Text Size:-+
01.07.2008

San Francisco Wine Bar: Terroir Natural Wine Merchant

terroir_card.jpgI derive a particular joy from the fact that the city of San Francisco is finally beginning to live up to its potential as the wine metropolis. In the last 2 years we've gone from a city of perhaps four or five wine bars to a city positively overflowing with them.


'Bout damn time, I say. Bring 'em on.

Now that we're getting up in numbers, however, its good to see the market driving some differentiation between them. It simply wouldn't do to merely have a couple of dozen wine bars. Rather we need different wine bars for different occasions, so that your evening's quaffing can be in line with your mood. Let your palate guide your nightlife in the City of Wine.

One of the newer additions to the SF wine bar scene will tickle the most stringent of palates. If you're the kind of wine lover that thinks wine is best when man or woman barely touches it, then you'll appreciate the mission of Terroir Natural Wine Merchant, the little retail shop and wine bar that has opened up a few doors down from the irrepressible BrainWash cafe and Laundromat on Folsom street in SOMA. This outfit specializes in one thing and one thing only: biodynamic and so called "Natural" wines from the US and Europe. Biodynamic wines are, of course, grown without commercial pesticides or fertilizers on farms that attempt to create a closed ecosystem of farm animals, bugs, and vegetation focused on creating the most "alive" soil possible to be worked according to the esoteric mystic guidelines of the Biodynamic faith. So called Natural wines are produced primarily in France according to similar, perhaps less New Age, tenets with the additional specifications that no additives of any kind can go into the wine, including sulfur, which Biodynamics does allow.

All of which means that if you're a strict vegan, an ethical purist, or a certain kind of wine geek, you might find something to drink here.

Terroir manages to walk the line between wine store and wine bar with a sort of clumsy and affable grace. This is not a chic destination by any means, as the space doesn't manage to (and certainly doesn't try to) elevate itself beyond retro-industrial-warehouse, if you know what I mean. This is a (chilly) wine warehouse turned into store and wine bar through the addition of some shelves for bottles, a bar for leaning on, and some stools. The best place to sit, if you're not chatting with one of the gregarious staff behind the bar, is at one of the two tables that occupy a loft above the main space, which have the benefit of being one or two degrees warmer than the rest of the space, and a slightly cozier feeling up amidst the reclaimed wood beams and plaster ceiling.

Just as you shouldn't come to Terroir expecting a scene, you also shouldn't come expecting phenomenal service, unless you're the only one at the bar and you have the owner's full attention. It's a small place, and things get done when they get done, which means if you order some cheese from their weekly changing list of gourmet imported cheeses or some salami, it might take a little while to make its way in front of you. terroir_bar.jpgThose two items make up the entirety of the food offering here, which is OK, because with only a few daily changing wines by the glass, this isn't a menu that you're going to want to explore over hours.

Last time I was in there were about six wines being poured by the glass, two whites and four reds, all of which were interesting wines that ranged in price from $9 to $17 per glass. These prices reflect the somewhat higher prices of the wines served, but may not excite those who are looking for an inexpensive way to start the evening. If asked, the folks at the bar are happy to pour half glasses for half the price.

If you have a few friends and can't find anything you like on the by-the-glass list, you're always welcome to buy a bottle and add a $12 corkage policy to the generally very well priced retail sales tag. The selection of about 100 wines spans many different international regions of the world, though it is surprisingly light when it comes U.S. wines, offering four or five reds and about as many whites.

Should you not be familiar with the producers on offer, or the finer points of biodynamic winemaking, the staff are more than happy and definitely capable of helping. They generally know the wines quite well, and can geek out about them for those who care to, or simply steer the inquisitive to something that they'll like.

With such a limited offering of wines by the glass, a chilly, bare-bones interior, and wines that many people won't recognize, Terroir is certainly not going to be a highlight of San Francisco nightlife, but it might just survive on the patronage and interest of San Francisco's serious wine geeks.

WINE LIST: one and a half stars

STEMWARE: two stars

SERVICE: one and a half stars

FOOD: one star

ATMOSPHERE: one star

OVERALL: one and a half stars

Terroir Natural Wine Merchant
1116 Folsom Street (at 7th) (map)
San Francisco, CA 94103

Open Sunday through Thursday 10:00 AM to Midnight. Open Weekends until 2:00 AM. Street parking in the neighborhood is reasonable after 5:00 PM and it is walkable from the Civic Center BART station, though not through the greatest of neighborhoods. Bring a sweater.

