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I Don't Understand San Francisco Wine Week

Perhaps I'm just getting too old, but I can't for the life of me really understand what San Francisco Wine Week is all about.

Here we are living in one of the greatest wine and food cities of the world. We're spoiled rotten when it comes to our wine and food. We expect, and regularly receive great local ingredients in our food, an incredible selection of wines from California and around the world, and completely take for granted the fact that we can bring a bottle of our favorite wine to any restaurant we like.

If there was ever a large city in America that might have a week long celebration of wine, San Francisco would certainly be at the top of the list. And here we are beginning just that sort of celebration, except....

It seems completely, and utterly lame.

As far as I can tell, San Francisco Wine Week is simply six nights of open bars in various venues around the city where you can taste as much wine as you want, no doubt to the soundtrack of thumping electronica.

Come on people. That was the best you could come up with?

Granted, this event is supposedly aimed at the young, urban, hip crowd of Millenials that make up the largest wine drinking population that America has ever seen. But I've got to believe that there's a better way to celebrate what the promoters rightly identified as one of the Bay Area's most defining cultures.

And just to make sure I've exercised my complete curmudgeonly rights, let me just say that the web site and all the marketing material I've seen are horribly unhelpful at getting any sense of what these nightly events will be like. For instance, Wednesday night is the "Sommelier Party" hosted by sommelier Mark Bright.

OK. So what does that mean? If you wanted to find out, say, the difference between that night and Tuesday night, which is the "Import Party" you would be shit out of luck, as they say. Nothing on the web site provides any indication of what is actually going on that night, or any other night, for that matter, other than "wine tastings." Hell, it's not even clear whether there will even be food at these things, except for "San Francisco restauratuers" being mentioned somewhere as some of the sponsors.

And if you want to know what's going to be happening at the ultimate end of week party, the Red Gala, you'll find yourself similarly screwed, except, of course for the dress code, which is supremely, unhelpfully described as "red attire encouraged but not required." So would that be red t-shirts or red ball gowns?

It's quite a shame that a city so steeped in wine and so populated with smart, talented hospitality folks couldn't come up with something better for the first Wine Week than this. As far as I can tell, we've got nothing educational, nothing uniquely Californian, and nothing really fun, except, perhaps if you're a young guy who knows a thing or two about wine and wants to go meet chicks that will be impressed with your knowledge. Sounds more like "party with alcoholics" than it does "celebrate wine culture."

Of course, that may just be the target audience for this whole debacle. The saving grace of which may be that the entire week's events cost a mere $75 bucks. Which means, no matter how bad the event ends up being, a motivated barfly will at least be able to drink their money's worth if they go every night. With only 44 wineries participating, you might also be able to get through every single one over the course of the week. In fairness, it must be noted that some of the wineries pouring at the event are quite good.

I'll leave it to the most adventurous of you readers to go check it out and look forward to happily being proved wrong. But I don't expect to be. San Francisco, you can do better than this.

Comments (17)

waylan choy wrote:
11.10.08 at 7:27 AM

I found you when keywording 'wine week sf,' to also find out more about the 'festival.' I haven't even BEGUN to dig into your rich archive.

I think I understand where you're coming from, in terms of wanting SF to declare itself more emphatically as a progressive, creative city when it comes to its culture and celebration. And also, when you refer to 'celebration' vs 'excuse to get drunk.' The latter happens too much for me to get into sometimes. Despite probably being a Millenial as you describe, i'm not huge on getting trashed unless I know everyone.. heh. I do like Amelie though.

Definitely a rambling & rant. :]

Though, to the credit of the organizers, whom I don't know and haven't researched, they may have spent most of their time just even culling the partnerships to host the events. The marketing possibly wasn't their strength, even if it was more important than they made it (ie. basic web info). It is the first year, and possibly the first venture for these organizers.

So the only question in my mind is:
Would you be interested in contributing to a proper wine celebration/event, that accurately portrays, distills, captures the wine life and culture we have here in Cali? Constructive criticism is everything, and you sound like you know better.

Let me know though. Even if to add your commentary/opinion.

Garrett wrote:
11.10.08 at 8:28 AM

"Millenials". Totally going to use that term. ;)

Interesting post, I must say. Sac just had a beer walk of sorts that kinda has the same sort of feel.

