Spotlight: San Francisco Bay Area

When I moved to the Bay Area a little over four years ago, the restaurant scene could be described as guarded, at best. The effects of the mortgage-backed securities and housing meltdowns were still reverberating. Everyone was cautious. Chefs eased back on their craft and kept things simple; sommeliers were prudent, buying what sold to maintain cash flow; guests avoided splurging and sought safety over ambition.

How things have changed. At one point last year I counted 13 cranes outside my bedroom window—high-rises under efficient construction that continues to alter the skyline even as I write this. Soon after the financial turnaround and of-late tech boom, as one might expect, a restaurant explosion ensued. An unprecedented number of new restaurants have opened in the past two years, with countless other hotly anticipated projects slated to open in the coming months. Indeed, the growth has been so incredible that there’s a cook shortage so dire that rumors of signing bonuses and referral fees run rampant as owners try to lure the best away from their competition!  

It goes without saying, then, that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most coveted markets for the working sommelier today. For years our chefs and restaurants have garnered national—and recently international—acclaim. Our client base of well-traveled, well-heeled, food-obsessed locals coupled with ready-to-spend and adventurous visitors who’ve made San Francisco their food destination make it is a true privilege to work here as a sommelier. Our clientele’s open-mindedness provides us with tremendous freedom, while their deep knowledge and broad context consistently inspires us to innovate and improve. I have learned that San Francisco diners don’t care so much about what you do; what is essential to them is how well you do it. As this piece’s featured, on-top-of-their-game sommeliers will share, this diverse food- and wine-crazed city will support you as long as you do your thing well.  

Further, when it comes to industry camaraderie, you would be hard-pressed to find a group as giving, collaborative and loyal as ours. Mentors, study and tasting groups abound for those in pursuit of certifications. Trade tastings of every focus and scale are prolific throughout the year. Direct access to some of the most skilled winemakers and farmers is a mere one-hour drive away. And if you’re seeking inspiration or encouragement from your peers and colleagues, I can’t think of a more desirable city for somms. Yes, we have it good. We have it real good.Yoon Ha MS (Beverage Director at Benu)

Featured below are sommeliers from around the Bay Area, including San Francisco and Oakland: Dominique Henderson (Wine Director, Rich Table), Josiah Baldivino (owner, Bay Grape), Rebecca Fineman (Wine Director, Ame), Haley Moore (Wine and Spirits Director, Stock and Bones Group), Lulu McAllister (Wine Director, Nopa), Amy Racine (Wine Director, Sons & Daughters), Bobby Conroy (Sommelier, Benu), Chris Gaither (Wine Director, Gary Danko), Josh Thomas (Wine Director, Prospect), and Cara Patricia (GM and Head Sommelier, Les Clos).

How does the Bay Area restaurant scene compare to other big cities/metropolitan areas in the US?

Dominique: I think Bay Area residents are truly focused on where the food and beverages they consume comes from. Supporting local vendors and growers is a top priority. Guests here like to ask questions as well. Working in a restaurant, you need to be on-point with your knowledge of literally everything you are serving—from the ingredients in every dish to the sodas to wine and beer… anything, really. Those dining out in the Bay Area definitely do their homework!

Josiah: Definitely more of a focus and big celebration of local producers. They’re right in our back yard, so we actually know the producers, their families and their stories. You’re able to see a lot more winemaker-led dinners and tastings where the guests get to really understand who and where their wine is coming from. 

Rebecca: In terms of the local wines, there is a love for California that is unparalleled, and it wasn’t until I lived here that I realized how deserved it is. In the Bay, there is a need to represent California—the big guys and the little guys, the usual and unusual suspects—they all represent something and are special in their own right.

Haley: We are so lucky to have such a high caliber food scene in the Bay Area. The proximity to great produce and the fact that people who live here genuinely care about food makes northern California a mecca for fine cuisine. San Francisco, compared to other major cities like New York or Chicago, is actually pretty small; as a result, the pool of guests is much smaller, making the restaurant scene more competitive. This, along with the cost of doing business in San Francisco, has pushed a lot of restaurateurs to outlying areas like Oakland, which is now booming more than ever. Because the overhead is so much lower, the freedom for creativity there is limitless. 

