Monday, April 18, 2016

Always Something New to Learn: Meet David Netzer of The Wine House

David Netzer of The Wine House in Dogpatch loves wine and passes along his passion to customers. 
The area known as SoDoPa (south of Dogpatch and not to be confused with DoReMi) is quickly becoming a bustling corridor along 26th Street with ShopFloor Design and Harmonic Brewing as anchors off of Minnesota and The Wine House off of Third Street.

The Wine House might be a newcomer to Dogpatch but the company has been in San Francisco for almost 40 years.  The Wine House sells direct to consumers and also has a thriving distribution business.  The company started as a French importer with a focus on Bordeaux but has widened its focus through the years to include wines from Italy, Germany, Austria, South Africa, California and more.  Today the company enjoys a reputation as a place where the staff is knowledgeable and friendly and the wine selection is highly curated.

Tell us about The Wine House

I became president of The Wine House in 2009 but I joined the company in 1984.  John Carpenter started the company in 1977.  He grew up in Maryland but taught history in France -- in the Bordeaux region  He caught the wine bug when he was there and started the Wine House when he returned to the U.S.  He offered a small group of investors wine at cost if they invested and it is still the same small group that owns the company today along with myself.  John isn't active day-to-day in the company now.  We have a staff of four and most of them have been with me ten years or more.

John was one of the pioneers in focusing on Bordeaux and on grower champagne long before it was popular to do so. Grower champagne is produced by the farmers who grow the grapes -- not a big luxury consumer company who owns a champagne producer.  That is anything but artisan.  The goal of the luxury champagne producers is for every bottle to taste the same.  Someone sees an orange label and they know what to expect every time.
The Wine House team really knows wine.   Right to left: Anya Balistreri, David Netzer and Peter Zavialoff 
In contrast, we want to work with small producers, with the farmers.  Producers like Pierre Gimonnet and Pascal Doquet.  We work with people we like.

We have lots of wine from some very obscure places.  But we aren't stuffy wine people.  When you come in to our shop we don't ask you how much you want to spend but instead, we ask what you are serving it with.  We don't take ourselves too seriously.  We are here for the wine lovers and the foodies because that is who we are as well.  We recommend what we would want to have.

Why do you do what you do?

I adore wine.  It really is a miracle that you can grow grapes and get something amazing like wine from them.  I love the conviviality of the wine and the miracle of it existing.

It's something that I've never gotten tired of learning about.

I also grew up in Maryland -- in the D.C. area.  It was a very aware place to grow up and it was also a very diverse place.  I studied music composition and piano at the University of Maryland.

I had my wine epiphany at a restaurant with a 1973 Red Burgundy that I still remember to this day. I had never tasted anything like it.  I started studying wine and reading everything I could about it.  I read all the book by the master of wine, Michael Broadbent

I went to every retailer who had a tasting room and went back time after time.  Many of the owners got sick of me showing up but some answered my questions and mentored me.  I developed my wine palate with the classics -- Bordeaux, German Riesling, Burgundy -- there were no California wines in our area at that time.  Every bit of my disposable income went to wine and books and I even started a tiny cellar in my parent's basement.

My girlfriend wanted to go to business school in California so we moved together to Albany in 1983. I had decided I wanted to focus on the retail side of the wine business and not the wholesale side because I thought I would learn more.  When I got to California I went to every fine wine retailer in San Francisco but didn't have any luck landing a job.  But I did however meet John Carpenter of the Wine House but he wasn't hiring.

So, I ended up at Liquor Barn in Albany.  Not quite my dream job but the wine buyer there took me under her wing and brought me to tastings and introduced me to the right people in the wine industry. John  offered me a job two months after I started at Liquor Barn but I turned him down -- I felt bad leaving so soon.  But after a few more months they cut my hours and luckily John called again and this time I took the job.  The job at The Wine House was only my second job in the wine industry and I'm still here and still learning.

Why Dogpatch?

John opened The Wine House in a 3300 square foot space on Bryant in SOMA in 1977 which then was simply called, South of Market.  He was there for 22 years until we were pushed out by the dot-com boom.  Our landlord was a great guy but our lease was month-to-month and he told us to take our time but that we needed to find another space so he could accept the lease of a dot-com for our space. 

We found a 7200 square foot space in Potrero Hill and moved but unfortunately the company that wanted our Bryant space backed out of the deal and that space sat vacant for three years.  That dot-com is long gone.  Well, we were in Potrero Hill for 14 years and again our landlord was a great guy but we had a month-to-month lease.  The San Francisco market got hot again and the landlord wanted to build condos on that land so we were once again looking for a home. 

We told our real estate agent we wanted to stay in this general area so we never really looked anywhere else.  We love the feel of this area and already knew several of the shops like Piccino Restaurant who we sell wine to, Olivier's Butchery and Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous ice cream shop. There are so many hidden gems in this neighborhood just like in Potrero Hill.  We loved 22nd Street but at first worried that this location on 26th Street was too far south but we saw that Bayview was just exploding with cool new spots so grabbed this location.  Each move has taken us further south and I joke that we will soon be on a barge out in the Bay!

But the good news is now we have a ten year lease and 11,000 square feet which is perfect for our retail and distribution spaces.

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

Well, only my lack of talent keeps me from my goal of being the second baseman for the SF Giants.