Close To Home, Far From Ordinary
approaching this hidden oasis of indulgence, one might tend to worry that they are lost. Once you leave the bustling Ygnacio Valley Road corridor, sprawling ranches appear as you approach the base of Mount Diablo Regional Park. It feels as though you are entering a different region entirely. The city sprawl drops out of mind, and you become transfixed on the beauty that unveils itself. Winding through the streets, riders on horseback guide you to the sun-kissed landscape of grapevines behind the gates of Shadowbrook Winery. It is a breathtaking, magnificent view that stuns and is reminiscent of paintings of Tuscany or France, but alas, you are a mere 30 miles from Brentwood. More surprises await once you start to sample the variety of wines that master winemaker and proprietor Tim Jochner has crafted.
Tim’s pride in the region that rests at the base of Mount Diablo is evident in every word he speaks while describing his journey from wine enthusiast to vintner. It’s an overlooked fact that Walnut Creek was once a prominent grape-growing region, bearing more fruit than the walnuts that gave the town its name. In the early 1900s, a tragic infestation of grape mites eradicated the original grapevines pioneered by winemakers with names like De Martini, Cereghino, Glen Terry, J. Levi, and Martinelli (yes, the juice maker). The winemakers turned to farming walnut and almond orchards as a means of saving their land. As prohibition took hold in the 1920s, only the Stewart Winery remained operational. It was headed by a woman who sold her wine for “medicinal purposes.” Since then, there have been no other wineries in Walnut Creek, until Shadowbrook became bonded in 2005. It would be years though, before Tim received the city’s approval to build the current winery tasting room and facility.
“Tim’s pride in the region that rests at the base of Mount Diablo is evident in every word he speaks while describing his journey from wine enthusiast to vintner.”
Tim has a background in financial services. Once he and his wife Courtney bought their home on Shadowbrook Court, a stone’s throw from their current location, Tim did not want to landscape using typical flowers and plants. He and his wife chose to plant grapevines on their plot of land instead. One day, he and a group of friends decided to pick the grapes and ferment them, producing a wine Tim calls “terrible.” However, he found the fruit itself to be amazing! The spark ignited and Tim became passionate about learning how to turn his incredible grapes into a wine he would be happy to drink. Then, he got competitive and raised his goal to a lofty one, aiming for crafting wine that could rival any out of Napa! In 2003, the land across the street from them became available for purchase. Tim saw it as a sign and began his vineyards expansion along the hillside he just purchased. He became approved for winemaking but not tasting. At that point, he hired professional consultants, one who had worked for Napa Valley’s Hess Collection Randall Johnson, and then Rick Tracy who worked throughout Napa, Sonoma, and Oregon, even China and Argentina. Rick shared Tim’s vision of producing a premium wine from the lush fruit growing here in Contra Costa County and remains a consultant to this day.
“When comparing his bottles to those that come out of Napa, Tim is very confident, and rightfully so. Judging up against some of the finest names along the Rutherford Cross and Silverado Trail, his wines have earned 77 awards in the over $50-per-bottle price category. ”
Years after immersing himself wholeheartedly into learning every aspect of crafting a fine wine, Tim spends his days inside a winery befitting a king. In fact, Tim shared a memory of a visit from a legend in the business that felt like a brush with royalty. Says Tim, “I have a good friend who happens to be Robert Mondavi’s dentist. One day in 2005, he unexpectedly called to tell me he had told his client about my new winery, and surprise—Robert and his wife Margrit were coming to see it. It was so surreal! They pulled up in a limo and joined me and my wife for lunch. I was able to discuss winemaking with someone who had experienced the path I had just started on. What an incredible experience that was!”
Tim has invested heavily into having state-of-the-art equipment that allows him to harvest, ferment, and produce the wine all by himself. In fact, the machinery he uses to push down the fruits in the vats where he ferments are the only two in the country. Tim explains his love of the valley that gifts him with the fruit that creates his wine, “Our soil is clay, it’s very neutral. There are no negative influences to interfere, this unique quality allows the fruit to come forward. I’m not battling to balance the flavor, it’s there.” When comparing his bottles to those that come out of Napa, Tim is very confident, and rightfully so. Judging up against some of the finest names along the Rutherford Cross and Silverado Trail, his wines have earned 77 awards in the over $50-per-bottle price category. Tim attributes his success to initially developing a discerning palate, but now relies mostly on his nose. He says, “I don’t even have to taste it, I can dissect it just by smelling. I never thought I’d be able to do that.”
My personal opinion of a fine wine is semi-snobby and comes from being a longtime fan of wine brands such as Groth, Silver Oak, PlumpJack, Heitz, and sometimes Silverado. Stepping out of my comfort zone to celebrate a wine outside of Napa requires a monumental impression. Yet, I purchased both the Jon Rae Meritage and Petite Sirah for my own table after being wowed by the flavor profile that washed over me.
To say that the architectural splendor that houses this winery is beautiful is such an understatement. The airy, covered patio entrance is both welcoming and elegant. Stonework accents the modern farmhouse, with views of the grapes from grouped seating arranged outside. Once inside, the décor is a perfect blend of modern and old-world charm. There are designated rooms for private events. One room houses oak barrels and has a miner theme, complete with a minecart and flickering oil lamps. Although Shadowbrook isn’t licensed as a venue that could have large events such as weddings or outdoor music, they provide a special, exclusive option for indoor private events.
Creating a true destination for enjoying choice, culinary offerings—you can indulge in more than just wine at Shadowbrook. I caught a glimpse of some hive boxes scattered throughout the vines on the grounds. Sure enough, Tim makes and sells his own honey. My generous host even brought out his ever-so-light olive oil in multiple flavors, for sampling with some bread and the wine that was still swirling in my glass. Tim uses the traditional Italian-style Agrumato pressing process on his homegrown olives, creating an oil whose purity far exceeds the legal percentage required to be designated as virgin. On a hot summer day, Tim loves a good beer, so he decided to bring the best he could find into the mix at the winery. They serve Fieldworks Hazy and Hen House IPAs, Blind Pig from Russian River, and a hefeweizen from the oldest brewery in the world—Weihenstephan Pilsner.
A first-class winery, with a first-class setting deserves a 5-star chef. Tim struggled through the pandemic to provide tasty flatbreads to serve alongside his wines, but quickly realized he couldn’t keep up. Enter Joshua Mason, a seasoned chef who has worked for restaurants the caliber of French Laundry and those owned by Michael Mina. With your reservation for a night of soaking up Shadowbrook’s resort-like setting and libations, you can be served selections such as burrata salad, shrimp tacos, prosciutto and fig flatbread, or signature charcuterie plates that are gourmet in every way.
Wine club members enjoy their own designated patio and can mingle with friends on the grounds year-round. Says Tim, “Our goal has always been to provide a first-class experience here, in my beloved back yard of Mount Diablo. With our wine and food pairings, any special occasion or small gathering can be elevated when set inside one of our event rooms within our winery. But just lounging on the open seating patio makes for a memorable evening too.” If you are ready to be disappointed in not knowing about this place sooner, this hidden gem awaits your utter shock followed by sheer bliss. The good news is, you can visit often. Their tagline is: Close to home, far from ordinary. A truer designation has never been given, everything about Shadowbrook is extraordinary.
Photos By German Siu