Amy: Although the list of restaurants and talent in the area is endless, the hospitality community is actually very small. Everyone knows each other, and the camaraderie is unparalleled. Everyone has a relentless desire to grow and keep learning, so we push each other and support one another in times of success and difficulty. 

Chris: One thing that is such a shame is that there are no dedicated late-night restaurants to frequent. There’s Nopa, and a couple other places that have a kitchen open until 1:30am, but no places with a kitchen open until 3am. What’s up with that? We’re supposed to be one of the greatest food destinations in the world, and we don’t have more cool late night eats? Ugh.

Bobby: There is currently a tremendous amount of growth in the Bay Area, and mass gentrification throughout the City (what locals call the city of SF itself) is giving opportunity to restaurateurs everywhere. However, the Bay Area—perhaps the progenitor of the “fresh, farm-to-table, locally sourced, seasonally focused” concept—has succumbed to a feeling of sameness across the high-end casual niche. Luckily, through the sheer volume of restaurants available, options abound—there are plenty of sushi, ramen, Italian, fine-dining, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan choices all available… as I understand, for the true crusaders, there is even an all-Paleo restaurant due to open in Berkeley.

Lulu: While the Bay Area doesn't perhaps have the same scale as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, I would argue that we have the highest per capita of actually good restaurants. I think that many chefs and restaurateurs here know to let our amazing, fresh and local produce speak for itself, regardless of the overarching styles of their restaurants' cuisines. Some of the hottest restaurants here make exciting dishes that might feature about six ingredients or less.

Cara: To quote a San Francisco sommelier and educator whose name I won’t mention, "New York may be three hours ahead, but they are 10 years behind." Honestly, the Bay Area restaurant scene really is an incubator for greatness throughout the rest of America.

What are the most exciting wine and beverage trends hitting the Bay Area now?

Chris: New restaurants are developing concise beverage lists and are confident and focused in what they offer to the guest—similar to having a concise menu for food. 

Josh: I definitely think that the “New California” wine movement is a real thing and that a lot of people are excited about the new guard of producers who are making wines with food in mind. Not only are there a lot of earlier pick times, but producers are rediscovering grape varieties that have not been popular in the past. The cocktail movement is awesome as well. Restaurant owners and beverage directors have to pay attention to the drink program because the guests definitely are. It's awesome to be able to go to bars and restaurants, order a classic cocktail and know it will be made properly. 

Dominique: More and more guests are asking for orange wines, and it makes my eyes twinkle and my heart skip a beat. Vini macerati or orange wines are great for sipping and can be the perfect food pairings.

Rebecca: Sake and Sherry both seem to be climbing in popularity around town, and I don’t mind it one bit. As sommeliers we need to think outside the world of wine for the perfect pairing—sometimes it is sake, sometimes it is Sherry, and sometimes it’s beer or cider.

Amy: Ciders in a wide range of styles are really starting to make a mark. As for wine, Portugal is an exciting place that I think more sommeliers are paying attention to, as well as the Pacific Northwest. I also can't talk about wine trends locally without mentioning the use of wine apps. Multiple guests a week proudly pull out their phone to take pictures, scan labels, search wines, or type notes on the beverage app of their choice, which didn't happen nearly as often this time last year! 

Bobby: Perhaps the most exciting part of the “local” thing is the excellent spirits being produced locally by the likes of 209 Distilleries, Essentials Distilleries, Charbay and others. There’s no shortage of artisanal coffee and tea shops with micro-lot, single origin beans or leaves becoming more of a focus.  

Haley: Vermouth! It has been really exciting to see all of the people with licenses for only beer and wine (no spirits) come up with creative cocktails using vermouth and fortified wines. Anchor & Hope, one of the restaurants in the group I work with, is beer and wine only, but I recently rolled out a vermouth program. It is fun to see guests get excited about an item that they once feared would touch their martinis! Now they are enjoying it straight, on the rocks or even with tonic.

