There's a lot to be said for an easy commute. That's the main reason resident winemakers Ed Kurtzman, Bryan Harrington, Chris Nelson, John Fones and others decided to set up shop in San Francisco.
Urban winemaking has been on the rise, as evidenced in the East Bay, and whether it's in architecturally designed facilities like Bluxome Street Winery or a converted garage, some of your neighbors have gotten into the act.
Born and raised in The City, Harrington's first foray into winemaking was in his home. But as he continued to grow, he realized it was time to "get legal."
Harrington's journey went from Bernal Heights to Berkeley to Hunters Point, coinciding with a shift in his focus from zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon to pinot noir, and now to less popular varietals such as charbono, trousseau and fiano.
Harrington has been back in San Francisco since 2007.
"My buddy Ron who had a metal shop had room" for a winemaking operation, he said. The move was costly but his rent is now half the amount for double the space. What? Are we talking about the same town?
A half-mile away on Third Street, Kurtzman and Fones call a nondescript warehouse their home away from their other San Francisco home. Kurtzman — who has made wine and consulted for numerous vintners over the years, including Freeman Winery — makes wine for others as well as himself in this industrial facility. He also is a partner and the winemaker for August West Wines and has his own label, Sandler.
Under the latter, he makes several pinot noirs as well as a grenache and a Rhone-like syrah from the Connell Vineyard in Bennett Valley. Sadly, he lost the contract for this vineyard to a larger producer, but not before Fones got his hands on some for Von Holt Wines.
Chris Von Holt is a native San Franciscan who spent many years working in the U.S. Secret Service. Pamela Miller Von Holt used to dance professionally and have her own dance studio in The City. She runs the business end of Von Holt Wines while Fones makes the wines. Emphasizing cooler climates, they make chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah.
Fones and his wife, Katie, have their own venture, Cellars 33. Transplanted from Baltimore, Fones was a criminal defense lawyer before trading in his briefcase for barrels. He interned at Freeman under Kurtzman before taking on the winemaker position at Von Holt and starting up Cellars 33.
Compared to Kurtzman, who has been making wine for 20 years, he's a newbie. But his efforts at Von Holt and with his own label are impressive.
Up the road from Hunters Point is Dogpatch Wine Works, open to the public Thursday through Sunday, where several winemakers with different levels of experience make wine for themselves and others.
Nelson, who previously made wine for Bluxome Street, is one of the consulting winemakers. Mike Zitzlaff, who was the head winemaker at Crushpad, is the director of operations at the tasting room. A number of wine labels, including Pug and Seamus, are available for tasting in 2- and 5-ounce sizes.
Since writing the piece on Bluxome Street Winery last year, urban wineries have continued to pop up around the country. While the vineyards are located miles away, these urban tasting outposts have a slightly more organic feel than a wine bar or retail shop.
Not everyone can afford to have a tasting area, but most are open to tasting by appointment. Next time you have an afternoon to kill, or craving for a glass of pinot noir or fiano, think twice before you fill up the gas tank, as wine tasting is only a Muni ride away.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.