Ahead of the Curve: Yield Wine Bar
Yield Wine Bar's creators took a calculated risk in both the neighborhood and their choice of offerings.
Not that long ago, opening a wine bar in San Francisco's Dogpatch district may have seemed like a dumb idea. Before the area's ongoing transformation into one of the city's hottest neighborhoods, about the only people who even knew where Dogpatch was were the ones who already lived or worked there. But that didn't deter Chris Tavelli, the former manager of Millennium restaurant, and a French lawyer named Céline Guillou from opening Yield Wine Bar on Third Street, just a few doors down from the Dogpatch Saloon, in August 2006.
"When we first started checking out this neighborhood," explains Tavelli, "we'd drive around at 10 or 11 o'clock at night and it was practically empty--there were no people or cars. But I kept insisting, 'I know this is going to work.'"
Empty streets are one thing, but Tavelli and Guillou's business model carried an additional risk: Yield would serve only organic and biodynamically made wines. While organically themed wine bars and shops like Terroir Natural Wine Merchant (see ESF June/July 2008) have since proliferated around the city, such a focus was still uncommon just a few years ago.
Which is why in the beginning, Yield didn't place much emphasis on the organic/biodynamic nature of its wines. Tavelli says there was concern that it might actually work against them. "But more winemakers are going the biodynamic route, and people are starting to recognize that so many of the wines they like are organically produced."
As it turns out, both hunches paid off. Dogpatch is booming. The old Esprit clothing headquarters are being turned into tony condos as well as the home of the A16 group's latest project, and new restaurants such as Serpentine and Piccino (of which my wife is a coowner) have opened near longer-term neighborhood spots like Just For You and Hard Knox Café. But despite theinevitable gentrification of this historically working-class neighborhood, Hells Angels still roar past the Baptist church as Muni drivers, photographers, filmmakers, construction workers, and clothing designers crisscross the district's nine square blocks.
Yield fits beautifully into this funky mix. The interior's reclaimed wood furnishings and lighting fixtures create an urban-lounge vibe, as cozy and inviting as a hip friend's living room. "People often come here for a glass of wine before or after dinner at Piccino or Serpentine," Tavelli says.
They can also make a meal out of Yield's small plates. In keeping with Tavelli's vegetarianism, Yield's menu offers no meat (but some seafood), but the handful of mostly organic dishes make for ideal pairings with Yield's 50-bottle wine list. Depending on the season, you might nibble on a creamy white bean and celery-root spread served on crunchy house-made crostini, a trio of smoked fish, a three-cheese platter accompanied by a fruit compote, a simple plate of mixed nuts, and, for chocolate lovers, a choice of Poco Dolce's addictive bittersweet, sea-salt sprinkled tiles. And talk about local--these lovely confections are produced nearby on Illinois Street. (ESF's been there, too, see Summer 2007.)
Yield's wine list reflects Guillou and Tavelli's complementary palates, offering a thoughtful balance of Old World and New World bottles. As Tavelli explains it, "Céline is French and prefers American wines, and I'm American and am drawn to French wines. But that helps keep us from the extremes; we don't pour wines that are too syrupy, nor will you taste any that remind you of iodine."About half of Yield's list is available by the glass: straightforward tasting notes help guide customers, especially with some of the less-than-familiar names and/or varietals. The savvy staff is also highly service-oriented. "My entire background is about service," says Tavelli, "and since we're kind of out of the way already, we want to make sure that customers are spoiled a little at Yield. Plus, it helps maintain a mellow mood here--I've actually asked people to leave before for being too loud."
One trusts these were not the Hells Angels who visit on occasion. "No," clarifies Tavelli. "Those are nice guys who order white Zinfandel."
I asked Yield's Chris Tavelli to select six of his favorite wines and share his notes. In keeping with ESF's focus on local and sustainable sources, he chose all California wines.
2006 McFadden Vineyard Riesling ($18)
McFadden produces nice red wines, but I am a real fan of the whites. in addition to making this great Riesling, an off-dry Alsatian-style one that pairs well with spicier foods but can also be enjoyed on its own, McFadden also makes an excellent Pinot Gris, which is Alsatian in style as well. This riesling is a great value, especially given that all McFadden wines are estate grown and CCOF-Certified.
2006 Porter Creek Chardonnay, "George's Hill Vineyard" ($24)
This is one of my favorite California Chardonnays, from a winery that is generally known for its reds, namely Pinot Noir and Syrah. Porter Creek ranks among California's "greenest" wineries: certified organic and biodynamic vineyards, biodiesel tractors, and, in the winery, an all-natural winemaking process. Balanced oak, stone fruits, and minerals on the palate, combined with aromas of lemon meringue pie and a long finish, make this wine really delicious.
2007 Clos Saron Carte Blanche ($24)
The Clos Saron Carte Blanche is a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, which makes for a fun, food-friendly wine that is rich, crisp and can satisfy all types of white-wine palates. It sees some oak, though in no way does that overpower the bright fruit flavors that all of these varietals bring to the blend. Winemaker Gideon Beinstock does not add sulfites or yeasts to his organically and biodynamically farmed grapes.
2005 Le Vin Syrah ($40)
Le Vin Winery is located in the Yorkville highlands of Mendocino County, just past the town of Cloverdale. It produces mostly Bordeaux varietals but also makes a limited amount of Syrah, which I recently tried for the first time and immediately liked. It shows cracked pepper and game on the palate, with a black cherry finish. This is another winemaker who, in addition to employing organic farming practices, does not fine or filter his wines and uses minimal amounts of sulfites.
2005 Forth Cabernet Sauvignon "All Boys" ($24)
The Dry Creek Valley AVA of Sonoma County is my favorite spot in California for Cabernet Sauvignon. Forth vineyards' Cabernets are a perfect balance of what this valley can offer: ripe cherries and berries, spice notes, and the ability to age. this wine is versatile and should please both fans and non Cabernet drinkers.
2006 Watkins family Winery Zinfandel/Petite Syrah ($28)
I love big, rich, jammy Zinfandels, but only those with good acidity. the Watkins Family Winery produces a Zin that delivers. If one word could describe this wine, it would be balance. it's not overblown in any one direction, yet it still has the bold aromas and full flavors unique to California Zinfandel.
Ahead of the Curve: Yield Wine Bar was published in the Feb/March 2008 Edible San Francisco Magazine. © 2008 Edible San Francisco.