Josiah: More and more smaller California producers are experimenting and looking to switch up the status quo of traditional “Napa,” even if it’s just a few smaller-production experiments or one-offs.

Cara: I've been noticing a nice move “back to basics” on wine lists and keeping selections close to home. The step away from the esoteric and embrace of quality over exclusivity is very refreshing. On the other hand, I'm really enjoying restaurants from St. Vincent to Tosca Cafe to Delfina Pizzeria embracing all that Italy has to offer, making for a diversely priced list worth exploring.

What's your clientele like and what are they looking for when they come to dine with you?

Bobby: International travelers, people celebrating special occasions, business diners, foodies, industry folks, repeat guests and locals from around the Bay all sit next to one another each night. Our hope is to provide consistency in a timely, unpretentious manner.

Rebecca: My clientele runs the gamut from those who know nothing about wine to those who know quite a bit. The connoisseurs look through my list and make comments, shedding light on their own experiences with certain wines and vintages. Many others feel intimidated by my list. They look through it hoping to recognize something—anything. They want to chat but aren’t comfortable talking about wine. They are unsure of their tastes and worried they are going to be taken advantage of. They need a little more love. Both groups, though, just want to know that their needs are going to be met and that they are going to be listened to.

Haley: All three of our restaurants are within walking distance from one another, and all three have an entirely different clientele. But all three restaurants deliver warm, hospitable service. At the end of the day, I think all guests are looking to feel comfortable and at home. 

Lulu: Our guests at Nopa run the gamut! We have ALL types pass through our doors between 5 pm and 1 am when we stop serving. We are part neighborhood joint, part destination restaurant, part industry hub. I am pretty sure that all our guests are looking for our pork chop. No, kidding—but that's definitely a draw! I think our guests want good ingredients, honestly prepared, with variability driven by seasonality. Many guests come to Nopa to try new wines, and our menu is a great platform for this kind of exploration.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Bay Area restaurant/wine scene?

Cara: I think a complete strength of the Bar Area wine scene is the cohesive family-feel that we have. I enjoy that although it is a competitive job market, the majority of sommeliers here are not competitive, are not worried about sharing wine or deciding who is “worthy” of a taste, and are open to giving advice and sharing ideas—or sharing flashcards! There is a healthy dose of humility within most sommeliers' confidence, and I've felt very inspired by that.

Bobby: The north coast of California is the mecca of the wine world for those pursuing advanced certifications through the Court of Master Sommeliers and for those driven to become complete, well-rounded wine professionals. We have all-access to Master Sommeliers, important wine regions, traditional as well as cutting edge producers, focused tasting groups—and an array of like-minded individuals entrenched in the pursuit is readily available. I’m not sure there is a better place to be if you’re an American in the wine business. Just remember not to put the cart before the horse… There is a strong desire for young sommeliers to get ahold of their own program without a great deal of experience. But being a good sommelier is a trade. Much like a great carpenter, electrician or plumber who must spend several years in apprenticeship, it’s important to remember that experience is invaluable to one’s success in running a program. 

Rebecca: Our restaurant culture relies on local ingredients and wines. This is what we do well. The problem is a too-much-of-the-same-thing syndrome. There’ve been several occasions when I’ve gone to eat somewhere, and though I’ve never been to that restaurant, I’ve seen the menu before (both the food and wine).

Dominique: I think a strength is that restaurants here aren’t scared to try something new and different—especially in terms of beverages. Wine lists are ever-evolving, and cocktails are becoming more and more advanced in terms of both product and application. Gold leaf floating casually in your cocktail, anyone? Bay Area residents are adventurous, but they are always looking for the next big thing. The downside is that there is a constant flow of new restaurants “borrowing” from their predecessors. Once you see your favorite new wine by the glass at 10 other restaurants, it tires quickly. You can’t rest on your laurels. You always have to have your eyes and ears out for the next best thing.

