Take a day trip to San Francisco’s Treasure Island for the wine and views.
By Michelle A. Sieling
The ghosts of the San Francisco Bay Area’s military past lurk around every corner, from the Presidio of San Francisco to the Naval Air Station Alameda to the Hamilton Air Force Base near Novato. Many of the former military buildings are rotting away, but others have been turned into housing or film stages.
At the former Naval Station Treasure Island, many of them have been turned into wineries and tasting rooms. While there are no vineyards on the island, the massive warehouses are perfect for producing and bottling wines; and the cool bay breeze acts as a natural temperature control for wine storage. And its proximity to San Francisco makes it a great day trip.
The question is where to start. Two of the more popular choices are Treasure Island Wines, the first winery on the island, and The Winery San Francisco, also cavernous event space, but in this case we visited a few of the smaller ones. It’s not a big island, but some of the wineries are tucked a little ways from the entrance, so be persistent and follow the sandwich board signs.
One of the furthest out is Fat Grape Winery. Housed in a former military brig that still features bullet proof glass, Fat Grape Winery offers over a dozen varietals, including Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Old Vine Zinfandel, with many of the grapes grown in places like Lodi or Amador County. There are a number of blends, too, and some concocted by past visitors, like “Lidia’s Touch.” For those with allergies, all of the wines are sulfite free. Fat Grape is one of the only tasting rooms on the island that is open on weekdays (most are open only Saturday and Sunday afternoons), and tastings are free. Here I was treated to a visit with the owner/winemaker who poured the wines.
Just around the corner from Fat Grape Winery is a cooperative of wineries, including Leaf & Vine, Stein Family Wines, Bodega Wine Estates, Knightswood Vineyards and Winery and Hoffmann Family Cellars. In this former cold storage building, the winemakers share space, a tasting room and production tools. On the day of my visit, Timothy Keith, half of the father and son team that are Leaf & Vine, was pouring. Leaf & Vine makes unfiltered and unfined single vineyard wines from grapes grown in the Napa and Sonoma appellations. As we tasted, we took in the view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
My final stop was the tiny tasting room of Sol Rouge Vineyard & Winery. Located in what was previously a storage shed, the Sol Rouge tasting room features Rhone and Bordeaux-style wines from its family estate vineyard, located in the Mayacamas Mountains north of Napa Valley. Its next-door neighbor, Vie Winery, is found in a matching shed, and also offers Rhone varietals, too, as well as Zinfandels. Because the spaces are small, both have seating outside of the tasting rooms, but its location gives you a close-up view of Yerba Buena Island and Clipper Cove. And Vie winery has a couple of Bocce Courts for tasters to enjoy which can be reserved for your party on their website.
When you want to nosh, there is basic fair like grilled cheese or pulled pork sandwiches at the Treasure Island Bar & Grill and the small Island Market & Deli, but that is about it. So consider bringing a picnic if you are going to make a day of visiting Treasure Island. There are a lot of open spaces, especially on the western edge, where you can lounge on the grass and take in views of the city and the bay.
As to getting out to the island, if you don’t have your own boat or feel like driving, you can catch Muni bus line 108 from downtown San Francisco. There are also a few tour group companies, like Bay Wine Tours, that provide scheduled tours.
Photo at top is Patrick Bowen, Owner and winemaker at Fat Grape Winery. Photo by Michelle A. Sieling.