Oakland is full of trendy natural wine bars. Now El Cerrito gets one


The East Bay is full of great wine bars, including The Ordinary, Punchdown, Bay Grape and Snail Bar. Almost all, however, are concentrated in Oakland. Now we come to El Cerrito – and its owner thinks it will be the only wine bar in this town.

The new spot, Banter, is slated to open in late 2021 or early 2022 at 10368 San Pablo Ave., in the space formerly occupied by the Handcraft Studio art school. Owner Claire Sullivan says he’ll be offering some not-too-great natural wines, botanical decor, and a light fare menu.

“If I opened a wine bar, it would always be in El Cerrito,” says Sullivan. “It felt like there was a real opportunity here.” (Another wine bar in town, Scene, is currently closed.)

Sullivan has a serious pedigree in the Bay Area: his parents are Sylvie and Michael Sullivan, co-founders of Beaune Imports, which imports some of Europe’s most famous wines to the United States such as Domaine des Comtes Lafon and the Domaine de Montille in Burgundy. She says she has always been passionate about wine but wanted to forge her own path rather than join the family business.

Instead, Sullivan has spent the last few years working for Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse. While she started working as a restaurant waitress in college, she is now in a fundraising role for the Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Project, an initiative that teaches school children about food and agriculture.

During the pandemic, however, Sullivan began to rethink his professional goals. “It has always been a fantasy to open my own little corner,” she says. “It wasn’t until a few months ago that I even thought that the crazy dream of opening a wine bar could come true.”

Banter takes inspiration from other East Bay wine bars and shops that Sullivan admires, such as Bay Grape and Minimo. There will be both a retail component and a bar; the corkage fee for opening a bottle on site will be $ 10 more than the retail price. That’s lower than the corkage fees of many other similar models in the Bay Area, which are typically closer to $ 15 or $ 20.

But that’s part of the beauty of being in the more affordable El Cerrito, Sullivan says. “If I had to pay rent in San Francisco, it would be different.

She and her fiancé, Devin Hohler, who helps with the construction, set up a full kitchen. There will be standard wine bar snacks like olives, cheese and cold cuts, but also more substantial dishes like sandwiches, salads and “a hot entree,” Sullivan says. She hopes people can stop by for a casual afternoon drink and a bigger meal.

As for the wines, Sullivan does not yet have details on what will be on offer, but she does know that the selection will shift towards low intervention and natural wines, with an emphasis on organic farming and biodynamic.

“I mean natural, but I don’t mean natural on the funky side of the spectrum, either,” Sullivan says. “It will focus on well-balanced wines with good acidity. This list will not fetishize the obscure; people who just want a glass of familiar-sounding Cabernet or Pinot will find something here, she promises.

While many of the potential spaces she saw in El Cerrito are located in shopping malls, Sullivan was drawn to this one because it is a stand-alone building and bathed in natural light. In addition to the kitchen, she and Hohler install a reclaimed wood bar. The aesthetic will feature “neutral elements with steel accents,” she says. And there will be plants – lots of plants.

More details will emerge as Sullivan nears the opening. She submitted her liquor license application and says the town of El Cerrito has looked supportive so far.

As the news spread, the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, Sullivan says. “People are thrilled to have a neighborhood wine bar that they don’t have to go to in Oakland or Berkeley for.”

Esther Mobley is the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @Esther_mobley


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