Comments (34)

Gina wrote:
01.08.08 at 12:08 PM

Am I missing something here? The review given is neutral to positive but the star rating is 1.5? If I were to look at the rating alone, I would stay as far away as possible from this place but the article paints a very intriguing picture.

Alder wrote:
01.08.08 at 12:20 PM

Gina,

The star ratings are relative to all other wine bars in San Francisco and for specific criteria.

I eat at 1 star restaurants all the time and am satisfied.

This place is worth a try once or twice, especially if it isn't far for you, but not worth a trip across the city for.

guilhaume wrote:
01.08.08 at 12:21 PM

mr alder,
for your information,we do serve 1 sparkling,4 whites,5 reds by the glass,as well as 1 dessert wine,1 port and one sherry everynights,and the wine list is about 220 wines as of today,half of them are not available anywhere else in town.Real wine geeks,as well as peoples tired of drinking the poisoned wines your recommending, do understand what we are about and are being great supporters of our business,and it kind of surprise me that as a wine blogger you're not one of them????it seems like math(parkerstyle) is your strong point.i would gave your review a good 77 points....undrinkable.
cheers,
the terroirist's

Alder wrote:
01.08.08 at 12:33 PM

Guilhaume,

How surprising that you are a devotee of the 100 point scoring system, considering most of the wines and wineries you sell try to stay as far away from it as possible.

I think if you read my review again that you will see that I do understand what it is that you are about, and that I support your business. I'm a customer after all.

Having said that, it's pretty hard for you to suggest that you're a more attractive place for enjoying wine with some friends than many of the other wine bars in the city with comfortable seating, by-the-glass-lists that run to thirty or forty wines, and excellent prepared food.

I would venture to say that you probably don't even intend to compete with such places, but despite your intent, you are going to be evaluated in that context no matter what.

Thank you for the correction as to the number of bottles available, I believe that I was told that that all 220 of those were not yet available for sale, but perhaps I was mistaken.

Finally, you'll find yourself alienating a lot of wine geeks with the attitude that everything that you don't sell is poisonous. Be careful with that fervor of yours.

01.08.08 at 1:54 PM

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I imagined Guilhaume's response to be offered as at least one part humor, but it may not translate so well to the computer screen. You can't see the twinkle in the eye or the upturned corners of the mouth. Peut-etre il est seulement Francais?

Jack wrote:
01.08.08 at 3:20 PM

Some positives: Best selection of Radikon and Paola Bea I've seen. Many excellent choices for under $30.

Needs most: More wines by the glass. Atmospheric warmth - it's a cold place both temperature-wise and decor.

In general: A wine store that has a wine bar, rather than a wine bar that sells wine. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

guilhaume wrote:
01.08.08 at 4:34 PM

thank you jack,that's exactly what we do,a wine store that has a wine bar....you should have written that review,at least i know you have a palet and understand what natural wine means,maybe you would have rated our wine list a little better,it seems like any other wine bar in the city has better selection according to mr alder yarrow.Oh,and please don't mind our poor food offering as we are not a restaurant.
cheers again,
the terroirist's

Alder wrote:
01.08.08 at 4:49 PM

Steve, looks like you're wrong. No humor there. Just bitterness.

As far as the wine selection goes, Guilhaume, the wines you have on the by-the-glass list range from decent to great, but many many other wine bars in the city, and certainly the top rated ones (by me anyway) have more than twice (and in some cases 5 times) more wines available for tasting, nicer atmospheres, and better food.

But that doesn't mean your wine bar isn't worth visiting, which I've tried to make clear in my review. Somehow you're not seeing that through your emotional reaction to the stars... Remember that this isn't a review of your establishment as a wine store. It's a review of Terroir as a wine bar that competes with CAV, District, Nectar and all the other wine bars in the city.

SwillMonkey wrote:
01.08.08 at 5:09 PM

Guilhaume

Have you gotten a call from DRC's legal department yet? It must be at least 20 years ago a winery did a knock off of their label and got the call. I hope it goes better for you.

Good luck with the new business, I love your selection of wines.

Joe Dressner wrote:
01.09.08 at 9:57 AM

I'm a wine importer and have not been to San Francisco since Terroir opened, so I do not have first hand experience.

At the same time, I am surprised by the review. Obviously, it is a wine bar with a selection of wines that are not generally available in the City. Why not talk more about the wine? Isn't that the point of the place.

