I confess. Much to my family’s chagrin, I drink wine from a box. That’s why the morning I spent in Doc’s Wine Shop in downtown Hayward was an epiphany, a door opened to an alien world—one filled with the light of knowledge: wine customs I didn’t know, wine facts totally new to me, and grape names and regions I’d never heard of.
The charming, articulate, and encyclopedic purveyor of this vinculture was Castro Valley resident Darren Guillaume, a certified sommelier, trained at the French Culinary Institute, and the owner of Doc’s. Tall, impeccably dressed in suit and tie, Darren shows levels of knowledge--and confidence in that knowledge--that make him clearly an expert in his field.
The main focus of his well-appointed shop is wine, mostly European wine, mostly brands not found in Safeway or BevMo. And for every bottle, Darren can speak knowledgeably about the blend of grapes used, the region it’s from, the soil type in that part of the region, and the effect the different soils have on the taste and quality of the wine, and—very important—how long each wine may be stored before its quality ebbs.
In addition, he can suggest foods that will go perfectly with each wine. In fact, if a customer is planning a dinner party, Darren can look at the menu and bring out wines that will perfectly complement the different courses. And that can be more than one type, because—one of many facts I didn’t know—European wine has a lower alcohol content than American wine, so during a multi-course meal, guests may sip and enjoy different wines with the different courses, and not get DUI drunk.
In support of local education, he donated two fine bottles for auction at Hayward Education Fund’s March 22 Gala. One, a Chateau Peychaud, is 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in limestone and gravel in France’s Bordeaux region, a wine he still has for sale. The other is a unique Swiss wine, Chateau d’Auvernier, a 2009 Pinot Gris. The Swiss export only about 1% of their wines, mostly to Germany, but Darren was able to get seven cases of this wine, which sold quickly. Thus the bottle auctioned at the GALA may have been the last of its kind in the U.S.
And beer lovers, don’t be put off by the title, “Wine Shop.” Besides imported wines, he also stocks amazing Belgian ales. Like dark beer? Like sour beer? Like dark, sour beer from a centuries old brewing tradition? These are beers unlike any found at Buffalo Bill’s, and which only occasionally show up at the Bistro—Hayward’s two main beer-loving establishments. But Doc’s carries them all the time.
Some other great features of Doc’s Wine Shop are that customers need not join a Wine “Club,” with membership fees and a prescribed number of bottles to buy per month. Also, Darren offers free wine-tastings every day, and even takes requests. A customer can walk in and ask for a specific wine, or beer, and voila, taste it. And since he never buys a wine or beer unless he’s tasted and liked it, he can sincerely and eloquently tell you about every one. He will also host parties of up to 25 people in his elegant little shop, a wonderful venue for clubs and friends.
When asked about his best wine, despite his encyclopedic knowledge, Darren responds simply that the best wine is one enjoyed in a comfortable place, with your favorite people. It’s all about the ambience of the moment.
So, the next time you’re planning a get-together to impress, or you just find yourself tired of Bud Light and wines with twist-off caps (or even worse, boxes), upgrade your patronage to Doc’s Wine Shop, on Foothill Blvd, two doors from B St. Darren Guillaume is a good guy, and a valuable resource to the Hayward area’s drinking habits.