Winemaking Returns to San Francisco
By Catherine Herrera
“I get grapes from as far north as Mendocino in Anderson Valley, and as far south as Santa Barbara, from San Lucia Highlands. Napa and Sonoma are only an hour away. That puts us in the middle of all the great grape growing regions throughout California,” shared David Gifford, who co-owns DWW with Kevin Doucet. “When people walk in off the street they think it’s pretty awesome when they see the equipment and realize we’re the real deal,” he said.
California winemaking was introduced by Father Junipero Serra as part of the system of missions he developed starting in the late 1700s. San Francisco’s original Spanish settlement, Mission Dolores, skipped planting a vineyard due to the area’s cold, damp climate. But by the early-1900s, the City hosted a thriving wine industry of makers and cellars. The California Wine Association lost four million cases of wine in the 1906 earthquake; the liquid in surviving bottles was used to fight the devastating fire that followed.
Prohibition decimated the country’s winemaking industry. In California, the number of wineries dropped from 700 to 100. When the state’s reputation for world-class wines started to emerge in the 1980s, the Bay Area’s winemaking epicenter had shifted north and south, creating the powerhouse wine-producing region that surrounds the City. Today, San Francisco’s cool climate has become a draw for urban wineries, including the Bluxome Street Winery, Vui Winery and Dogpatch WineWorks, which often share expertise and equipment as part of the larger regional winemaking community that encompasses the expansive East Bay Winemakers Association.
DWW melds old-world values with modern equipment to offer expert and novice vintners the ability to make wine in the middle of the world’s technology capital. Travelers from around the world — including Japan and Finland, and, closer to home, New York and Palo Alto — blend alongside local boutique winemakers at DWW’s 15,000 square feet facility.
Diners with reservations at nearby Serpentine or Piccino can stop in to sip wine and taste cheese from neighboring La Fromagerie before dinner. The tasting room occupies an airy 3,000 square feet, with streaming natural light bouncing from white brick walls, warming the cozy couches set among wood furniture reclaimed from Napa fermentation vessels by the design company Heritage Salvage. Tasting room visitors can select from a chalkboard list of an eclectic mix of commercial and crafted wine blends produced by members, local wineries, and under DWW’s label. Prices range from $2 a taste to $14 a glass.
Novice or experienced winemakers can pursue their own methods, or be guided by DWW staff, to craft barrels of private blended wines. Mike Zitzlaff, DWW’s director of operations, has years of experience as head of winemaking at Crushpad’s San Francisco and Napa sites, working with clients to assess their preferred style of flavor, processing and sorting grapes, pressing, and evaluating barrel tastings. Urban winemaking is a collaborative process, often shared by groups of friends over the year or two needed to create a drinkable bottle — depending on the varietals — from the moment the grapes are picked to the tasting of a private boutique blend with a unique label.
“We don’t have huge tanks here. We are not producing thousands and thousands of cases. There is a lot of hands-on; we’re paying a lot of attention to individual details and specifics of individual people’s wine trends they want to achieve,” said Gifford. “There is a diversity of people making wine with us, people who are passionate about wine and making. We see late 20- to 30-year-old professionals coming in together with a group; there are usually eight to 10 of them. It’s honoring the tradition of sharing a great bottle with friends and then taking it to the next level, making it together. Or we see couples in the late 50s or early retirement. We have groups of 40-year-olds, usually a group of five or six friends.”
“Last year, when we cracked our first wine, my wife was one week from delivery. Now, a year later, it’s been a very personal, wonderful experience, and to be able to do that with our friends, and get some perspective on how the whole process starts with Mother Nature, and then the final product,” described Jeremy Barry, one of six friends who are expanding to two vintages this year at DWW.
More than half of Dogpatch WineWork’s clients are private label blends made by small commercial or family winemakers, with the number of artisan makers growing each year. Contracts can begin with one barrel, which produces 24 cases, 12 bottles in a case. Barrel prices range from $6,000 to $10,000.
“We have a little motto,” said Gifford. “We’re making wine in the City the hard way, but, with a lot of love. There are certainly easier ways to go about doing this. There is no experience like actually getting involved, rolling up your sleeves and participating, and that is what we provide.”
This Month's Stories