What I find disturbing is that the reviewer writes: "With such a limited offering of wines by the glass, a chilly, bare-bones interior, and wines that many people won't recognize, Terroir is certainly not going to be a highlight of San Francisco nightlife."

My understanding is that the lack of wines that people won't recognize is kind of the point of the place. The review might have been more informative if it discussed whether Terroir succeeds in that mission. The review is more a discussion of form, rather than content.

By way of disclosure, I do have wines on the list there. So my comments can be dismissed as being self-interested. At the same time, even if the creature comforts of the place are less amenable than other wine bars, being able to drink a Dard et Ribo Crozes-Hermitages should ranks as one of life's major creature comforts.

The reviewer also has an exaggerated definition of natural wines. Many people in the natural wine movement use a bit of sulphur at the bottling to stabilize the wine. There is not a religious principal here.

Alder wrote:
01.09.08 at 10:25 AM

Joe,

Thanks for the comments. I agree that the lack of recognizable wines is the point of the place. But that certainly WILL keep it from being a highlight of San Francisco nightlife. Which is I'm sure what the owners AND the people who would frequent it would actually WANT.

Steve L. wrote:
01.09.08 at 10:39 AM

"This place is worth a try once or twice, especially if it isn't far for you, but not worth a trip across the city for."

Fortunately I don't have to, but not only would I drive across town to taste some of the phenomenal wines on offer at Terroir, I would drive in from out of town. For people who have been starved for wines that don't fall into the cookie-cutter mold, this place is a godsend.

I'll agree, though, that the focus at Terroir is definitely the wines, not food, so people looking for a meal would certainly be happier elsewhere.

Joe M wrote:
01.09.08 at 7:43 PM

Alder,

A pretty critical review. And this coming from a very critical reviewer (me). I think that Terroir is:

a.)Not just for wine geeks
b.)Well worth driving across town for
c.)Not as cold and lacking in atmosphere as you describe

I would reccommend that anyone who wants to see a great example of a concept driven wine shop/wine bar (in this case, of course, the concept being 'natural wines') visit Terroir. Anyone who is interested more in substance than style should go. Anyone who wants to get a glimpse into what the big deal is about naturally made wines should go, both to sample for themselves and to talk to some very obviously passionate and knowledgeable proponents of the scene.

Of course, that being said there are people who may not dig Terroir. Then again, there are plenty of people who do not enjoy the more typical, formulaic wine bar: i.e. predictable wine lists, fine dining atmosphere, poorly programmed ipods, etc.

Vive la difference.

Anyone reading this who has not yet visited Terroir, go. If you have visited, then continue to go. I might just go sometime this weekend, so it's sure to be a party.

Joe M. wrote:
01.09.08 at 10:45 PM

Oh, and I agree with Joe about the review dwelling excesively on form rather than content. Alder, here's another point with which I take issue:

"I agree that the lack of recognizable wines is the point of the place. But that certainly WILL keep it from being a highlight of San Francisco nightlife"

Do you mean to say that San Franciscans only want to visit wine bars pouring wines with which they are already familiar? That doesn't seem to be either a fair or accurate assessment of this city. You've lived here longer than I, so you may well know the crowd a new wine bar will attract better than I. Nonetheless, the statement above seems to me to be a pretty damning prediction for a hip new establishment in a reasonably cosmopolitan, open-minded city. It also hints at the fact that a wine bar needs to have more well-known names on their wine lists in order to be popular. In Washington, DC, perhaps. But here in San Francisco?

Tony wrote:
01.11.08 at 4:57 PM

I wouldn't go to this wine bar by virtue of the employee's comments alone. You lost a customer by being sort of a jag-off.

Phil wrote:
01.11.08 at 6:14 PM

As a local wine enthusiast who likes to support SF wine bars/stores, Guilhaume's reaction, while not unique from a concerned owner, does not make me want to run down and support Terroir. Basically he's implying that if you don't agree with our concept/execution, go screw yourself. Alder is entitled to his opinion, which might I remind you is why most every one is here.

