Orinda has many things going for it – small town charm, excellent schools and big-hearted volunteer spirit. There’s one more community asset which might be surprising: an award-winning winery, selling handcrafted varietals, from the lightest Sauvignon Blanc to the heartiest Petite Sirah.
Tarabrook Winery, a mere quarter-mile from Theatre Square, has been producing small batches of wine since 2011. What began as a lark and a hobby for best friends Bill Pence and Chris Cook, transformed into an impressive professional operation. Tarabrook became bonded in April 2019, enabling Pence and Cook to publicly sell wines they previously shared with friends and family.
Becoming a winemaker was an unexpected development for Pence, who taught high school biology for 37 years and won California Teacher of the Year in 1999. His present-day passion had roots in his lineage, however.
“I should have known it was in my blood,” Pence said. “I was named after my grandfather who was a corn farmer during Prohibition. So what can you make in a bathtub with corn? Even the sheriff pulled up in his car and my grandfather would come out with a case of his bathtub hooch.”
Pence started brewing beer at home in 2010, a year after he retired. In 2011, Cook, a former journalist with the BBC, suggested they try making wine. The idea fit well with Pence’s science background and knowledge of fermentation and sanitizing techniques. He transformed his backyard into a vineyard and his home into a winery. He and Cook got cooking, or rather fermenting, on their wine.
The duo is largely self-taught, having taken one, two-hour class in the parking lot of a Concord store which sells homebrew and winemaking supplies.
Pence, who said the idea of continuous learning inspires him, devoured the same enology textbooks used in the renowned winemaking program at UC Davis
Although many wineries source grapes from other vineyards, Pence wanted to grow at least some of his own. Professionals said his north-facing backyard slope with limited amounts of sun, soil with volcanic minimality and specific microclimate, would lend itself well to Tempranillo. Over the next several years, Pence painstakingly terraced his half-acre backyard, and he and Cook planted what is now a vineyard with 185 Tempranillo vines.
“People visit and say, ‘I didn’t know you were into Tempranillo,’ and I tell them I didn’t either!” said Pence. The fruit is known as the noble grape of Spain and is the most widely planted varietal there. Tarabrook’s Estate Tempranillo is deep red with rich fruit flavors of cherry, red and black currant.
The official role of head winemaker belongs to Pence, while Cook occupies the equally vital role of assistant winemaker. He helps with procuring grapes from other sources, crushing and destemming the grapes, separating the juice from the skin and seeds and weighing in on periodic tastings.
From early in their winemaking venture, Pence and Cook’s hard work paid off. In 2015, the first year they competed, Tarabrook received a double gold for their 2013 Zinfandel and a Best in Class (better than gold) for their 2015 Petite Sirah in an amateur contest at the California State Fair.
In 2022, Tarabrook entered the Orange County Fair Wine Competition, the world’s largest contest featuring only California wines. They won silver for all three entries of Petite Sirah, Grenache and Zinfandel.
Once bonded, they embraced the “wine club model,” selling to dedicated customers and hosting tastings.
“We had our first pouring event in December 2019,” said Pence. “A couple of months later, there’s a global pandemic and we had to pause. I started delivering as little as three bottles of wine as far as Mountain House. It’s a good thing I drive a Prius.”
Tarabrook Winery has a small home business permit which does not allow regular tasting hours. The next pouring event is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 11. Visitors are welcome to drop in between noon to 4 p.m.
“We not only love both the art and science that goes into transforming sugary, ripe grapes to artisan fine wine, but most importantly, seeing our community enthusiastically embracing literally the fruits of our labor at our semi-annual wine pouring events,” said Pence.
Kathy Cordova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
25 Tarabrook Dr.
Orinda, California 94563
Join the Friends of Tarabrook Winery Facebook Group for news about events and other updates.
Tarabrook doesn’t charge for deliveries within a 10-mile radius of the winery. For deliveries over 10 and up to a 50-mile radius they charge a $10 fee and require a minimum $200 purchase.