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As you head to San Francisco for the AAG with visions of the Golden Gate Bridge, colorful old street cars and steep sloped streets, consider exploring the wines of San Francisco. Although world-renowned Napa and Sonoma Valleys are a short drive north of San Pablo Bay, there are much more convenient options within San Francisco and nearby East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda). Better yet, widespread public transportation provide worry free wine tasting. Called the “San Francisco Wine Train” by some, the “T” can take you to Bluxome Street Winery as well as Dogpatch Wine Works and Sutton Cellars, all found in old remodeled industrial spaces. (Jenn Pries, Weekly Dining 2014) Likewise the small family-owned East Bay Wineries are found in former factories, tanneries and one is even in an airline hanger! A trip on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) can get you over to the East Bay in no time.

It may or may not surprise you that the United States is the biggest market for wine in the world, drinking 339 million cases of wine in 2013, ahead of France, Italy, Germany or China. On the other hand in terms of per capita, Italy is the leading consumer, followed by France, Switzerland and Portugal. (Will Lyons, Wall Street Journal 2015) Grape production in the United States has hovered around one million acres annually. Average yield 2008-2013 ranged from 7.3 to 8.7 tons per acre. This represents five million tons of grapes processed for wine in 2013 and an industry valued today in excess of 6 trillion dollars annually. (National Agricultural Statistics Service, NASS 2015) A lion’s share of this tonnage of wine grape production occurs in California. Leading varieties from the fall 2015 harvest include Chardonnay (16.4%), Cabernet Sauvignon (11.8%) and Zinfandel (10%). Thompson Seedless, grown for raisins, account for only 2%. (USDA Feb 2016 report).

The multiyear drought in California has taken a toll on overall volume of production and stiff international competition from places like New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina has kept wine prices low. The 2015 crush of 3.86 million tons was down seven percent from the 2014 crush of 4.14 million tons. Price per ton was also down in 2015 with red wine grapes averaging $784 per ton and white wine grapes $667 per ton. Average price per ton overall was down ten percent year over year. (California Department of Food and Agriculture Feb 2016 report) Of course, this is a broad overview and price per ton varies spatially, depending on source region, vineyard reputation and proximity to buyers. This relates to the idea of terroir, that a particular location produces certain quality grapes because of soil, climate and other environmental factors. These environmental factors in combination with the skills of the winemaker yield certain flavor and quality in wine. Thus, the value of a ton of grapes varies dramatically from place to place … how very geographic!

The United States has a system for designating the geographic origin of the grapes in wine provided at least 85 percent of the grapes used in the wine comes from that geographic region. The Appellation of Origin may designate a county or state of origin or may use a federally approved growing region called American Viticultural Area (AVA). As of March 3, 2016 there are 234 AVAs in the USA, of which 138 are in California. (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, U.S. Department of the Treasury March 2016) San Francisco AVA is large, 1.5 million acres, and includes the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo as well as parts of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties. Smaller AVAs are nested within the San Francisco AVA (Livermore Valley, Pacheco Pass, Lamorinda, San Ysidro District and Santa Clara Valley). Pacheco Pass and Lamorinda were just created in March 2016. AVAs are constantly being subdivided into smaller AVAs and, as well, completely new areas are applying for and receiving approval. In California since 2014 there have been 21 new AVAs, more than half in San Luis Obispo County. Most are in the south or central coast region of the state. Exceptions include Fountaingrove District (2015) in Sonoma County and Manton Valley (2014) which straddles Shasta and Tehama County near Lassen Volcanic National Park. If you have time and are up for a road trip north of San Francisco, I recommend the less visited Manton Valley AVA which has six wineries and the bonus of nearby beautiful Mount Lassen.

