No Need to Go to Napa; Southside’s Wine Scene Matures

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Southside San Francisco is home to a surprising array of wineries, tasting rooms, cellars, and bars that reflect the spirit of European and Central and Northern California grape growing regions.

Bluxome Street Winery, located at 53 Bluxome Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets, features an events space and tasting room.  Its production facility specializes in Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, with grapes sourced from Russian River Valley vineyards.

“We harvest very early in the morning, sometimes around midnight,” said Matt Reidy, the winery’s founding partner. “We race the grapes across the Golden Gate Bridge to our winery, where we sort, crush, ferment, and make our wines.”

According to Reidy, his “warm industrial” South-of-Market space is popular with families, commuters, and neighborhood residents.  “On Friday nights, we put on our “Beats and Eats” nights, where we have a live band inside the winery and one of the best SF-based food trucks out front,” he said. “We’re a block from the CalTrain station and two blocks from the ballpark. It’s a comfortable and communal space to enjoy great wines and food.”

Chris Tavelli, owner of Yield, a wine bar at 2490 Third Street, also pointed to his establishment’s warm, inviting atmosphere. In the last few years he’s seen many new customers, attracted by the bar’s Happy Hour, which extends from 3:30 to 7 p.m. daily, and features $14 carafes and $1 off menu items, as well as Tuesday Trivia nights.  The University of California, San Francisco-Mission Bay has “…been good for us. It’s definitely been more people from the neighborhood first, but we also get a lot of folks from the South Bay and East Bay,” he said.

Yield, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary on September 10, is constantly changing its wine list.  “We offer everything from New World, California-style wines to Old World wines,” said Tavelli.

Alex Goretsky, co-owner of La Stazione Coffee & Wine Bar, at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, said his cozy neighborhood establishment has a small, family feel that’s comfortable for commuters and locals to stop by after work. La Stazione offers Italian wines, particularly from southern Italy, which can be quite subtle.

“Over time, we really curated our selection to what our customers respond to,” said Goretsky. “Our wines open up. It takes a few sips to try them, but when you do, they taste different. They have layers upon layers, waves of taste upon your tongue,”

Ed Kurtzman, partner in August West Winery, with an office located at 540 Barneveld Avenue, Suite K, said customers need to make an appointment to visit his facility.  “We’re in an industrial area and there’s no foot traffic here, but we love visitors,” he said. “Sign up for tastings on our website. Our wines have a light, delicate body, and are always identified by their beautiful aroma. We mostly make Pinot Noir, small lots of Chardonnays, and in the past have made Syrahs. All of our fruit comes from the Russian River Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands.”

Aran Healy, owner of Ruby Wine at 1419 18th Street, said his customers can expect to find wines from small, family-run companies dedicated to organic viticulture and natural processes, mostly from Europe. “Our wines are a little fresher and lighter. They’re low-alcohol wines. We have customers all over the world, but 80 percent of our business is pretty local,” said Healy.

Ruby Wine was originally launched by the owners of nearby Plow in 2002. Healy bought the store in 2012 because he wanted to be in Potrero Hill.  “I think you have to have a good understanding of the people who have been coming here for many years to stay a neighborhood family spot. That’s really what Potrero Hill is all about. I jumped on it because I wanted to maintain that level of connection to the community,” said Healy.

Bryan Harrington, owner of Harrington Wines at 1559 Custer Avenue, makes a wide variety of wines in his Islais Creek warehouse. He started the winery in 2002 to produce Old Vine, organic and sustainably-grown Pinot Noirs. In 2008, he expanded to produce wines from Nebbiolo, Trousseau, Grenache and other grapes.

According to Harrington, Bayview’s and Dogpatch’s proximity to the Bay makes them excellent locations to make wine. “It’s 15 degrees cooler than Sonoma and 20 degrees cooler than Napa. Even without air conditioning, the winery’s mean temperature remains cool throughout the year, so my location is perfect for fermenting and cellaring wine,” said Harrington.

For the last few years Harrington has worked with University of California, Davis scientists to bring hard-to-find European grapes to California.  “It is a real adventure to roam around Europe discovering delicious, obscure wines, then meet and work with the local growers and bring back cuttings of the vines. After a few years in quarantine at UC Davis, the challenge is to develop sites here in California that can offer the new immigrant vines the perfect combination of climate and soil. The hope is always that these new arrivals will thrive far from their homeland and produce compelling new wines for our local patrons to enjoy,” he said.

Gratta Wines, located on Third Street, launched in 2006.  The Bayview winery relies on sustainably grown grapes from old vines planted at Teldeschi Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley.  Last year, owner Barbara Gratta opened a wine tasting room in Butchertown Gourmet Marketplace, offering music and food from local vendors Thursday nights. “In Italian, Gratta means “from scratch,”” said Gratta. “Our wines are made with a gentle hand, encouraging the natural process to evolve. Gratta Wines are produced in the spirit of my grandmother’s philosophy. She would always say…”What recipe? Just do like this.””