Josiah: Strengths are everything focused on local. As for weaknesses, I wish that the somms would be a little more cohesive and do more together or in support of each other. For example, you used to hear stories about SF somms meeting up after service to blind taste together late-night; I would love to bring that back and just create more of a community. I think our lack of late-night dining options actually hinders us in this way, because there really aren’t as many places for us to go out together when we end our shift—no one really wants to meet up at Jack In the Box and drink Champagne…

Josh: The proximity to wine country is a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength because we get to find small local producers that the rest of the country may not even get to see or taste. The downside to this is that clientele can find it easy to only drink California when there is a whole world of exciting wines to drink!

Haley: It’s been sad to see many of the white tablecloth restaurants that I grew up with close. It has become apparent to restaurateurs that fewer guests want to dine that way, and they are simply responding to the demand… but if we continue to lose these iconic gems, it may get a little boring. With that said, I think our region has mastered the farm-to-table scene. Using the best quality, organic, ingredients is not only expected, but is delivered on every level. 

What's the most popular category of wine on your list?

Haley: Overall, guests tend to choose local. And Pinot Noir is still king.

Lulu: The Loire and Jura (both for red and white wines) are very popular, and so is Zinfandel, especially with guests from Europe.

Chris: Wow. Only one choice? Let’s say Napa Cabernet is king, followed by white Burgundy, California Pinot Noir and Rhône Valley. Hopefully next year I’ll say German and Austrian Riesling.

Josiah: Right now, rosé. I can’t keep enough stock on these mags of German rosé I picked up. It’s crazy. And they ask for orange wine, and the Eastern European stuff I have seems to be selling nearly as often as California Pinot. Oakland folks rock it. 

Amy: Riesling and Champagne have always been a popular category since day one, which I will never complain about! Lately, however, more and more guests are asking to explore Oregon and Washington wines, which is equally exciting.

Rebecca: Champagne, white Burgundy and California Pinot Noir.

How do you approach selecting wines for your program?

Chris: I consider a producer’s relevance within a particular region, how the wine will please our guests and create an experience, how well it’ll work with our menu (I find a lot of guests don’t follow this guideline; they just drink what they like) and whether the wine presents a value to the guest and offers a distinct character not found elsewhere on the list. 

Bobby: We spend a great deal of time selecting beverages for the pairing menu as it is a large part of our program. Ultimately we want delicious beer, sake and wines that meet the flavors of the cuisine and the needs of our guests.  

Haley: I think about the guest first. If I were writing a program simply for Town Hall’s menu (a New Orleans-inspired restaurant) it would be filled with Riesling, Chenin Blanc and cru Beaujolais. Unfortunately, our guests are not sommeliers. They want big Napa Cab, Bordeaux, California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The wine list is written for them first, for the food second, and for my personal preferences last. 

Dominique: We select wines as a group effort. It’s really an amazing experience to discuss what we like and don’t like as a team. Having four or five different palates working toward the same goal is truly enlightening.

Rebecca: The hardest thing for me to come to terms with when I first became a buyer was that I couldn’t create a list of only things that I would want to drink. It does not make someone feel good to sit down at a restaurant and not see a single bottle on the list that she’d want to drink. I think about my mother and a few non-wine-oriented friends who love certain wines that I would never personally choose to drink. I think that they should be able to find a wine they like on my list.

Lulu: I'm looking for overall balance on my list. I want to have classic wines as much as I want to include exciting new producers. I am always curious which wines my favorite winemakers are drinking, so it never hurts to start my search there. It's like asking friends with similar musical taste for new band recommendations.

Josh: Typicity is most important to me. We have a global list, and it is important that the bottles on the list reflect the place and variety they come from.

Josiah: It’s really important to listen to the demands of your guest and supply accordingly. Our goal at the shop is to have all styles of wine at all different price points, whether you’re a somm looking for something geeky, a girl who loves New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a guy who wants to impress his date without spending an arm and a leg. We are not “too cool” for any particular style, but we do focus on supporting smaller producers that make delicious wine. As a complement to that, by being a smaller retailer we have the ability to gently turn people onto new things without freaking them out or pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.     

