light and a vintage footprint for what will be downtown’s newest wine tasting location. Before its current transformation into Birichino Tasting Room—in progress—the long, high-ceilinged space was home to Blodgett Travel, and more recently housed Pure Pleasure. Surely both a sense of journey as well as pleasure will be channeled into the new home of wines made by partners Alex Krause and John Locke, who first joined playful intelligences working with Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard. I got a preview glimpse last week of the handsome cast pewter bar—1,100 pounds of crucial ambience. Clusters of vintage photographs, old topographic maps, lithographs and other eclectic visual metaphors will adorn the new tasting room. A saloon-sized mirror, deep sea-green silk wall treatment, and tchotchkes of prankster proportions should add chic to the space that will include wine storage, tasting accoutrements and retail inventory.

The partners are admittedly stoked about just how cool and welcoming the downtown tasting room will be upon completion. “We are very much the exception,” Locke admits, noting that Birichino first established national and international visibility and distribution, before opening a tasting room. “You cannot really duplicate the experience of pouring for and talking to a consumer in an environment of our own creation,” he says, with a broad grin. “We might not reach a huge number of people, but we have a much better chance of creating loyal customers by lavishing attention directly upon them rather than through tech sheets and trade tastings.” Locke, as founding wine maestro at Soif, is a master of lavishing attention and wine lore in equal proportions.

Yes, there have been the usual permit-driven delays in getting the tasting room completed. But with distribution well in place, those delays weren’t fatal. Expect to see Krause and Locke in person, on site. “We will absolutely be there a significant amount of time,” Locke promises. “But harvest will be upon us in the blink of an eye.” And that means the winemakers will need to spend time in the vineyards—the huge seasonal crunch that is part of the “romance” of winemaking. 

Helping to remodel and transform the space are Greg Nolen and son Evan of Nolen Technical Services. “They also give us great ideas, and tell us when ours are lunacy,” Locke adds. “John McKelvey, an old friend of Alex’s is our architect. Stripe has helped on many design elements. The saving grace of Birichino is that Alex and I are able to develop a common vision for everything we do. He is the world’s best business partner.  With the help of these people, we have been able to put together a design we both love and agree upon.”

Locke is aware of the amount of work ahead in terms of shaping the brand and creating the wines. “We have arrived at the late-middle first step on a great Escheresque staircase.  I feel like I am just beginning to really be familiar with two of our wines—the Malvasia Bianca and the Besson Old Vine Grenache. I mean really understand. There is such a vast chasm between pretty good wine and the real thing. Anyone who thinks they have mastered a vineyard after a few years is delusional.”

The most satisfying aspect of all of this? “Standing in a beautiful vineyard on a beautiful day and wondering how you tease the most out of it. Winemaking is a great exercise in synthesis of knowledge, experience, data and aesthetic sensibility. It is not all philosophical B.S.,” he says. “I suppose the short answer is contemplating the intersection of the cerebral and the aesthetic, and then communicating my excitement about it to interested people, that’s what is most gratifying. And playing. Combining the cerebral, aesthetic and funny—that’s your trifecta.”

At the Birichino tasting room, locals will be able to sample some of the house signatures—including the Besson Vineyard Grenache, a highly approachable creation of old vine grapes loaded with character, spice, cranberries, and coastal attitude, and the sprightly Malvasia Bianca. The 2017 vintage will bring more Pinot Noirs into the Birichino stable. “And a fizzy Malvasia we call Petulant Naturel as well as our Vin Gris and our Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc,” he says. Locke also promises a methode champenoise Chenin Blanc coming online this year. “We shall have to see what the vineyard wants to do.”

Birichino (pronounced, beer-a-keeno) is Italian for “naughty.” Expect nothing less once the Birichino Tasting Room opens later this summer. birichino.com.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Her new book 'Inside the Flame' is available at Bookshop Santa Cruz and on Amazon. Visit her website at ChristinaWaters.com.

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