Carl Sutton, founder of Sutton Cellars at 601 22nd Street, said he located in Dogpatch because he lived nearby, in Lower Pacific Heights, and wanted to be a part of the neighborhood.  “When we moved here a little over six years ago we saw it as a neighborhood that was developing and changing. Third and 22nd was the epicenter of retail in Dogpatch. If we could hang in there a couple of years, we could make it,” said Sutton.

The winery recently opened its rollup door to guests four days a week. “There’s just that much more traffic in the neighborhood,” said Sutton. “There is a limited, but almost just right, amount of things to do here. Vermouth is probably our most popular item. It’s very palatable. We also have a dry rosé, a jug blend, and a couple of dessert wines that standout.”

John Fones, co-owner of Cellars 33 at 1225 Minnesota Street, said his winery focuses primarily on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Old Vine Zinfandel. He welcomes customers who walk into the winery’s tasting room to try out vintages made from grapes from the Russian River Valley and Lodi.  “We sell our wine first to members of our mailing list,” said Fones. “If there’s anything left I have a broker who sells to San Francisco and Los Angeles restaurants and wine shops. Our wines have a little bit of a lighter style, but they’re high on flavor. We try and make the wine affordable, but nice and high quality.”

Joel Creager, direct to consumer and hospitality manager at Dogpatch Wineworks (DPWW) at 2455 Third Street, said his business offers event space, private barrel and custom crush service, and about 13 different wines that customers can sample in the tasting room. “We have our own label, although currently our production is very small,” said Creager. “We sell most of our wine through events. We do blending parties, where each person creates a little blend and tries that of the others. We also do comparative tastings of wine out of the barrel with finished wines, among other fun activities.”

Creager said DPWW sources grapes from Sonoma, Napa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Amador, and Mendocino counties.  “We typically have about 30 different winemakers,” he said. “The energy in this neighborhood is incredible. Dogpatch is really changing a lot.”

Nikolas Eristavi, winemaker at The Eristavi Winery at 1300 Potrero Avenue, said his family’s Georgian-style wines have made a big impression on the many customers who have stopped by the tasting room. “Everyone is your friend if you’re making wine,” said Eristavi. “We put a lot of passion into our wine. We’re very involved.”

Making wine Georgian-style involves keeping the skins on the grapes as long as possible, particularly for reds.  “Our most popular vintages are Merlot and Zinfandel,” said Eristavi. “We source our own grapes from different parts of California. The Merlot grapes from Lodi, the Zinfandel grapes from the Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley, and the Syrah from Amador County.”

“We started originally on Treasure Island in 2006,” Eristavi said. “We learned a lot, being pretty disconnected. Not a lot of people came to stop in. Now, where we’re in Potrero Hill, we get a cross between people who are working at startups and just came here and people who have lived in the Mission and Potrero Hill for generations. It’s fun talking to all these different people.”

Wayne Garcia, owner of Dig Wines at 1005 Minnesota Street, said the small production wine she carries from France and Italy draws customers from around the San Francisco Bay Area.  “It’s a destination spot,” said Garcia. “It’s a fairly tiny space and there’s only room for about 200 wines. I go out of my way to find things you won’t find everywhere.”

Garcia holds tastings every Friday and Saturday. He prides himself on offering hands-on service in an “old-school kind of place. My job is constantly challenging,” he said. “I look for wines that taste of the regions from where they come. My personal favorite is a Chablis that’s bright, super fresh, and crisp. I jokingly call it my desert island wine. Should I ever be stranded, it will pair perfectly with the seafood I assume will be available there.”

According to Garcia, Dogpatch doesn’t attract as many visitors as the Mission and Hayes Valley. To encourage customers to learn more about wine he recently sold some of his vintages to Michael and Jacky Recchiuti, co-owners of Recchiuti Confections and The Lab.  Jacky Recchiuti confirmed that in the past six months she and her husband curated a dinner series, tasteProject, that involved music, art, and six-course meals featuring foods and beverages from Dogpatch, including wines from Dig Wines, meats from Olivier’s Butchery, and cheeses from La Fromagerie.

“We would have various themes, like mushrooms for all six of the courses, or glass blowers who came to blow receptacles in between the courses,” said Jacky Recchiuti. “We were as creative as possible.”

According to Recchiuti, one goal of the dinners was to showcase higher-end wines to which diners might not have been exposed. Future collaborations between the Recchiutis and Garcia may emerge, and the Recchiutis are contemplating launching a wine-chocolate pairing event series with DPWW.

“We’ve been in the neighborhood for 20 years,” said Jacky Recchiuti. “It was a wasteland. Now it’s this mecca of businesses, wine producers, wine bars, and wine purveyors. People seem to gravitate here for those kinds of festivities. You could go to any corner and find a new kind of wine to try. It’s bringing a lot of foot traffic to the neighborhood and revitalizing the area.”