Leather bicycle wine carrier from Public Bikes. Photo courtesy of Public Bikes.
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Photo courtesy of Noah Berger
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2011 sauvignon blanc from Bluxome Street Winery ($22)
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2011 pinot blanc from Tank18 ($16)
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2011 chardonnay from Dogpatch Wineworks ($25)
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Wine Country: So close, yet so far away, especially with bumper-to-bumper on Highway 29. Luckily for us, with a handful of wineries and tasting rooms opening in the last two years, San Francisco is the new wine country, joined by thriving scenes on Treasure Island and in Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda.
In fact, the East Bay is the true urban winery epicenter, boasting over 20 unique winemakers. And this month, you can taste creations from most of them—including wines from acclaimed producers like Dashe Cellars, JC Cellars, and Rock Wall Wine Co.—at the annual blowout Urban Wine Experience (July 27, 1–5 p.m., Jack London Pavilion).
For those used to bucolic drives from one vineyard to the next to taste wine, the idea of placing a winery in a city may seem gimmicky. It’s not. Before Prohibition, the bulk of California winemaking took place in San Francisco, with hundreds of wineries scattered about SoMa. Today’s trend is but a revival.
While it’s nice to bask among the vineyards, the fact is that tasting wine at the source doesn’t require a vineyard. A great many California wine producers don’t even own vineyards—they purchase their grapes from growers. Indeed, many winemakers source vineyards both north and south of the Bay Area, so basing their facility in San Francisco saves time shipping grapes in either direction.
What’s more, industrial warehouse space is plentiful, and access to major airports (read: access to visitors) is convenient. And if a city winery does open a tasting room (and not all do), it’s smack in the middle of masses of tourists and thirsty locals. Then there’s the fact that some winemakers actually want to live and work in the city—and, you know, have a life, just like the rest of us city folk.
City Wine Tasting: The three-mile bike tour.
Over the last couple of years, enough working wineries have opened in S.F. to make up an afternoon of tasting. So why take the car when you can just walk? And why walk when you can take a bike? Gears and Grapes Getaways leads bike tours through the city, but if you’re not into group activities, follow our lead.
Prepare for the day ahead with a noontime espresso at Piccino before rolling around the corner to Dogpatch WineWorks (2455 3rd St., near 22nd St., 415-525-4440). Ensconced in an airy warehouse, DPWW is a full-service winery that allows you to make and bottle your own wines. The tasting room—just a part of the vast winery space, furnished with a bar, stools, and comfy leather couches—puts you right inside the winery action. DPWW is also the permanent home of a few homegrown wine brands, such as Séamus, Passaggio, and J2, but to get started, try a glass of DPWW’s own chardonnay. At $6.25, it’s a winner. Reserve a blending session in advance for deeper immersion.
Head up 3rd Street and cross the channel on 4th to Bluxome Street Winery (53 Bluxome St., near 4th St., 415-543-5353), located in an old brick building painted gunmetal gray in a mellow side alley in SoMa. Bluxome Street’s tasting room flows into the winery and event space, allowing wine sampling in a gorgeously spare, urban tasting room with a full view of the winery. There’s often a lively crowd, and the hospitality staff is warm and knowledgeable. Bluxome Street serves only its own wines, which are excellent and stylistically cutting-edge. The sauvignon blanc, crisp and bright, is a steal at $6 a glass, and the reds are elegant and sophisticated.
Now, ride another mile and a half through SoMa to 9th and Howard, where you’ll find Tank18 (1345 Howard St., near 9th St.) open since January. Like Bluxome Street, Tank18 sells its own wines, and, although uneven, they shine in the realms of pinot blanc and tempranillo. A cross between winery, wine bar, and event space, Tank18 has a wide-open, let-it-fly atmosphere that seems to attract wine drinkers less interested in swirling and sniffing than in having fun. (Note: On the third Saturday of the month, bring in your old, prewashed wine bottles to be refilled and recorked for $8 a pop.)
After three wineries, you can call it a day—that is, unless you have energy for one last stop. You’re only a five-minute ride from the City Beer Store (1168 Folsom St., near 8th St., 415-503-1033), and, as everyone knows, a full day of wine tasting is best ended with only one thing: a cold, refreshing brew.
Tasting and Biking: Need some where to put your bottle of wine while you’re tooling around on your bike? We suggest a leather bicycle wine carrier ($40).
A Taste of Treasure Island: You can reach treasure island’s wineries in only a few minutes, but the trip still feels like a getaway. here are three wineries to try. (Note that most are open only on weekends. Call ahead.)
The Winery SF
This wide-open and spacious winery is as welcoming and engaging as its sumptuous 2011 viognier.
200 California Ave., Bldg. 180 N., 415-735-8423
Treasure Island Wines
A cheerful urban winery collective, TIW bundles several wineries into one facility, offering a panoply of wine colors and flavors. The rosé of pinot noir hits the spot.
995 9th St., Bldg. 201, 415-394-9463
The bocce courts out front set the relaxed vibe, but the wines come from some of the most serious vineyards in California. Try the Beatty Ranch zin.
400 California Ave., Bldg. 448, 415-756-1791
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of San Francisco