In 1994, Christopher and Kristine Williams purchased 56 acres of verdant hillside property in Alexander Valley to begin cultivating their own wines. Since then, Wattle Creek Winery has expanded to include a vineyard in Yorkville Highlands as well as a tasting room in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, where visitors can sample their estate viognier, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon, among others. Their carefully crafted wines have earned plaudits from Wine Enthusiast, which praised the sauvignon blanc for its “palate-stimulating tang” and the Triple Play red wine blend for its ability to swiftly end an inning.
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.
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.
SF Experiences guides take wine lovers on whirlwind tours of the urban winery scene by boat as well as by bus, opening up the local word of vinos to its visitors. It's not every day you get to take a boat to a winery. The SF Winery Cruise travels from the mainland to Treasure Island, San Francisco’s Wine Country. While on the water, passengers sip sparkling wine; on either shore, they sample vintages at urban wineries, all of which focus on California wines culled from areas such as Santa Barbara and Napa Valley.
For a tours that stay on dry land, the San Francisco Wine Adventure bus stops at a set of urban wineries, giving passengers tastes of the area's finest wares while relating the local history of winemaking. Historical tours of Treasure Island add to the knowledge fest, and stops for stunning photos include the famous "postcard view" of the city that makes everyone on the far shore appear to be a model.
There's nothing quite like a bicycle ride over rolling hillsides for shaking up the doldrums of daily idling. The shuttle bus will pick up bikeseekers between 8 and 9 a.m. and head across the Golden Gate Bridge toward wine country. Upon arrival, the guided bike ride begins, and you'll hop from winery to winery like a king on a checkerboard. All the tour guides are trained sommeliers with craniums filled with wine knowledge—and possibly wine. Sample varietals aperitifs along the course of the journey and stop for a delightful picnic lunch among the vineyards. The shuttle bus will follow along to carry anything purchased at the wineries or to assist thoroughly tuckered trekkers. Daytrippers are returned to the city by 7 p.m., in time to share the sunset with a lucky loved one—a girlfriend, a husband, a bottle of wine wearing a wig, etc. Purchase up to four of today's deal and invite friends, family, or a group of beloved strangers to join the journey. If you want to bring a friend along who doesn't possess a Groupon, that person will get 20% off the tour.
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.
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.