Exploring San Francisco's Hidden Wineries

Before the 1906 earthquake leveled parts of the city and Prohibition curbed drinking, San Francisco's SOMA neighborhood (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 few 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 rural boutique wineries, and some have taken to calling the T line “San Francisco's wine train.” (It helps that public transportation also makes for stress-free sipping.)

Bluxome Street Winery (53 Bluxome, 543-5353, bluxomewinery.com) is a great place to start a wine tour. Barrels line the walls and winemakers work behind the tasting room, pressing grapes during harvest time and sampling wines to see how they're aging. Bluxome folds SOMA's wine history 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. It produces Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Chardonnay, and is bringing rosé back to the tasting room soon. With the arrival of spring, Barnett says, “nearly every day someone comes in asking for rosé.”

The winery also hosts events in the neighborhood. Every last Saturday of the month the winery hosts 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.

After visiting Bluxome, hop on the T to the Dogpatch to 22nd Street. Like Bluxome, Dogpatch WineWorks (2455 Third St., 525-4440, dogpatchwineworks.com) is in an industrial space, but has a different 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. Their wines are featured in the tasting room, and the number of wineries results in a wide range of styles and grapes, from Viognier to Merlot rosé to an unoaked Chardonnay.

Around the corner is Sutton Cellars (601 22nd St., suttoncellars.com). Owner Carl Sutton usually likes to man the tasting table himself. The winery produces dry vermouth, rosé, 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 draws on a winemaking style that is both playful and Old World.

The winery's 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 Little Skillet. After tasting in Dogpatch, someone can go to Olivier's in the Dogpatch to buy a fantastic cut of meat, try the new 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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