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.
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.