Mo’s Wine Bar
1515 Park St. (near Webb Avenue), Alameda
Anticipated opening: Spring 2023

There’s a new wine bar coming to downtown Alameda this spring, which plans to showcase women winemakers and owners. Maura Passanisi is a wine pro who’s poured at High Treason and Ungrafted in SF, and Wine on Piedmont in Oakland. She also runs a tasting group for women in wine called Della Donna, which held a festival in 2019. And she’s long dreamed of owning her own wine bar in Alameda, where she was born and raised. Mo’s Wine Bar will open in spring 2023, promising an impressive list of women winemakers and a menu of savory small plates.

Passanisi studied interior architecture at UC Davis, and eventually picked up a side job at Alameda Wine Company, which closed somewhat contentiously in 2018. “I absolutely fell in love with talking to customers about food and beverage,” Passanisi said. “And introducing people to something they hadn’t tried before … it just clicked.”

She’s not technically a somm with the Court of Master Sommeliers, because she never aspired to work in fine dining and “put on a fancy suit and sell fancy wine to fancy people.” Rather, she’s into casually learning about wine in a chill setting, and holds an Advanced Level 3 from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). 

Rendering of the planned interior of Mo’s Wine Bar. Courtesy: Mo’s Wine Bar

The more Passanisi spoke with with women winemakers, the more gender disparity she saw in the industry. There are now more women than men graduating from the school of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, and yet, still only 14 % of the 4,200 wineries in California are led by women winemakers, according to a study from Santa Clara University.

“Women makers is a cause close to my heart … ” Passanisi said. “I see how much of a struggle it is. I’m tired of the adoration of young, white, male makers, who get treated as the next superstar. You don’t see it for women.” 

Curating the list at Mo’s Wine Bar, she’s putting ladies first. “I’m not sure if it’ll be a hundred percent,” she said. “But it will be the focus and majority.”

She plans to pour 10 to 15 wines by the glass, as well as bottles from California and around the world. Passanisi says it’s been a struggle to narrow down the starting lineup, but expect a “killer pinot noir” courtesy of Kristie Tacey of Tessier; maybe an expressive Malbec by Laura Catena of Bodega Catena Zapata; and others from the Della Donna crew.

She hopes to cultivate relationships with smaller makers, who might not have big marketing bucks. “I want to give them an opportunity to shine.”

The interior of 1515 Park St., back when it was still the Churchward Pub. Credit: Churchward Pub/Instagram

Mo’s will also serve beer, putting four on tap, featuring several female brewers coming out of Oregon. As well as sake: “It gets bypassed a lot, and it’s such a fantastic beverage.”

There will be a food menu of small plates; Passanisi’s currently courting a chef, but wouldn’t say who just yet. But there will definitely be deviled eggs smashed with sambal chili paste and scattered with sesame and scallions, a recipe she developed during her High Treason days. 

Mo’s will be at 1515 Park St., most recently the Churchward Pub. Passanisi believes the building dates back to the 1880s, and it still has the old neon sign for the Pop Inn, the original bar established here in 1937.

She’s currently renovating and bringing back touches of Victorian character to the long and narrow space, which will seat 45 inside, and 20 more on a back patio. She’s polishing the original mahogany bar, and will install wooden church pews as banquettes for seating. A pre-existing picture railing will stay, and the current debate is wallpaper patterns, likely in emerald green.

“I feel like in the early 2000s, wine bars were either minimal and rustic with white walls, or super plush with red velvet and rugs,” the former interior designer said. “I definitely didn’t want it to be white. My design style is more colorful.” The vision is to keep it casual, comfortable and fun, in style with her laid-back approach to enjoying wine. 

There are a couple of actual wineries in Alameda, including Dashe Cellars and Building 43 Winery, with tasting rooms in the old Naval Air Station on the West End. There are also a couple of existing wine bars downtown on the East End, including Preacher’s Daughter and Wine and Waffles, which kind of have cafe menus and hours, closing between 9 and 10 p.m.

When Mo’s Wine Bar joins them, it will have the distinction of later evening hours, with a plan to remain open until midnight. And of course, it will have that curated and interesting list to explore, favoring female winemakers and veering away from the big boys and grapes.