At the western elbow of Cesar Chavez Street and Highway 101, between Potrero del Sol and James Rolph Jr. Playground on Potrero Avenue, a new and perhaps surprising neighbor arrived last January to what’d previously served as a Philz Coffee warehouse. The Eristavi Family Winery was founded in 2006 by Victor and Lia, a husband and wife team who began their winemaking journey at Treasure Island Wines, a collective where people share the expensive equipment required to turn grape juice into wine. Eristavi released their first vintages in 2009: 250 cases each of Dry Creek Zinfandel and Amador County Syrah. Since then it has expanded the varietals it works with and techniques it draws upon.
While the winery’s exterior looks like what might be found at an industrial park, its interior has been revamped by the Eristavi family to feel like a cozy living room, albeit with barrels lining the wall. Hidden behind the bar and lounge area is the actual winery, where additional wine-filled barrels are kept. When not being used to make wine, it can be redeployed as a private event space, hosting weddings, baby showers, and other gatherings. The company hopes to draw neighbors in by eventually sponsoring movie nights and popup dinners.
Eristavi has vinified Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir rose, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and a red blend called Rouge. One of the company’s most unique offerings is a 2011 white, Blanc. In this bottling, the winery took the grape Symphony – a hybrid of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache gris created by Dr. Harold Olmo – and aged it for five years in barrels. The wine has fresh fruit aromas and isn’t as oxidative, or nutty tasting, as might be expected from a little heard of white varietal that’s usually reserved for blending. White wines tend to degrade quickly when they’re not well made; it takes high acid content and great care, especially when in the barrel, to make sure the wine will be drinkable.
Victor worked in the pharmaceutical industry for twenty years, and is exacting about the cleanliness of his wines. Lia is a graphic designer by trade, responsible for the design of the company’s labels, as well as the winery’s esthetics. She’s also the photographer behind the pictures visitors see lining the wall behind the bar. Their two children, Nikolas and Téa, both in their early twenties, plan to join the business as it grows.
Lia and Victor were childhood friends in their home country, Georgia, where some of the oldest winemaking artifacts have been found. The United Nation Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization recognized the country’s nearly 8,000 year history of winemaking by adding Georgian winemaking to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list. It’s this history the Eristavi’s want to draw upon as part of their entry into the competitive world of winemaking, hoping to marry their heritage to the aesthetics and terroir of their adopted home.
Victor recently special-ordered clay vessels, amphora, which closely resemble traditional containers used in Georgia, from a winemaker in Oregon who has been experimenting with them. He plans to start vinifying wine in the vessels next year.
Eristavi offers visitors $10 wine tastings, as well as cheese and charcuterie pairings. Lia and Victor are behind the bar Tuesday through Friday 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. A wine club is on offer, in which bottles are distributed quarterly, with free tastings anytime, including directly from barrels to provide a preview of the upcoming vintage.