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Notes from the Road – San Francisco & Napa, August 2008

Happy Fall to each of you!  Now that Labor Day has officially passed us (put away those White outfits ladies and gentlemen) and as the Summer is a fading memory, we move into Football season and harvest time!  However, before we completely go there, I have one more edition of Summer Notes from the Road for you – my latest visit to San Francisco and the Napa Valley.  My main reason for visiting the Bay Area was to attend the Family Winemakers of California event at Fort Mason, which was to be on Sunday and Monday, with over 400 wineries pouring their latest vintages.  I was excited to catch up with many of my friends in the business as well as to learn about new wines/wineries that were pouring – needless to say it was going to be educational and fun.


After departing the 107-degree heat of Las Vegas, I headed up to the Bay Area and was quickly whisked away to the Alameda Wine Company ( in Alameda (Oakland) for some wine.  Now, this is a cool concept which is located right next to a neighborhood movie theatre, with support by the local government, but it has a long way to go.  For August in California and not to have your air conditioning working in a wine shop is a dangerous premise.  However, we still managed to have fun with some killer Cava.


Later that evening we started with a visit over to Chaya San Francisco ( to indulge in one of my new favorite wines, Pushback Wines Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 made by my host for the evening, Mr. Nick Floulis (  This wine is really coming into it’s own – perfect as a light by the glass selection or a wonderful compliment to oysters, a cheese plate or appetizers.  We then continued on for dinner to Shanghai 1930 (, a subterranean Chinese restaurant with a full jazz bar and dining room, themed as Shanghai would have been in between World War I & II, when it was widely considered the Paris of the Orient.  We decided to have the Chef’s menu for the evening, quite a selection and offering for a very reasonable price.  Let me tell you the meal was outstanding!  From the Shrimp Custard Rolls (think a Shrimp corn dog) to the Peking Duck, Shanghai executed and impressed me.


The Wine Director/Sommelier, Jonathan was extremely good and knowledgeable and brought a surprise offering to us for the evening, Sea Smoke, The Southing, 2006 Pinot Noir (  Many of you know, I am a big fan of this winery and actually own some of their wines, but know this wine needs to lay down for awhile – the oak is extremely pronounced right now and is dominating a fine wine.  Let it rest people, take at least 3-5 years.


Sunday morning came rather quickly and prior to visiting the Family Winemakers event, we enjoyed a little taste of San Francisco, having brunch at Perry’s on Union Street (  It is a true classic, with them being known for a brunch specialty of Bloody Mary’s, sure to not disappoint.


Once arriving at Fort Mason for the event, I completely immersed myself in the scene, staking out the different wineries and seeing what wines I needed to taste.  There are too many highlights to even name, but some of the best were from:



To end the day, we caught up with our friend May Seto, the wine buyer/sommelier at Balboa Cafe and headed over for an outstanding Mexican feast at Mamacita ( on Chestnut.  The dinner started with Don Julio Margaritas, flavorful Chicken Tacos and spiced Guacamole, then continued with many more of the menu’s greatest hits.  We then headed over for a Karaoke session at the famous Silver Clouds Bar, to which I watched my friends make fools of themselves, with support from Tequila and Irish Whiskey, such a fun night!


Monday was another great day at Family Winemakers, hitting a few more wineries and catching up with some new friends, namely Elena & Joe from Reynoso and Helen from Bueller Winery.  Post-event we paid a visit to Balboa Café ( to wind down a little bit after all of the wine and enjoy a Belgian treat (San Francisco favorite), Stella Artois beers.


The group then got smaller and headed over to Bix Restaurant & Lounge (, located down an alley.  Bix is a definite throw back with it’s art deco interior and white-jacketed service staff, and is a good time overall.  We had a great experience sitting at the bar, enjoying St. Supery Virtu and Frias Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet ( and the service was very attentive.  The menu sounds outstanding, but the food had a few mis-steps which was unfortunate.  Post-Bix, we headed over to one of my favorite places, The Occidental Cigar Club ( – this is one of those small, neighborhood joints that can still allow cigar smoking and is geared to the male persuasion.  I was able to enjoy a Rocky Patel, Edge Corroso, Toro from Honduras (great smoke) along with fun service from Jake behind the bar.  Great times and fun adventures.


The next day we headed up to Napa for a quick visit and to spend some time with friends.  The only winery that we were able to spend time at was over at Miner (  All of their wines are very enjoyable, but the best of the day was the La Diligence (which means stagecoach in French) Syrah, 2006 from the Stagecoach Vineyard.  FYI, it is only available at the winery or if you are a member of their mailing list.


Then it was finally time for lunch, and a chance to visit my buddy Dustin M. who was working his last day at Cuvee Napa ( as their wine director.  Cuvee is located in the heart of Napa and is a great indoor/outdoor restaurant that you can fall into lunch, mid-afternoon or dinner.  I then got a surprise phone call from my old friend Keiko Niccolini, National Sales Director for Flowers Winery ( who was around to meet up for some wine, so we headed to the Bounty Hunter ( for some wine sampling, charcuterie and seasonal olives.  This was a decent experience, not the most fun I’ve ever had there, so we continued onto the Oxbow Public Market ( to enjoy the Wine Merchant.  Here we got a great bottle of Lambrusco, Villa di Corlo, 2005 ($18 retail!) along with a great cheese plate and Italian salumi.  At this point I was stuffed, but it was well worth it and another great Napa adventure.


We then had to head back to SF in rush hour traffic to make the Giants v. Rockies baseball game over at Pac Bell Park, one of the best in the Major leagues.  It was a great place to watch a game, unfortunately the two teams are some of the worst in baseball.  Leaving early, we headed over to Bacar (, one of the best wine lists in the city, for wine and appetizers.  To finish the evening, we ventured to a newer concept in the city, District Restaurant, Bar, Lounge & Art Gallery (  This was a great experience with a variety of wines available in flights, great service from Felipe the bar manager and good conversation with one of the owners, Chris.  Las Vegas stay tuned – the boys are bringing the concept down to Vegas, expect a mid-2009 opening.


Wednesday was a chance for me to recap my entire San Francisco/Napa experience and prepare for meetings in Arizona, as well as my flight.  My Bay Area experience was absolutely outstanding – educational, fun, successful in terms of business meetings and wonderful to see industry friends.  Another trip that I hope you all enjoyed reading about.


Anyway, back to the grind as they say – I have a few more trips planned soon, but in between them I have been asked to host/chair a panel at the HD Magazine Boutique Convention ( in Miami, September 17th & 18th.  The panel is called, “Finding the Core: Essentials for Launching a Successful Restaurant Concept” – if you’ll be in the Miami area, come over and check it out! Session Detail


Have fun, be well, enjoy your city, don’t work too hard and all of that other jazz – just remember to Keep Eating & Drinking!


blogCraig Nyman