Service-wise, what's most (and least) important to you? What about to your guests?

Lulu: Bottom line, I want the guests to feel comfortable exploring the list. I do this by keeping the pricing reasonable and training the staff to have educated but not overbearing conversations with guests about our exciting wine options.

Rebecca: I don’t like clunky wine service: struggling to open a bottle at the table; when glasses are over-poured; or when a Champagne foil, cork, cap and cage are all left on the table. 

Cara: Least important to me is formal wear and overly formal service. I want all of my sommeliers to have exceptionally polished skills, but guest comfort is most important to me. Everything from reading the menu (a list that necessitates a Master's pin to order from is not guest-friendly), the price ranges and selection, and finding relaxation though our genuine hospitality is absolutely the driving force of what I do. I want my guest to be able to sit at the bar, terribly mispronounce Bourgogne Aligoté and not feel like an idiot. In fact, by the end of their stay, I want them to feel like they've learned something new from a friend.

Bobby: Our guests want genuine care without pretentiousness, excitement without us being overzealous, and efficiency without us being robotic or contrived.  

Josiah: Most important is not being a douche—you are there to help the guest find what he or she is looking for. Least important to me is the formal mechanics. Be natural and read your guest; everyone is different. 

Amy: I want every guest to know that I empathize with him or her and have the table’s best interest in mind. To quote my wise grandmother: "People don't always remember what you said, but they certainly remember how you made them feel."


What is the value of certification (through the CMS or other bodies) in your market today?

Lulu: "Have you seen the movie SOMM?" is a question I hear most days. I think that because of this movie and other beverage coverage in the media, the sommelier certification has never been a more recognized and revered title in contemporary culture. 

Chris: I think certification is very important today. It gives us the opportunity to enhance and test our skills. I do see a negative side, though: Many people feel it makes them “superior” to those that are not certified. That thinking is flawed. These days, it seems everything needs some kind of qualifier, or score, and now a lot of people don’t care whether or not the person recommending wine to them is actually presenting them a distinct value—they seem to care more that the person in question is a “certified sommelier” and that this person is studying for their Master Sommelier diploma. It saddens me to see a world in which people want to quantify everything, especially when they are dealing with something that cannot be quantified, like how memorable of an experience they’ll have at the dinner table with a great bottle, regardless of it being chosen by a Master Sommelier or a knowledgeable server.

Josiah: I think it is becoming expected by most employers that you have some level of certification. Although certification is not everything, it gets your foot in the door with many prospective employers.

Cara: I think even attempting to go through these programs shows a level of passion and dedication, which sets a high bar for all others who want to make wine into a career. Sometimes, however, it can be an Achilles heel: "Person X only passed Intro, I don't know how he got that job," or notes on job posts: "Must be at least Advanced level to apply" is another form of disregard for an individual's merits.

Rebecca: People are very focused on the Court in this market. Not just people looking to hire—the guests are interested as well. They ask questions, ask for help, and want to know more about what our jobs are like. The certifications can also help with the “difficult guests”—the know-it-alls who don’t really know very much. Having a pin makes it easier to gain control in these situations. People are quick to start a wine conversation when they feel confident that there is someone who knows what he/she is talking about on the other end.

Haley: I believe wholeheartedly in continued education. The beauty of wine is that it is ever changing; therefore we must stay committed and never stop learning. With that said, there are countless sommeliers who have done great things without being certified. On-the-job training is just as (if not more) important than certifications. It is important to remember that being a great somm is also being a great server, maître d’, busser, food runner and manager. 

Best wine list besides your own in town? Best cocktail or beer program?

Bobby: Acquerello, RN and Quince and Cotogna all come to mind. But my favorite place to drink is Nopa. Lulu does an amazing job balancing classic and unique selections. Go to City Beer Store: It’s the beer equivalent to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. For me, the most thoughtfully crafted, original and delicious cocktails in the City are still at Bar Agricole. 