Dagan Ministero wrote:
01.12.08 at 1:43 PM

As one of the owners of said"wine bar" I feel I must weigh in on this banter,our intention at Terroir has always been to provide the best naturally made wines in the world for the best price possible,we are not a social scene or a restaurant and do not wish to be.As far as Mr. Alder's opinions he visited Terroir once while apparently having a business meeting did not inquire about permission to take photos or our concept, and thought that this one experience entitled him to pass judgement on our establishment.In general I could care less about such things and am far to busy to respond to such a short sited review but his lack of research and misinformation sparked me to react to these postings,if your in the habit of publicly commenting on another persons business you should at least get the facts straight.In all I would like to thank all the people who have supported our endeavor and continue to do so,our ideas are based on one thing a love for great wines,this is what we hope to share with you...

galina stoletneya wrote:
01.12.08 at 7:26 PM

what a strange review and meaningless rating,
I am not a vegan( love to eat the salami and cheese plates at Terroir),
never thought of myself as an ethical purist,
and I am certain I'm not a wine geek,
and strangely enough every time I go to Terroir I am delighted to discover wines that I've never heard of before and that don't taste like everything i've been poured before.
Wines that are so unique and surprising, wines that keep on yielding ever changing aromas and flavors. Delicious wines that have a story to tell.
yes, Terroir is about wine, really great and fun wines.
and if you are the kind of person who is not threatened by something you don't know, not threatened if you don't recognize anything but get excited and curious instead,
then you're gonna Love terroir.
and yes, the owners are young and passionate and take things very much at heart, but let them be blessed for it and much luck to them.
go to Terroir!

daniel wrote:
01.13.08 at 8:06 AM

While I agree that the review and the rating seemed to contradict each other, and may be somewhat harsh, I am more surprised by the owner's response. Full of attitude and graceless. I would be far less likely to visit Terroir based on the owners response than Alder's critical review. I am still interested in visiting Terroir, as the wine bars in SF are generally disappointing, and the review did enough to pique my interest. I just hope that I don't get the attitude. I don't care how good or pure your wine is if it comes with baggage.


carlos Serafim wrote:
01.13.08 at 7:28 PM

So many comments. Positive and negative. What a great way to garner interest for wine and wine bars. Great job by all the commenters or is it commentaters? Now, everyone please stop talking and go down there and support the place. Put all your biases aside, try it and make your own decisions. Like it? then go there frequently. Don't like it? skip it and go somewhere else. Alder is entitled to his opinion and so are the owners. Now can't we all just get along?

Brian wrote:
01.13.08 at 9:35 PM

I was in the City today anyways, so I checked the place out this evening. This is a WINE bar and store, not a restaurant. I would disagree with the low score for one major reason-they have some really unique stuff! This is a wine nerd's place, and it is well worth a special trip across the City or beyond. If you want the standard wines and a full menu, this may not be the best place. As for food-they may have a limited "menu," but the cheese and bread are first class. How many fancy restaurants bother to warm their bread these days-their sourdough is crisped and hot.

As for owner attitude well, don't we all realize that the internet encourages passionate, even intemperate debate? From my experience, if you areopen to what they are doing here (and a unique vision it is), these guys are personable and excellent hosts. They are passionate about their shop and the wines they carry, and they are eager to share that passion with their customers. This was my first visit, but I will be back. (I even like the austere warehouse interior-it's simple and clean, and the old wooden beams add visual warmth to the space. And the neighborhood-it may be sketchy, but it is also one of the City's most interesting). I would rate the bar at least three solid stars.

Brian wrote:
01.13.08 at 9:39 PM

if not 4 stars. I lovee the Bordeaux (Chateaux le Puy) the Touraine Pinot Noir and the Mercurey. It was also my first taste of a Jura Chardonnay. These are wines that are hard to find.

daniel wrote:
01.14.08 at 12:55 PM

I did in fact visit Terroir this weekend and will be going back. They have some very unique wine and the salesperson that I spoke to was extremely knowledgeable about the wine and eager to share this knowledge.

The space is for sure rough and raw and is not for everyone, but I did not have problem with it really. I guess I partially agree that it is not most comfortable wine bar but the quality of the wine will bring me back.

good luck to the owners.


daniel wrote:
01.14.08 at 12:57 PM

I did in fact visit Terroir this weekend and will be going back. They have some very unique wine and the salesperson that I spoke to was extremely knowledgeable about the wine and eager to share this knowledge.

The space is for sure rough and raw and is not for everyone, but I did not have problem with it really. I guess I partially agree that it is not most comfortable wine bar but the quality of the wine will bring me back.

good luck to the owners.


