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Marilee Shaffer - Owner/ Winemaker

Marilee Shaffer’s past careers include academic research to discover effective bacterial vaccines, development of molecular cloning methods with a focus on DNA sequencing, and biotech equipment sales engineering and marketing (ask about her exhibit at the Smithsonian).

After many years on the “bleeding edge” with biotech start-ups and a fresh MBA from UC Berkeley in hand, she decided that it was time to launch a business of her own in a kinder, gentler market sector, and founded Waypoint, a “click-and-mortar” retailer of products for marine navigation.

An offhand remark about not using her old microbiology degree led to home winemaking and, eventually a UC Davis Winemaking Certificate as part of launching Urban Legend.

In short, Marilee is right handed and left brained, and handles the winery’s accounting when she's not fulfilling her destiny as Empress of Fermentation, the iron-handed Despot of Barrel Topping, and resident chemistry tutor for cellar apprentices. Her creative side is expressed from the very beginning of Urban Legend’s winemaking process.

Steve Shaffer - Owner/ Winemaker

Left handed and right brained, Steve Shaffer is an engineer's engineer and the artistic soul of Urban Legend. He is an oracle of wine-related information, and that knowledge serves him well as the “designer” behind Urban Legend’s flavors.

His passion for lesser-known varietals and flair for barreling and blending make the wines distinctive and keep them food friendly.

Steve also designed and built the winery’s multi-tiered tasting bar. (Leave it to an uber-engineer to make something magical out of a problematic sloping floor.)

Among Steve’s darkest secrets is one that he holds fundamental patents in computer system and fiber optic networking. But don’t let that get in the way of enjoying Urban Legend’s wines.

Urban Legend Square LogoWhat’s on the label?

Urban Legend’s labels prominently feature the Port of Oakland waterfront container loading cranes. To many, nothing gives Oakland a sense of place like the cranes. In fact, our label art was rendered from a crane that works just a couple of blocks from our winery. It’s our ‘hood.

To many, however, the cranes represent the “muse” for George Lucas’ AT-AT Snow Walkers that attacked the Resistance in the second Star Wars movie, “The Empire Strikes Back”. And, every time we hear the story, we simply reply: urban legend.

In a 2008 interview with SF Chronicle reporter Peter Hartlaub, Lucas politely, but firmly, asserted, "That’s a myth. That’s definitely a myth." Nah, dude, they weren't cranes, they were garbage trucks,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 25, 2008

Such is the stuff of an Urban Legend.

Winery Entrance

Urban legends are remarkable but often apocryphal stories that spread like wildfire. Urban Legend is a winery in a city—almost an apocryphal story in itself—that makes remarkable wines.

“This is disruptive wine innovation.”
Matthew Reagan PhD, Chemical Engineering & Wine Connoisseur

Matt got it right when he said that about Urban Legend. We’ve never been shy about disruption. Throughout our careers, we’ve introduced technologies that no one ever thought would work—and changed the world. When we wanted to drink wines that were perfect complements to our local food—diverse flavors, honest ingredients, a sophisticated yet approachable style—we said: “We'll have to make them ourselves; we'll make them where the food is created—in the city; and we’ll do it together!” It’s not a traditional strategy—just a very American one.

Today, we hand craft more than a dozen Urban Legend wines that each, uniquely, salutes the varied flavors of California and our home: Oakland, America’s most diverse city.

Critics and consumers alike are impressed with our fidelity to variety, our expression of place, our food-friendly style, and our absolute consistency of quality—from our very first release and forward.

For us, disruption is all about breaking down myths—urban legends, if you will—to make wines of uncompromising balance and elegance.

In specific:

    • Winemakers must focus on a single grape variety to make credible wines with it. We’ve found that while situations change, the rules don’t; a great grasp of method—adapting knowledge found to new conditions—allows us to craft a great wine with grapes from Albarino to Zin. We focus on flavor.

    • Wines must be made next to vines to be good—anywhere else is a gimmick. Being outside “wine country” liberates us to source grapes where a particular variety grows the best—not just what grows in our back yard. We can celebrate the best of California terroir. It also liberates us to do what we do best: find the best fruit, seek great but unusual varieties, and—more than anything—take meticulous care with winemaking to craft the finest in flavor.

  • Wines that represent a uniquely American style aren’t very interesting. There’s directness—a forthrightness, maybe even audacity—in America’s approach to innovation. In choosing to make wine in a city, embracing our skills from other vocations, and crafting wines that don’t derive entirely from the Old World or the New but from a foundation in flavor, we’re celebrating the best of America.

Ultimately, we believe that wine should be seriously enjoyable and made to complement good food, good times, and living well.

And, by the way, our logo is an urban legend, too.


Marilee and Steve