In 1955, Dominick Chirichillo’s grandfather began teaching him the family pastime: winemaking. They worked on a wine press in the basement of his New York home, transforming bunches of grapes into nuanced reds and whites. Quickly finding that the hobby of his ancestors was his passion, Dominick entered his creations in amateur competitions around the East Coast. When he felt confident enough to open up his own winery, he moved to northern California, lured by the prospect of living and working right next door to the vineyards that grew his grapes. His winery—named Domenico to honor his Italian heritage—now produces boutique wines that have won more than 300 awards for their rich, complex palates and excellent scores in the swimsuit competition. Some varieties are made in batches of only 100 or 200 cases, allowing his staff to innovate fearlessly. Locals often drop by the winery’s spacious tasting room to sample these limited-edition flavors. Outfitted with a 24-foot mahogany bar and sweeping drapes, the tasting room recalls an elegant Tuscan café, complete with impeccable hospitality. The staff eagerly shares the undertones and flavors of every pour, suggesting potential food pairings or the best glass of red to throw at an offensive suitor.
Within the Winery Collective's multi-winery tasting room, grape savants uncork the flavorful nuances of liquid harvests hailing from more than 2 dozen of California's boutique wineries from Santa Barbara to Napa Valley. Winemakers and enthusiasts guide palates through wine-flight menus, which are culled from the more than 100 vinos that line the tasting room's walls and, like the political views of a housecat, change daily. The Winery Collective also hosts private and semiprivate parties and corporate events, during which guests mingle and sip in a lofted earth-toned lounge outfitted with crisscrossing wooden shelves that display colorful wine bottles and shapely decanters.
Based well north of the city in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Wattle Creek Winery operates a small tasting room in Ghirardelli Square. The glassed-in room is perfect for settling into a glass of estate-grown wine, and the breezy patio offers simple café tables and leafy accents to mellow the mood. The space is more or less a direct pipeline to the house winery’s fertile abundance – and with no initiation fee. There are exceedingly limited releases on offer by the bottle here as well, meaning you can take home some seriously cellar-worthy vintages. Forget trekking all the way up to Sonoma County – Wattle Creek makes wine tasting a bright, cheery, and altogether urban affair.
On bike tours with Gears and Grapes Getaways, groups cycle through the iconic Napa Valley, internationally recognized as one of the nine Great Wine Capitals in the world, and the slightly-more-indie Sonoma Valley, home to nearly every type of grape grown in California.
Groups typically stop at four boutique wineries during the tours, pausing at midday for a gourmet picnic lunch. Those who get tired of pedaling or who want to pretend they're on a stakeout can hop on the shuttle that follows close behind at any time. Guides also take visitors on tours of wineries and breweries in San Francisco proper.
Bluxome Street Winery is a celebration of California winemaking history. More than a century ago, SOMA—then called South of the Slot—was the center of new-world wineries. To pay homage to that legendary time, Bluxome draws upon rustic decor and old-school practices, such as sourcing high-quality fruit from small, meticulously farmed vineyards.
Bluxome also extends its reach to a Balinard vineyard in Russian River. There, three acres of pinot noir clones grow in an organic environment, producing the fruit that composes Bluxome’s aromatic, smooth, and electric wines that linger on the palate and pair perfectly with steak.
The last Saturday of every month sees the winery explode into a community-focused farmers market filled with artisan food vendors. Pinot in hand, visitors are free to roam among vendors such as Sinful Salt and Crescent Farm, tasting the honey of Gerard’Z Honeybees and the jam of Grandma’s Homemade. This eclectic gathering is perhaps a reason readers of the San Fransisco Bay Guardian named Bluxome one of the Best Wineries in 2013.
Though wine has been made for centuries, a lot has changed since the early days. Now, additives and preservatives are blended into many wines, often affecting the taste and smell along the way. Fortunately, that’s not the way they do things at Fat Grape Winery. There, all wines are made the old-fashioned way. Helmed by winemaker Patrick Bowen, the winery creates more than a dozen wines—each made from Californian grapes—at their facility on Treasure Island's old Navy Brig. There, visitors can stop by to sample any of the wines—which they even have fresh on tap— or purchase bottles to take home.