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Friday, May 9, 2014

Exploring San Francisco's Urban Wineries, Hiding in Plain Sight

Posted By on Fri, May 9, 2014 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Bluxome Street Winery's pretty main room. - JENN PRIES
  • Jenn Pries
  • Bluxome Street Winery's pretty main room.

Before the 1906 earthquake leveled parts of the city and Prohibition curbed drinking, San Francisco's SOMA district (then known as "South of the Slot") was filled with wineries and cellars. The wineries sourced grapes from Napa and Sonoma and the city was as much a part of wine country as its northern neighbors.

Over the past couple of years, a resurgence in winemaking has sprouted in parts of the Bay Area. It's entirely possible and enjoyable to trade an afternoon in Napa or Sonoma for one in the city. Sprawling urban spaces take the place of boutique wineries and some refer to the T as "San Francisco's wine train" (public transportation also makes for stress-free sipping).

Bluxome Street Winery, a few blocks away from the ballpark, is a great place to start a wine tour. It's open from noon until 7 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday and its tasting room is located in a spacious warehouse. Barrels line the walls and winemakers work behind the tasting room, sampling wines to see how they're aging and pressing grapes during harvest time. Bluxome folds wine's history in SOMA into part of its identity, and staff members educate customers about the past as well as the palate.

"We're trying to evoke that winemaking was once big in San Francisco," says Emilie Barnett, a tasting room employee. "We have old copies of the Yellow Pages that show a lot of buildings in this neighborhood were wineries."

Bluxome offers wine by the glass as well as by flights. They produce pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, syrah and chardonnay, and are bringing rose´ back to the tasting room soon. With the arrival of spring, Barnett says, "nearly every day someone comes in asking for rose´."

The winery also hosts events in the neighborhood. Every last Saturday of the month they hold a "Meet Market," where local purveyors like Brown Dog Mustard Company and Roxanne's Biscotti sell their goods, food trucks set up outside, and Bluxome's wines are poured.

click to enlarge Dogpatch Wine Works - JENN PRIES
  • Jenn Pries
  • Dogpatch Wine Works

After visiting Bluxome, hop on the T to the Dogpatch. Both Dogpatch WineWorks and Sutton Cellars are located in the hub of businesses around 22nd street. Dogpatch WineWorks, like Bluxome, is located in an industrial space but has a different sort of identity. It's a custom-crush winery and courts people who are interested in making wine but don't have the time or resources to devote themselves fully to the job. Wine hobbyists can be as hands-on as they would like to be in creating a barrel of their own.

Seven commercial wineries, like Passaggio and Pug Wine, use the facilities at Dogpatch WineWorks to make their wines at as well. Their wines are featured in the tasting room, which is open on Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m., Saturday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The amount of wineries result in a wide range of styles and grapes, from viognier to merlot rose´ to an unoaked chardonnay.

click to enlarge Sutton Cellars. - JENN PRIES
  • Jenn Pries
  • Sutton Cellars.

Sutton Cellars is around the corner on Illinois Street and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 4 p.m. Owner Carl Sutton usually likes to man the tasting table himself. The winery produces dry vermouth, rose´, and fortified wine, as well as red wines. Sutton also plays around with carignan, a grape that he has been making wine from for about 20 years. While Bluxome and Dogpatch WineWorks offer wines that are indicative of California, Sutton seems to draw on a winemaking style that is both playful and Old World.

Their out-the-door offerings are uncommon as well. Jug wines are for sale as well as bottles. Much like a growler at a brewery, customers can buy a jug of wine from Sutton and come back and refill it.

"This is very much so a way to reduce packaging, but it's also about breaking down people's ideas about wine," Sutton says. "Sometimes you just need a glass of wine, you don't need a fancy label or some great story. You just need a glass of wine. It's Tuesday night, you're having pizza, this is what you drink."

In the Dogpatch and SOMA, people can come in and taste but it's also an opportunity to explore the neighborhoods. Bluxome is blocks away from the ballpark and around the corner from Marlowe and Lucky Strike. After tasting, someone can go to Olivier's in the Dogpatch to buy a fantastic cut of meat, try the freshly opened Long Bridge for a piece of pizza, or head to the classic Dogpatch Saloon or the wine bar Yield across the street if they're still thirsty.

"[In Napa or Sonoma] you're going for that repetitive experience, whereas this is a variety of experiences. There's a lot of really fantastic development," Sutton says. "Every business that's here, there are people behind it that you can meet and talk to. It's not another chain. That's definitely part of the fabric and personality of the neighborhood, it's real people operating real businesses."

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Jenn Pries


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