I originally found out about Neighborhood Vineyards for a pretty simple reason: winemaker Elly Hartshorn is working with a community garden in the city of San Francisco, to produce a wine from San Francisco for the first time since Prohibition.
It’s one of the more exciting projects I’ve heard about in the world of wine.
There’s a somewhat similar project in Brooklyn, where they’re growing grapes on warehouse roof’s, but this project in San Francisco is somewhat different simply because the roots are still in the soil. About 350 plants in total are planted and their first harvest is upcoming in the next few weeks. It’s an exciting time for Neighborhood Vineyards.
Selfishly I did want to be on the radar so to speak when that San Francisco wine does come out, largely because Sommelier’s in SF are going to be doing anything in their power to have the wine on their lists. I’m not sure what price point the bottles are going to end up at, but I doubt there is an upper limit on what they can charge, especially because production is going to be small, like a couple hundred cases or less.
So where is this half acre plot that has everyone so excited? If you’re thinking that it’s sitting somewhere next to the tourist facilities on the Embarcadero, or in Pacific Heights overlooking the Bay, you’re going to be sadly mistaken.
The site is on Alemany Boulevard, just off the 280 freeway that looks much more like a parking lot for most of the day, as the Peninsula slowing begins to morph into the city of San Francisco. This is the cheapest part of the city these days. It’s well over an hour into the financial district by public transportation and unlike say the outer Sunset, doesn’t promise the same level of access, nor child centric options for raising little ones. San Francisco is simply 7 miles long, by 7 miles wide and this is the section, largely left behind by the emergence of the tech economy, despite being geographically closest to Silicon Valley. The farm itself is bordered by some combination of freeways and public housing projects, which is partially why it’s here in the first place, they couldn’t build on this small slope of land.
What is in the neighborhood is a diverse cast of characters, public housing and some of the most urban, lower rent sections of the entire city of San Francisco, which admittedly doesn’t have the same type of issues that plague many older cities. It’s a section where bars are on windows, but also a section where I can take my Kindergartener and have him eat Papussas as good as any we’ve ever had and have people say hello and be incredibly kind to us.
Plus, for many food related businesses, these are the city’s cheapest rent’s, so there’s a burgeoning movement to bring food production back to SF and it’s located in large part, within a few miles of the vineyard.
This isn’t that wine though. Look, I love Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. I think it achieves an outstanding balance of acidity and fruit, something that Sonoma and other regions in California are increasingly moving away from (fruit that is). Look acidity is incredibly important, but losing one completely in favor of the other is something that we’ve tried before in California, think Napa in the 80’s and I think we can agree that balance and different perspectives are both positive things.
The 2014 Santa Barbara vintage is also worth a note. It’s been talked about in quite a few spots before, but the drought in California came to bear for the first time truly during the 2014 vintage. So to start winemakers will tell you, that a 2 year drought is almost preferable.
The first year, you don’t have to water. Great, it saves you some money. The second year, the vines start to feel it a bit. You still don’t have to water, but the quality of what’s grown tends to be higher than it would have been normally. A stressed vine is a good thing after all.
The third year, you have to start making some choices. If you let it roll without water, you take it on the chin in terms of yield. The quality is still awfully high, but there isn’t much fruit.
If you do water, you have to choose when to do so. Unlike say a generation ago, there’s been a ton of research that has been done, largely within the past decade or so. There are of course, upsides and downsides to whenever you choose. Water too early and the vine thinks all is good, grows a ton of fruit and then fruit ends up suspect in quality. Water too late and you miss the boat for the entire vintage anyway.
In any case, consider this an opening salvo in our attempt to tell you the tale of Neighborhood Vineyards, there is going to be more, but as you open this wine, which everyone in any of our red wine clubs is going to receive at some point soon-you’ll find a well made, representative bottle of Central Coast Pinot Noir, and the hope for something perhaps much more important in the future.