El Cerrito isn’t exactly a well-known wine destination, but an upcoming bar is looking to change that. Claire Sullivan is at the helm of Banter Wine, a wine bar-slash-bottle shop set to open this July. Along with her fiance Devin Hohler, the two are working to transform a building at 10368 San Pablo Avenue into a casual space to sample a glass of wine, a place where a group of friends can sit on a couch with a charcuterie plate and a bottle.
“We were having a glass of wine in the backyard at some point during the pandemic, and we thought El Cerrito would definitely benefit from a wine bar,” Sullivan says. With the influx of younger people moving into town, Sullivan believes there’s space for a wine bar that locals can walk to, rather than making the trek into Oakland or San Francisco.
Despite the influx of natural wine bars like Daytrip and Key Klub on both sides of the Bay, Sullivan says she wants Banter Wine to serve a larger demographic of wine drinkers, not just those into the natural wine scene. “I think a lot of people assume that we’re going to be a super natural wine bar,” Sullivan says. “Yes, from the standpoint of the way the wine is produced or at least how the grapes are grown, definitely that’s a big focus, but I would say the wines that I tend to gravitate towards are still very well-balanced wines. I love some natty stuff, but I also like a clean, crisp, well-balanced wine that is not so deep in the zero-zero natty side of things.”
Expect a mix of domestic wines, alongside French, Italian, Spanish wines “focused on smaller purveyors taking care of the land,” Sullivan says, which will be available by the glass or by bottles purchased through the shop side. The broad spectrum of wines is fitting for Sullivan, whose parents Sylvie and Michael Sullivan have owned and operated Beaune Imports since 1991, bringing wines from France, Spain, Italy, and Germany into the Bay Area. Sullivan also brings some previous fine dining experience into the mix; she’s worked front of house at Chez Panisse, before becoming Alice Waters’ assistant and then transitioning into a role at Waters’ nonprofit, Edible Schoolyard Project.
Beyond the wine, there will also be a food component, which Sullivan is keeping on the simple side with charcuterie, cheese, tinned fish, olives, housemade pickles, plus a rotating sandwich and salad option. “What I’m very inspired by is the very simple wine bars you see in France, where the plates come to you as they are,” Sullivan says. “For the produce, we’re focusing on local, seasonal purveyors and keeping it French-inspired without being super strict about that, either — [we’ll serve] all the kinds of delicious wine accompaniment snacks that people might want to have while sipping on wine.”
Despite her local background in food and wine, this is Sullivan’s first venture into opening a business and it’s been quite the process; Sullivan first signed the lease for Banter back in September 2021 with hopes of opening it within three months. That early opening has since been thwarted, due to the lengthy process of converting the former art school into a space with a kitchen, but she says the community has been patient.
“We feel very excited to be opening up in that spot in the neighborhood and can’t wait to bring Banter to everyone,” Sullivan says.