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.
Harvested from more than two dozen sites around Woodside, some of the grapes that transform into Woodside Vineyard's wines grow plump on vines that have thrived there since as early as 1884. Back in 1960, the winery's founder Bob Mullen began crafting small batches of wine in limited quantities. Today, he works with the head winemaker Brian Caselden, and together, they produce more than 3,000 cases annually. On weekends, guests travel to the picturesque winery to visit the tasting room, where they can sip up to five varietals, from Chardonnay to Port.
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.
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.
The wine enthusiasts at Signaturewines.com—a group of professionals from various industries—foster a community for other wine and food lovers to connect and share their oenophile experiences. They regularly notify their members of tours, tastings, and wine-related events at more than 20 Northern California wineries. They also orchestrate special deals that immerse visitors in settings such as the opulent gilded decor of Domenico Winery, the rustic wooden architecture of Guglielmo Winery, and the verdant vineyards and 200-horse stables of Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards.
Keeping abreast of local and national food events,SignatureWines.com also introduces members to regional wine bars, wineries, and restaurants, and provides an online community where members can read reviews and share wine experiences. VIP cards let customers take part in complimentary tastings and avoid standard hassles such as corkage fees and general-admission mosh pits. Proceeds for such events often go to charities involved in various initiatives.