WTF? Dog? Patch? Okay, if you’re not a San Francisco native, you may not have heard of this fair-weathered corner of San Francisco lying just South of McCovey Cove and just East of Portrero Hill. I happened to be checking out the Historic Dogpatch neighborhood this weekend with my sister and her lovely family, who are looking at real estate in the area. In about four square blocks, I found an artisan butcher, a sushi resto, an artisan ice cream parlor, a breakfast joint, an Italian restaurant/espresso bar, two dive bars, a wine bar, and last but not least – Sutton Cellars.
Sutton Cellars is an urban winery, created by wine-maker Carl Sutton – a man who’s business card title colorfully reads either “part time genius” or “food grade janitor”. His thick, curved moustache is in the style of those early days of the Dogpatch neighborhood in the mid-1800s, but his propensity to pour a year-old aged gin martini with co-workers mid-Sunday is as timeless as it is classic. This guy is the real deal – and he clearly displays his originality and passion for quality in his wines.
His website reads:
“Sutton Cellars was started in 1996 by Carl Sutton producing a mere 350 cases of four handcrafted varietals. To this day the focus remains single varietal and often single vineyard wines from sites that are cool climate, old vine and/or singular clones. Current production is around 3,000 cases, half of which is a second label “Table Wine” that is 100% Sonoma County fruit priced right for today’s economy. The main (brown) label wines are never more than 300 case lots, and are still hand filled and hand corked. The goal at Sutton Cellars is to coax wines of subtlety from the vineyard striving for lower alcohol, higher acid and less oak than is the commercial norm in California winemaking. Unless noted all wines are fermented with wild yeast and bottled unfined and unfiltered.”
As we were exploring the hood, the bro-in-law and I decided to lay down that $5 tasting fee and sample some of Sutton’s work. He started with some Vermouth – which, contrary to most of our experiences with Vermouth – was very nice. It upgraded to terrific with the addition of some lemon zest and mineral water to make the first spritzer I ever wanted more of. We tasted down the line, and all of his wines were fantastic. He poured the Vermouth, a Rosé (of Carignane), a Carignane, a Syrah, a Merlot, and a jug table wine available in a $15 1L bottle and a $54 4L bottle (think Carlo Rossi jug size). The jugs are a mystery blend, and locals are encouraged to come in and refill a la Growlers at your local Microbrewery. He also had an overstock of the Merlot that he was selling for $60 a case, making it almost impossible to walk away without.
I especially appreciated the fact that his Rosé was dry, evoking the particularly food-friendly Rosés one finds in Europe, but not commonly in California. It also had a noticeable acidity mid-palate, that one might mistake for lemon juice. When prompted about the acidity, Sutton told me that he felt like the acidity in wines did more for their rack-ability than the “tannic structure”, which is often mentioned when discussing a wine’s ability to age. Whatever . . . it made me want a thin crust pizza and a couple more hours at Sutton Cellars.
“What about the food?” you ask? Well, Sutton Cellars always tries to partner with a food purveyor on Jug Day Sunday – whether it be a mobile food truck, a neighborhood business, or some rogue, mobile croissant-maker like we encountered. Greg from Neighbor (firstname.lastname@example.org) was there, and he was peddling some fantastic looking pastries. The prosciutto di Parma and asparagus pastry that I tried was freakin’ amazing – but he also had chocolate claws, as well as traditional croissants. It’s a good thing the lovely Karen Potter wasn’t with me on this day, because I would’ve had to spend all my money to satisfy her eternal love of croissants. The pastries were a perfect pairing with Sutton’s food-friendly wines, and it felt a little like we had walked into some kind of orchestrated advertisement for the Dogpatch as a perfect Sunday San Francisco destination. I was left completely impressed and wanting to come back and sniff around the Dogpatch for more than just a few hours. It just goes to show, you never know what’s around the corner – on the Wine Frontier.