Owner Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars has always been interested in the world of wine, but it wasn't until he tasted a Chateauneuf-du-Pape that the cosmos unfurled before him. "To go from tasting only single varietals to a blend really opened my eyes," he wrote in his bio. He started crafting his own wines and tinkering with production methods, experimenting with different yeast strains. Cohn eventually produced the 2003 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel, which was named number three on Wine Spectator's Top 100 List—the first time a California Zinfandel had even been in the top 10.
Now, Cohn curates a roster of 21 vintages based on Rhone grape varietals at JC Cellars. The wines are the product of both his own production techniques and time-tested French methods. Visitors to the cellars can gaze upon the aging barrels during tastings led by seasoned wine educators, before taking a bottle home to christen a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon.
After working at a slew of vineyards and wineries, husband-and-wife team Michael and Anne Dashe struck out on their own, building Dashe Cellars on a foundation of more than 40 years of combined experience. Specializing in single-vineyard zinfandels?including the 2011 Todd Brothers Ranch Old Vines Zinfandel, a wine crafted from grapes grown on 50-year-old vines?they use traditional and natural winemaking techniques. Small-lot fermentation and the application of indigenous yeasts, as well as little to no filtration, result in wines that truly reflect their soil, climate, and regional characteristics, such as indecipherable accents. The Oakland tasting room offers visitors the chance to taste the winery's catalog, allowing them to sip samples of current releases and even purchase bottles on site.
Alameda Naval Air Base's Building 24 once housed the latest fighter craft, ready to leap over the stone tidal wall to the south and enter World War II's Pacific Theater. Now the facility's vast, climate controlled interior serves a gentler purpose. It hosts the father and daughter winemaking team, founders and industry veterans Kent and Shauna Rosenblum, who draw grapes from all of California's richest soils to mix and ferment them on San Francisco's doorstep. Taking inspiration from the harbor fortifications still visible in the surf, they call themselves Rock Wall Wine Company.
They put the full 40,000 square feet of the former hangar to use, fermenting grapes in the cellar, loading and draining barrels, and hosting events to show off their collection of more than 30 wines. When they roll up the doors, views extend to the San Francisco skyline, a sunny vision which pairs nicely with Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Napa Valley or Zinfandel harvested in Contra Costa County. The combinations of grapes from all over the state have won a steady stream of awards.
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.