Urban Winemakers Unite

Charter members hope San Francisco Wine Association will bring attention to family-owned, boutique wineries

by Kate Lavin
About 250 people attended the launch party for the San Francisco Wine Association on Thursday in San Francisco.
PHOTO: Frank Anzalone

San Francisco, Calif.
-- Making wine for their Damian Rae label at Crushpad during the last four years, John and Sharol Tarabini befriended dozens of fellow boutique winery owners. The family-owned wineries there produced between 50 and 500 cases annually and the principals possessed a love for sharing the wine they'd made. But they were lacking a key ingredient to success: visibility. And that gave the Tarabinis an idea.

Thursday night at Crushpad, 16 member wineries celebrated the launch of the San Francisco Wine Association (SFWA) by pouring for about 250 guests, several of whom were San Francisco winemakers who'd come to check out the event before joining themselves.

John Tarabini
John Tarabini
"This is a different concept of a winery--it's more egalitarian," John Tarabini said. "You don't need the big chateaus and the estates and the fountains and the tasting room. You need great grapes, great winemakers, and you're going to make great wines.
With that in mind, SFWA's mission is to provide a common platform from which member wineries can get exposure they would be unable to achieve individually, through large tasting events, marketing initiatives and an online presence. After meeting with staff from the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and the mayor's office, Tarabini felt confident that the association would be able to raise awareness and invigorate business for San Francisco winemakers.

Small wineries also embraced the plan. "It made sense to band together--power in numbers," said Mark Moretti, a longtime hobbyist who launched the Mark Moretti Winery label in 2004.

For Marilyn Sherman, the winemaker for Flying Wine Cellars, joining the SFWA was a no-brainer. Sherman resides in San Diego and jokes that she was first in line when Crushpad opened its doors nearly five years ago.

"It gives me access to the San Francisco market," Sherman said, adding that her primary distribution is in the Bay Area, and she looks forward to the face-time with buyers and the public that SFWA membership will provide her.

Tarabini's background includes 20 years of marketing expertise, primarily in the high-tech sector, experience he intends to draw from while promoting the new organization.

"Our wineries don't have a physical presence.…They need to be kept in the public eye in some other way," Tarabini said. "We're providing them with visibility through the website, through events, through the wine club that's going to be coming out after the first of the year. Our intent is not to bring wineries from Napa or Sonoma to San Francisco, but to bring San Francisco wines to the world."

Unlike many nonprofit trade groups, the SFWA business model is a corporation. Members pay dues, and there is a marketing fee for bottles sold as a result of the association's efforts.

"John came to me in the spring and said, 'Mendo, Paso and Sonoma: They all have these associations, and we don't have one,'" said John Aver of Aver Family Vineyard, one of SFWA's charter members. " I think he'll be super successful. I think he's sitting on a gold mine."

Of course Tarabini is quick to point out that after years of following a passion for wine, his vision for the SFWA isn't about getting rich, but about securing for small, independent wineries the market that they deserve.

"These wineries make excellent, excellent wines," he said. "Let's put a little sales and marketing muscle behind these wineries."
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