Haley: I love the wine program at 1760, where Gianpaolo Paterlini always has old/rare options at extremely fair prices. I love programs that offer such fair pricing on high-end offerings that you’d be crazy not to indulge! The Trappist in Oakland is a great spot for Belgian beer. They have a massive book full of bottle selections—if it’s funky and weird, they have it. 

Amy: The depth of Italian wines and vintages represented at Acquerello is unbelievable. The wine team there is incredibly talented, and they have a beautiful tableside presence as well. One of the most unique beverage programs is TBD. They have an extensive sherry list, but also some interesting beers and cocktails— especially impressive considering their lack of a full liquor license (no hard alcohol).

Josiah: Best wine list is La Ciccia’s. I mean, dude: It’s all Sardinian wines and, more importantly, they all work really well with the food. Best beer program has got to be Hog's Apothecary here in Oakland. Sayre Piotrkowski is the man behind the program and HOLY COW has he done a phenomenal job at rotating taps of cool small-batch stuff.    

Rebecca: I like the lists at St. Vincent and Absinthe. They are different size programs, but they both contain careful and thoughtful selections. For cocktails I love Smuggler’s Cove and Trick Dog. Amsterdam Café has a great beer list, a knowledgeable staff and an ever-changing lineup of beers on tap. 

Dominique: In Oakland, Ordinaire always has something new and interesting, and their offerings change daily. It’s casual and relaxed and lacks the pretention of a lot of wine bars I’ve been to. They don’t rush you, and the staff is super knowledgeable. In San Francisco, Nopa’s ever-evolving wine list offers bottles in all shapes, sizes, styles and price ranges—there is always something I have yet to taste or hear of. I like looking at a wine list and thinking, I have no idea what half this stuff is! Yet there is always someone amazing there to navigate you through it. 

Favorite spot to grab a bite or drink after work?

Josh: Loving Kin Khao at the moment for late night eats. Delicious and thoughtful Thai food.

Haley: I am lucky enough to work next door to RN74... nothing says dinner like French fries and a glass of Egly-Ouriet! 

Dominique: I live in Oakland so I tend to end my night at Plum Bar on Broadway in Uptown Oakland. They have friendly bartenders that make a mean cocktail, they stay open late, AND they have a happy meal. Yes, a happy meal: cheeseburger, smoked fries, a shot of Four Roses bourbon and a draught pint, all for under $20. Pretty much all you want in life after a long shift.

Josiah: A16 Rockridge or Ramen Shop (also in Rockridge, Oakland). Probably two of the restaurants that are open later in our neck of the woods—and regardless of what time it is, I always love going there. Both have just incredible food and awesome staff that make you feel so at ease. 

Cara: Asiento, Trick Dog, Alta, Dave's on 3rd (order a Chicago-style hot dog and a “sweet potato” shot), Nopa.

Bobby: Sadly, up until recently, San Francisco did not have much of a late-night scene. That’s slowly being formed with the opening of restaurants like Tosca, Alta and Monsieur Benjamin, but there’s still not a plethora of choices. I feel like a glass of Champagne or Chablis, a sandwich and my couch have always been the best option after work. 

Amy: For just a drink, Rye is an excellent spot for late-night cocktails. Bouche is a quaint little late-night French bistro I frequent when I want to stick in the area. The best, though, is a Thai spot called Kin Khao. I often crave their "Pretty Hot Wings" (so addictive!) and fried quail. They also have a fun beverage list with unique cocktails, beers, wine and ciders.

Favorite local producers the rest of the country hasn't (yet) heard of?

Josh: Ghostwriter and LaRue Pinot Noir. Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris is delicious and interesting. Check out Dropout Albarino when you have a chance.

Haley: I just discovered the wines from Arbe Garbe in the Russian River Valley. He’s originally from Friuli and is making wine in that style: light skin-contact Malvasia/Pinot Grigio blends that are delicious.  

