Syrahz N the Hood 

From their 22nd Avenue Oaktown space, these three winemakers aim at a highbrow market.

A stroke of luck, and then another, put two talented home winemakers into business as Oakland's first winery. Jack States and Randy Keyworth had been making tiny batches of Pinots Noirs and Cabernets Sauvignons under their private label, Lost Canyon Cellars, since they first took classes at Berkeley's Wine and the People in the late 1970s. Over the decades, the two friends and co-workers talked about going pro, but the logistics seemed insurmountable.

But when a developer friend offered to build out a space for them in a 22nd Avenue property he was renovating, they decided to jump. At the same time, they hooked up with Bob Riskin, a oenophile friend with considerable experience in corporate sales and building brands. He decided to add his business savvy to the partnership, and Lost Canyon Winery released its first four wines twelve weeks ago.

"Once we decided to open the winery, we met with forty to fifty winemakers," States recalls. "All of them asked us the same thing: 'You know you're crazy to be doing this?' That was the qualifying question. Once we answered yes, they were amazingly generous with their time."

Even after all those consultations, States and Keyworth quickly found that going from twenty cases a year to 350 -- and now 1,500 -- wasn't a matter of relearning their craft. "We have a winemaking style that we have developed over many years. We knew what we wanted to do," States says. Instead they faced two challenges: money and grapes.

The money challenge won't go away anytime soon; it'll be years before Lost Canyon even begins to recoup its start-up costs. Keeping the winery in Oakland has allowed the three men to keep their day jobs, sleep in their beds every night, and yet be only an hour's drive away from the vineyards.

As for the fruit, they were lucky to enter the market during a grape glut: they signed long-term agreements with a couple of big-name Sonoma and Russian River vineyards. Now their Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes are growing next to those earmarked for some of Sonoma's superstar winemakers, allowing Lost Canyon to piggyback on their more experienced colleagues' knowledge of the fields. "When they pick, you pick," Keyworth says.

They're shooting for the premium market, selling bottles in the $35 range. Lost Valley's wines range in tone from the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, with its bright berry flavor and lilting finish, to a gorgeous cool-weather Syrah from the Stage Gulch Vineyard, where leather and tobacco give way to rich prunes and raisins. In the months since they released their 2001 vintages, they've gotten some great attention: a silver medal from the 2003 Chronicle Wine Competition for their 2001 Carneros Pinot Noir, and positive strokes in a couple of influential wine newsletters.

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