Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Winery Grows in Dogpatch: Meet Dave Gifford and Kevin Doucet of Dogpatch WineWorks

Dave Gifford and Kevin Doucet with some of their wine.

Many months had passed since we had heard rumblings that Dogpatch WineWorks would be opening soon to the public in its location off of busy Third Street.  So we were happy to see the small sign on the sidewalk proclaiming that the tasting room was open and the door to this urban winery now open to the public. 

There had been a lot of disappointed city dwellers when one of the original urban wineries, Crushpad Winery, had moved out of Dogpatch to Sonoma a few years ago.

But one former Crushpad employee, Dave Gifford, and a Crushpad client and investor, Kevin Doucet, still believed that there was a place for an urban winery that could offer a hands-on, personal approach to individuals who wanted to create their own wine and in 2010 they joined forces to open Dogpatch WineWorks.

Gifford and Doucet have created a welcoming space out of a large space formerly occupied by a locksmith company.  The space is a blend of traditional winery furnishings and fixtures that have been given an urban makeover; the tasting room bar is a reclaimed vintage wine tank that has a city feel to it with its large stainless steel wheels. We sat down with the co-founders in a cozy corner of the tasting room to talk about their vision for Dogpatch WineWorks.

Why do you do what you do?

Dave Gifford:  Making wine is fun.  My background is in the culinary world.  But even though I was on the management side, I always found myself either in the kitchen or behind the bar.  I liked to get down in the trenches and get my hands dirty more than I liked being the front of the house.  I liked orchestrating all the various moving parts of a restaurant to get everything working in harmony.  When I started getting interested in the wine business I found many similarities -- especially in working the wine harvest --  you get your hands dirty and there are a lot of details to pay attention to so that you have a great finished product.   And it is the only job I have had where both your mind and your body get a workout.  Every day I would be exhausted but would come home with a big grin on my face!

Kevin Doucet:  I come to winemaking from the investment banking side.  But after more than 14 years in that world I wanted to try something different.  I tried lots of things -- traveled, went to culinary school, studied wine making and worked in the wine industry in Argentina and Australia.  I loved everything about the wine business.  I met Dave at Crushpad in 2008 where I was working as a harvest intern. 

DG and KD:
We are a production winery first and foremost that is dedicated to helping wine enthusiasts be successful.  We are the only custom wine maker in San Francisco.  We think the WineWorks part of our name says it all -- we are a lab or even an incubator -- anything you need to help you realize your dream of making wine.  A customer can be involved from picking the grapes, to blending to bottling. 

So we are primarily a production winery but we also see an opportunity to offer the wine we make to the public through our tasting room and to also offer our winery space to folks looking for a unique spot to hold special events.

Why Dogpatch?

We looked at 30-40 potential spaces in San Francisco for our winery including the former Crushpad spot down the block from here.  Since we had both been involved with Crushpad, we knew the Dogpatch neighborhood pretty well.

We liked that Dogpatch was still a place where people made things -- that fit the vision we had for our winery.  

We liked the red brick of this space -- we felt we could renovate it to be the warm and inviting place that we envisioned.  We like to see the faces of customer's light up as they walk in here from busy Third Street -- they don't expect to see a traditional winery in such an industrial neighborhood.  We like the surprise of that. 

No other neighborhood in San Francisco offers the zoning flexibility of Dogpatch.  The city knows that there is a lot of land that can be developed in this neighborhood and the city was very open to us creating a multi-use facility here.

The owner of the American Industrial Center, Greg Markoulis, where we are located is a straight shooter and we worked with him to get the lease we needed.

Who is another fascinating person you have met in Dogpatch?

There are so many!  Shy at Reno's Liquor Store always makes me laugh -- I always leave with a smile on my face.  Olivier Cordier owns Olivier's Butchery nearby.  It has been fascinating to watch him develop his business on Illinois Street, which doesn't exactly have a lot of customer traffic.  He has a great product and he is great at promoting it.

Tony Hua of Hard Knox Cafe and Julia and Gilberth Cab who own three Dogpatch restaurants are three of the hardest workers I have met.
Dave and Kevin greet visitors at their custom tasting bar.
What is an interesting story that has happened to you since you opened in Dogpatch?

A film school has its offices in this building.  One day they were working on a production where they were using fake guns.  Someone on the street saw them and called 911.  The police, including a SWAT team, shut down our entire block and warned us not to come out of our offices.

It turned out to be a false alarm but it was great to know that they police would come if needed them!

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

KD:  I would be making wine somewhere else if not here.
DG:  Everything I have done in my career has led me to winemaking.  If I wasn't doing this I would certainly be miserable anywhere else.

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