Lulu: Father John makes only one wine, a pretty, Marsannay-like Pinot Noir from the Oehlman Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. I think his wine represents a new style for producers working with fruit from this area. Enfield Wine Co. Tempranillo from Shake Ridge is another I've been having fun with lately.

Cara: Forlorn Hope has always been one of my favorite CA producers, but I'm pretty sure Matthew Roricks's reputation is taking the world by storm. Colouir Pinot Noir from around the north coast; O'Shaughnessy up on Howell Mountain is incredibly high quality. If Kelly Fleming isn't famous with collectors yet, that would be a shame; Gemstone makes delicious Cabernet Sauvignon... and of course the indie darlings of Sonoma: Jolie-Laide, Poe and Zeitgeist.

Dominique: Kevin Kelly’s wines (Salinia Wine Company) have consistently blown my mind. He keeps the integrity of the grapes without over-manipulating them or adding anything too flashy to make the wines into something they aren’t. His wines are some of my favorites to pair food with as they retain acidity, still have great tannin, and the alcohol is usually nice and moderate to allow for, well… more drinking. 

Bobby: Jason Kesner (day-to-day winemaker for Steve Kistler) makes some of the most honest and delicious California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir available under his own label, Kesner. Michael Terrien, under his namesake label, is producing the most pure, Chablis-like wines in California from Hanzell’s estate vineyard in Sonoma Valley. Jim and Margaret Foley’s Petrichor is a dead ringer for elegant, aromatic, Northern Rhône Syrah; it’s made by Duncan Meyers of Arnot-Roberts with just a dollop of Grenache. The wines of Graham Tatomer in Santa Barbara, which are well known in the Bay, should not be missed. Blind tasting his Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners is like taking a trip through the Danube River Plain.  

Josiah: Under the Wire: gangster-ass sparkling wine. 

Amy Racine

Bobby Conroy

Cara Patricia

Chris Gaither

Haley Moore

Josh Thomas

Lulu McAllister

 Rebecca Fineman

Josiah Baldivino

Dominique Henderson

  • Haley: I think about the guest first. If I were writing a program simply for Town Hall’s menu (a New Orleans-inspired restaurant) it would be filled with Riesling, Chenin Blanc and cru Beaujolais. Unfortunately, our guests are not sommeliers. They want big Napa Cab, Bordeaux, California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The wine list is written for them first, for the food second, and for my personal preferences last.

    Probably one of my favorite quotes and thought processes.  Having a fortunate position that allows me to travel to all the major market and many secondaries twice a year, sadly you see far too many lists that are: Personal preference, food, guest.

  • Awesome piece. Thanks for putting this together! As someone fairly new to the Bay Area,  this helps me have more of a big picture view - as well as some incredible recs on new producers and the like! The chef and I will be paying you all a visit after the holiday season takes its' toll!

  • Great piece on one of the top food and wine cultures on the planet!

    Chris, loved your comment on (paraphrasing) someone passionate, experienced and informed recommending a great wine regardless of pin size...

    Bobby C, Kesner rocks and I am drinking trousseau Gris almost every time down in Cali, several rockin producers, who knew???



  • My favorite quote of this piece "Not being a Douche"

    Amen Josiah!

  • Great Write-up! Chris, Josiah, and Bobby are absolutely right about the lack of late-(end-of-shift)-night dinning. I work in SF as well, typically from noon to 10pm (not as late as most sommeliers), and I have always been open to late night studying, tastings or whathaveyou, but haven't really come across any usual spots. Don't get me wrong, there are many night spots, but there's a reason why San Francisco is not the city that never sleeps (that would be NY). The city is setup for individuals to NOT be out that late. I live in North Berkeley and the BART (urban train) stops running at 1am. My study group like most of the others in the City is going on in the mornings, before our shifts. Keep on keepin' on.

  • Thanks for putting this together Stevie!

  • amazing interviews, amazing somms(mad respect for all of you), amazing city.. Makes me want to move.