Beth and I had a free Wednesday evening the other week so we decided to head over to one of the newer local wine destinations in the East Bay, Artisan Wine Lounge and Cafe. The lounge sits just off the much busier Locust St in downtown Walnut Creek. The map says Stave Wine Lounge and CafÃ©, because the business partners that own Artisan, Lena Chu and Kevin Ng, also own Stave, situated in Napa.
Lena chooses wines from small and cult California wine producers, as well as those that remind her of her years living in Spain. This is also shown in the great small plates menu that they offer. Beth and I weren’t that hungry the night we were there, so we just chose a couple “Small Bites” to nibble on, the Marinated Olives and the Artisan Cheese Plate. We really liked the Manchego cheese, which went quite well with just about every wine we tried that night. The stronger blue cheese that was offered was also outstanding, but we had to leave it towards the end when we had some tastes of the dessert wine.
The ambience of lounge is very kick back, yet with a nice air of a modern, upscale establishment. The converted wine barrel tables give a nice rustic Wine Country feel to the seating area, but the modern metal and marble other surfaces, as well as the slate flooring still add a contemporary feel. You walk in feeling as if you could go home and dress up after work, but you don’t really need to in order to fit in.
The real star of the lounge is the method of tasting…Lena has installed three of my favorite machines on this very Earth…the Enomatic self-dispensing wine servers. These machines make me wish I had the dough to plop down and get a couple for some reds and whites in my kitchen! These awesome machines dispense wine by the 1 oz pour. The wine lush, such as myself, first loads up a monetary value on the swipeable magnetic cards, grabs a nicely cut Eisch Breathable lead-free crystal glass and then proceeds over to the Enomatics to taste. You place your card in the machine and then choose from a selection of 6-8 wines that are already installed in the machine. The prices are fully adjustable with the majority at Artisan ranging from $1.25-$2.50 (very reasonable!). Press the button above the wine that you want to taste and boom, you get a 1 oz pour and the value is subtracted from your card! The volume displaced by the pour is replaced by Nitrogen gas, ensuring that the wine is properly stored until empty. Whites are in a separate machine that is sealed by glass and cooled to the necessary serving temperature.
These machines instantly open up the number of wines that you can try at any one visit…a standard wine pour is 5 oz, so you can try 5 different wines with that amount instead of getting a small pour of the 5 or so wines that a normal wine bar might have open to try. You can even create your own flights or rely on some that Lena has pre-chosen. Also making things easier is that for both the whites and the reds, the wines range from lighter to stronger and bolder, from left to right. One thing you *don’t* want to do with the Enomatics is to press the button 5 times to get a full glass. Lena has separate and cheaper pricing for those wines that you’d like to investigate further with a full pour.
Artisan has become my new favorite hangout in the Creek. It provides everything I might need…a wine store (you can purchase every wine you see on the menu, with a really nice 10% discount if you take it to go!), a coffee and tea shop (or check out Green Tea Cafe next door!), a constantly updated boutique wine tasting bar and a delicious food menu, all with rotating art displays and some rad music. Yum!
Please check out reviews of all of the wines that I’ve currently tasted during my visits to Artisan below (tagged with “ArtisanWL“) and be sure to stop by and say hi to Lena if you get the chance to visit!