If you are more interested in staying in San Francisco and drinking some wine at an urban winery with a view, check out this list. Below are rankings of the ten highest rated wineries with a view in San Francisco. (Yelp March 2016)

HIGHEST RATED WINERIES WITH A SF VIEW Neighborhood Telephone
1 SAN FRANCISCO MEAD CO, 1180 Shafter Ave Bayview-Hunters Point (415) 819-4941
2 BLUXOME STREET WINERY, 53 Bluxome St. SoMa (415) 543-5353
3 WATTLE CREEK WINERY, 900 N. Point St Fisherman’s Wharf (415) 359-1206
4 JAX VINEYARDS, 326 Brannon St SoMa (415) 446-9505
5 SOL ROUGE WINERY, 400 California Ave Treasure Island (415) 756-2254
6 SOTTOMARINO WINERY, 400 California Ave Treasure Island (415) 967-4200
7 WINERY COLLECTIVE, 485 Jefferson St Fisherman’s Wharf (415) 929-9463
8 THE WINERY SF, 200 California Ave Treasure Island (415) 735-8423
OTHER HIGHLY RATED WINERIES IN SF Neighborhood Telephone
1 TANK18, 1345 Howard St SoMa No phone given
2 DOGPATCH WINEWORKS, 2455 3rd St Dogpatch (415) 525-4440
3 SUTTON CELLARS, 601 22nd St. Dogpatch No phone given
4 SAN FRANCISCO WINE TRADING, 250 Taraval St West Portal (415) 819-4941
5 GOLDEN GATE WINE CELLAR, 2337 Ocean Ave Ingleside Terraces (415) 337-4083

In addition to the above urban wineries where grapes are purchased and wine produced and aged, there are also simply wine bars where you can sample a variety of wines, have appetizers and perhaps a meal. Below are rankings of the ten most reviewed San Francisco wine bars, the ten highest rated San Francisco wine bars and the ten San Francisco wine bars that are reported as good for groups. (Yelp March 2016)

10 MOST REVIEWED San Francisco Wine Bars Food Style Telephone
1 RN74, 301 Mission St American (415) 543-7474
2 AMELIE, 1754 Polk St French (415) 292-6916
3 PRESS CLUB, 20 Yerba Buena Ln Mixed (415) 744-5000
4 DISTRICT SAN FRANCISCO, 216 Townsend St also Brunch (415) 896-2120
5 FIRST CRUSH, 101 Cyril Magnin St American (628) 400-5998
6 LOCAL KITCHEN & WINE, 330 1st St American (415) 777-4200
7 HIDDEN VINE, 408 Merchant St Mixed (415) 674-3567
8 BLACKBIRD, 2124 Market St Bar (415) 503-0630
9 PAULINE’S PIZZA & WINE, 260 Valencia St Pizza (415) 552-2050
10 THE RICHMOND, 615 Balboa St American (415) 379-8988
10 HIGHEST RATED San Francisco Wine Bars Neighborhood
1 ROBBERBARON, 2032 Polk St Nob Hill (415) 516-6945
2 HIDDEN VINE, 408 Merchant St Financial (415) 674-3567
3 ENO WINE BAR, 320 Geary St Union Square (415) 678-5321
4 RESOLUTE, 678 Geary St Lower Nob Hill (415) 825-0741
5 THE RICHMOND, 615 Balboa St Inner Richmond (415) 379-8988
6 VIN DEBUT, 9 West Portal Ave West Portal (415) 987-0414
7 YIELD WINE BAR, 2490 3rd St Dogpatch (415) 401-8984
8 20 SPOT, 3565 20TH St. Mission (415) 624-3140
9 BLUXOME STREET WINERY, 53 Bluxome St SoMa (415) 543-5353
10 AMELIE, 1754 Polk St Nob Hill (415) 292-6916
San Francisco Wine Bars GOOD FOR GROUPS Neighborhood
1 HIGH TREASON, 443 Clement ST Inner Richmond (415) 555-1212
2 HIDDEN VINE, 408 Merchant St Financial (415) 674-3567
3 ETCETERA WINE BAR, 795 Valencia St Mission (415) 926-5477
4 RESOLUTE, 678 Geary St Lower Nob Hill (415) 825-0741
5 ENO WINE BAR, 320 Geary St Union Square (415) 678-5321
6 L’EMIGRANTE WINE BAR, 2199 Mission St Mission (415) 863-4777
7 INNER FOG, 545 Irving St Inner Sunset (415) 682-4116
8 20 SPOT, 3565 20TH St. Mission (415) 624-3140
9 INTERNOS WINE CAFÉ, 3240 Geary Blvd Laurel Heights (415) 751-2661
10 TOFINO WINES, 2696 Geary Blvd Laurel Heights (415) 872-5782

Cheers and bon appétit. …

 

Betty Elaine Smith, Professor
Department of Geology and Geography
Eastern Illinois University

DOI: 10.14433/2016.0007