It’s a little-known fact that San Francisco was once a city recognized for its winemaking. In the early 1900s, there were roughly 160 wineries operating in the area, most densely found in the South of Market (SoMa) industrial district. The grapes were harvested and grown in Sonoma and Napa and shipped by boat down to San Francisco, were they would be pressed, barreled and bottled at the aforementioned wineries. However, after the 1906 earthquake burned the city to the ground, many of the wineries were destroyed. The prohibition amendment, which was put into place in 1920, ensured that a once-thriving wine industry in the city would never be able to resurrect itself — until now.
Bluxome Street Winery
In 2010, Bluxome Street Winery opened its doors in SoMa. The first full-fledged winery to set up shop in San Francisco, Bluxome founder Matt Reidy originally had a hard time getting the proper licensing for the business. After three years of jumping through logistical hoops, however, the winery opened just four short blocks away from the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park on a quiet alley known as Bluxome Street. Like the area’s ancestors, Bluxome imports its grapes from low-yield vineyards in Sonoma’s cooler regions and produces the wines in its large warehouse facility that doubles as an event space in non-harvest months. Bluxome is known for its Burgundian-style wines with an emphasis on chardonnay and pinot noir that has been natively fermented. Winemaker Webster Marquez lives in Sonoma County to keep a close eye on the grapes, while a tag team of cellar masters, Tyzok Wharton and Kyle Jeffrey, oversees the onsite, day-to-day production. Bluxome’s team tries to add as little as possible to its wines to create balanced, European-style varietals. “One of the greatest things about being a new and young winery is that there is a lot of room for experimentation,” says Wharton. “We do a lot of fun side projects.” Those of note: a deliciously smooth ice wine made from frozen sauvignon blanc grapes, and an incredible dry orange wine.
Just a five-minute walk from Bluxome on Brannan, in between Second and Third streets, is Jax Vineyards. Unlike Bluxome, the September 2014-opened Jax is just a tasting room; the wines are actually produced at the winery’s estate up in Calistoga. But the founders, siblings Kimberly and Trent Jackson, wanted their tasting room to be in San Francisco, not wine country — the Jacksons grew up in SF and their grandfather owned a printing company in SoMa. For years an empty lot sat next door to the printer, but when the Jacksons realized it would make the perfect location for a tasting room, they swooped in and started remodeling the space. Jax also faced complications from the city since it was neither a bar nor a winery but strictly a tasting room. Today, the beautiful venue — it’s an indoor-outdoor space with lush greenery, wooden benches with plush pillows and glimmering fireplaces — is an ideal location to sip a flight of Jax’s estate and Y3 wines. The spot is so serene that you feel as if you’re in a tasting room in Napa. And the wines, especially the Dutton Chardonnay, are refreshing, refined and well balanced. Fun fact: Jax is the official wine of the Entourage series and can be found in several scenes in the June-released Entourage movie.
After you stop by SoMa’s best winery and tasting room, head to its top little wine bar and shop around Mark Bright’s Les Clos. Bright is best known for his role as the wine director at one of San Francisco’s most illustrious restaurants, Saison. Les Clos is his pet project that opened in September 2014. Les Clos is the sort of neighborhood spot that you find all over Europe. By day, the address serves coffee and pastries; at night, you will find superb wine and classic French bistro fare like bone marrow, Basque chicken, and clams with chorizo. Bright excels at curation and his rotating list of 40 by-the-glass varietals and 250 bottle selections is extraordinary. There’s an excellent rosé from Oregon and true pinot gris from the French countryside.