Tommy wrote:
01.28.08 at 4:35 PM

I've been to Terroir twice, once as a sales rep with wine and another as a pure wine fan with a couple friends. I don't even care if they buy my wine, I think this is the best pure wine shop/bar to open up in the city in the last 2 years. In a city of wines bars and restaurants who more or less pour the same selections it's very refreshing to come into a joint and get some single varietal Pinot Meunier still wine and super funky with a capital "F" funk Gamay. These wines are certainly not popular to most mainstream folk but they definately should receive some serious consideration for what they are trying to do here. In a city as passionate about organic food as we are in SF we are still not very savvy when it comes to finding organic and biodynamic wines. There are many great producers who never label there wines as such but you can find them at Terroir because those guys are passionate and do their homework. I look forward to coming back!

P.S. If someone says their wine is organic or biodynamic and then goes and uses cultured yeast and filters their wine...what's the point?

Noah wrote:
02.06.08 at 10:46 AM

I love it that this place has inspired such heated, passionate response. I went for the first time last night and was totally turned on. I loved the atmosphere. I loved the vinyl that they were playing. (Yes they are also kind of music geeks here too) I loved the minimal interior decor.

Beyond all of that, I really enjoyed the wine selections and the obvious passion of the "terroirists" My wife and I tried about 8 half glasses and made some real taste discoveries.

I will return often. Terroir is my new favorite wine bar.

scott wu wrote:
02.07.08 at 6:23 PM

Stopped in last week, this place was like a piece of Bohemian heaven from the 70's. This has all but dissapearing here on the east coast, all they needed was the old Canadian Film Board animations projected on an old sheet. I've been tracking these wines since around 1998 and know a lot of their growers, they are real people often just small families doing something with passion.

I for one can certainly ignore the chop-shops and adult super-stores nearby (I liked the Vaughn Bode memorial though). Next time I'll bring some vinyl.

Alex wrote:
02.29.08 at 6:55 PM

Alder, you poor, deluded champion of the status quo! You sad, de facto flunky of the California corporate wine establishment! It's time you gave up your myopic, provincial viewpoint and tuned in to how quickly the SF wine scene is evolving. Changing. Growing, We are no longer doomed to remain the captive customers of mighty industrial wine conglomerates. We can now experience the pure, natural beauty of minimally manipulated wines, from small producers striving first for excellence, rather than profits. Terroir is all about those wines. Terroir is all about the future. Sort of the opposite of what you're all about, n'est pas?

Gideon wrote:
03.26.08 at 8:47 PM

Alder,
I will start by stating that my wine is sold at Terroir, so I am certainly not "objective".
However, I would recommend you re-visit the place both physically and mentaly. I agree with many of the comments about the excellence of the selection, the passionate and knowledgeable staff.
I cannot comment on the service since unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to visit there as a customer. But hey, they are young and new and hopefully have assimilated the cold shower you gave them...

In some strange way, the place reminds me of Spurrier's Academie du Vin in Paris, which guided many in the right direction, wine-wise.

guilhaume wrote:
05.12.09 at 9:20 AM

Eric Asimov from the nytimes visited terroir, wrote about it, and liked it! not too bad for a place that is "certainly not going to be a highlight of the san francisco nightlife" what do you think?

Joel Burt wrote:
05.12.09 at 3:28 PM

Terroir is a very exciting addition to the city. I live North of SF and drive an hour visit. I agree with Steve L. in that it is a godsend for people that are bored of wines that are seen everywhere else. I have a wonderful time when I go and I always get to taste something unique. It is a great place to sit at the bar and drink a bottle with a fellow wine connoisseur. Also, the staff is sure to recommend something that you will enjoy.

I think the atmosphere is comfy too, with great music.

guilhaume wrote:
05.18.09 at 9:26 AM

is every single commentary on this entry going against your review? funny.

Colman Stephenson wrote:
08.06.09 at 3:38 PM

Having visited for the first time last night I can say that Terroir is an important addition to the wine scene in San Francisco. A very exciting selection and a warmer, cosier atmosphere then the review suggests.

(I have no commercial relationship other then as a drinker)

11.24.14 at 4:17 AM

Great post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
I'd be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
Cheers!

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)
Yes
 

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Buy My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

Plumbing the Depths of Portugal: A Tasting Journey Vinography Images: Rain at Last The Mysterious Art of Selling Direct Critical Consolidation in Wine What Has California Got Against Wineries? Dirty Money for a Legendary Brand Vinography Images: Tendrils Highlights from Tasting Champagne with the Masters Off to Portugal for a Drink Vinography Images: Hazy Afternoon

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month

 

Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.