THE BARREL ROOM Located in the historic Fitzgerald Hotel, this cozy little wine bar’s mission is to expose guests to rare and unusual wines from around the world. It is the brainchild of sommeliers and co-owners Sarah Trubnick and Carolyn Johnson, who are opening a second location in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. While their San Francisco location supplements its constantly changing wine list with classy bar snacks such as fine cheeses, charcuterie, hummus and flatbreads, the Oakland version will feature a full kitchen. Trubnick and Johnson followed parallel paths toward the wine industry before they met. Johnson earned a degree in another field, and built a background in photography before her fascination with wine led her to become a New York City sommelier. The San Francisco Examiner spoke with Trubnick, who was a UCLA-trained laser physicist before she moved to New York, studied at the Culinary Institute of America and became a sommelier.
What’s your background in the wine industry? The science of winemaking was fascinating to me, so I became a certified sommelier, traveled a lot and did harvests all over the world. I’ve worked in the cellars of Bordeaux [France], Italy and Australia.
What made you switch from being a laser scientist to a wine expert? The path I was on would have led to a research position. I accomplished what I wanted to, and I didn’t want to be locked in a little basement lab all day and night. Wine provides enough science to satisfy that aspect of what I like.
What makes a good sommelier? You want to educate people about what you’re pouring. You want to educate them about why they like something or don’t like it. The wine industry can be intimidating, and the way some sommeliers handle that is to make it an exclusive club. For us, it’s a beverage — it should be fun. People should have a good time learning about it. We wear jeans and T-shirts. We have the same education level as people you’d find in a Michelin-star restaurant, but our guests don’t feel the intimidation associated with that.
It sounds like you’re democratizing wine enthusiasm. We have customers who started out coming in saying, “I like wine, I don’t know, red wine,” and now they come in asking for specific grape varietals, such as saperavi, and it’s like, “Oh yeah, we’ve done that to you!”
How is working at a wine bar different from being a bartender at a place that serves liquor and mixed drinks? I’ve been a bartender in New York, and I’d say the difference is in the intimacy. At a traditional bar, you maybe exchange a few jokes with the bartender. At a wine bar, people feel they can get into deeper conversations.
What kinds of wines do you offer? We have 50 different wines by the glass. Every six to eight weeks, we rotate the entire glass list. Right now we’re focusing on France. Next it will be Germany and Austria, and then Italy. We look for pretty obscure, hard-to-find wines with smaller production runs. Unless it’s something really delicious, in which case we don’t care if it’s rare.
620 Post St.