Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Very Sound Venture: Meet Katie and John Fones of Cellars33

John and Katie Fones of Cellars33 at their Dogpatch Winery. 
Freshly baked bread and popcorn.  These were the smells that greeted us as we entered Cellars33, a winery located on Minnesota Street.  We expected the smell of yeast but popcorn?  But perhaps that comes with the territory when you open a winery in an urban environment and your neighbor is Thatcher's Gourmet Popcorn.

Inside the 20,000 square foot facility we were greeted by owners --  and husband and wife -- Katie and John Fones.  Cellars33 shares the space with four other wineries:  Roar Wines, Von Holt Wines and August West Wine with John Fones the winemaker for his Cellars33 as well as Von Holt Wines.

Despite the harvest season being over, the huge space was buzzing with activity as the wineries completed off-season housekeeping chores as well as prepared to fill upcoming holiday orders. The move from their former location in Bayview to Dogpatch was completed in September 2012 but with rows of tanks and wine barrels consuming all available space it made us wonder if additional space might be needed soon.

Why do you do what you do?

John Fones:

Love of life.  For 16 years I was a criminal defense attorney in Baltimore, where I grew up.  About eight years ago several good friends passed away.  Then my mentor passed away as he walked up the courthouse steps.

I realized that time is short.  You always think you have tomorrow but that's not true.
Katie and I have always loved wine and we had a lot of friends in California who we thought could help us make the transition.  We owe a big debt to them. 

So we decided to move to California.  I studied wine making at UC Davis and interned at Freeman Winery.  I then became an assistant at Roar and August West.  The goal was always to start our own label which we did in 2008 although we didn't begin selling our wine until 2010.

Although I'm the primary wine maker, Katie has an excellent palate and her input during the blending trials is critical in helping us decide which wines to focus on.

We primarily focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay -- our grapes are from Monterey and Sonoma.  We started with 100 cases in 2010 and are now at 1,000 cases. 

We primarily sell via our mail list although we are not a wine club.  We offer the wine two times a year in February and August then sell the rest to wine shops and restaurants.

Katie Fones:

We love working together.  And we didn't change our lives and move all the way to California to not see each other!  This is a very fun, cool joint venture and even though I'm still practicing family law, my goal is to eventually work full-time with John.
In addition to their specialty Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, Cellars33 also produced this 2010 Petite Syrah.

Why Dogpatch?

We love the vibe of Dogpatch -- fun things are happening here and we want to be part of it.

Finding a space big enough for a venture this big was of course critical and Dogpatch is one of the few places left in SF that not only has the space, but also affordable space. 

We are a member of SFMade and this organization has helped us so much.  They give us access to resources that we don't have such as real estate expertise.  For example, we would love to open a tasting room in 2014 and SFMade is helping us figure out how and where we could do this.  We would love for it to be in Dogpatch.

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

There is no other alternative to this.  We came out here to do this -- we didn't come out here to fail.

I agree and my goal is to be full-time at Cellars33.

Why did you name the winery Cellars33?

The name Cellars33 is a nod to Baltimore and to our heritage.  33rd Street was where the old Memorial Stadium was located which was also sometimes called the world's largest outdoor insane asylum.

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