Karen Zachary wrote:
11.10.08 at 12:40 PM

I agree, this event is strangely organized (one fee for multiple nights?) and poorly explained. Very odd.

Dylan wrote:
11.10.08 at 3:04 PM

Alder, I'm a Millenial and it doesn't make much sense. If I were still in California, I would normally love to commit the $75 for the week's worth of event--it seems like it would be good value for all the tasting available. However, at that price it is alarming not to have more facts about each venue location or evening plans.

Fred Swan wrote:
11.10.08 at 8:30 PM

I agree entirely, Alder. It looks more like a promotion for the venues than for the wine. I do hope the wineries involved feel like they get a good return on their investment. However, it seems more likely that they'll get a lot of seriously inebriated clubbers who won't remember how they got that way.

That said, if it does encourage some people to drink more wine and less vodka with Red Bull, the wine industry and the drinkers' health will both benefit.

David Scott wrote:
11.10.08 at 10:47 PM

I read your post with great sorrow, Alder. We're gearing up for our own Wine and Food Festival here in San Diego, and after reading this I pray we don't follow suit. It may be too late, there's a "Wine Rave" at The W Hotel on Wednesday - complete with grungy marketing, techno music, and a hooka lounge. Pray for wine and for us, Vinography readers - let's hope we're not heading for the same fate! I'll be posting reviews from my coverage of the entire week on my website. May Bacchus smile upon us...

Paige Granback wrote:
11.11.08 at 1:00 PM

Alder--thanks for posting this. I thought SF Wine Week sounded promising, but after visiting the website I was as confused as you about the what and the why. Just a few details about each event would have made all the difference.

One of the organizers contacted us about providing a retail mechanism, but I guess they ran out of time to get it in place or perhaps decided it would be too complicated. Worst case, the wineries get their brands exposed to the market and hopefully can point revelers to places where they can buy the wines.

What I'd really like to see is an event that doesn't necessarily devolve into a drunk fest like so many of them do. The basic format for consumer wine tastings, i.e. wineries on one side of the table and tasters on the other side, is outdated and not terribly engaging. Not to mention there is generally no call to action piece.

How to make it better...that's the million dollar question.

Blake wrote:
11.11.08 at 5:06 PM

Every single day in SF can be San Francisco Wine Week. We have wine bars all over the place. The only way an event like this is useful is with easily understood wine-based themes: i.e., Cabernet Franc night. Santa Barbara County night. Whatever. "Red Gala?" Just go to the Red Room and order an Aperol.

11.12.08 at 3:23 PM

I have to say, sadly, that I found the same rotten challenges trying to decipher the web site, what was going on each night and was so disappointed in the marketing, organization, enthusiasm, creativity, follow thru, etc. on this event. Not much there - there. If it had not been for the awful web site, I might have gone to some of these events. I'm in the industry (New Media Marketing for Hahn Estates, I live & work in Napa) and see so much more promise with Wine 2.0 events, or Twitter Taste Live, and so many others. I wonder if the sponsors think they are getting their $ worth!

Rachel wrote:
11.13.08 at 8:21 AM

I went to a Sherry tasting at a calalan bar the other day but i had no idea that it was part of wine week-I was just happy to know about it and be a part of it!

Adam Levin wrote:
11.14.08 at 9:48 AM

So I have been to 2 of the events so far this week. As at most consumer events, there's the fair share of people that are there just to get drunk and act out of control. Last night I almost felt bad for the people that work at the Mercedes Benz dealer where the event was being held because people were sitting at their desks. Hopefully no one's pictures of their kids were stolen.

Anyways, there were some interesting wines being poured and I hope the wineries that were involved see some bump in sales because of the time and money invested. It's tough for them to know what a direct impact these sorts of events have because they can't sell their wines at the event.

There is something to be said for more casual consumer events such as these. I may be totally wrong, but I think SF Wine Week may be attracting a slightly different crowd than some of the Fort Mason events attract. I did see a slightly younger crowd than what you typically see at the more "major" events. Maybe I'm wrong, but I give the SF Wine Week team points for trying.

melissa w. wrote:
11.17.08 at 4:53 PM

In my personal opinion it was a huge success. The turnout alone shows that the creative minds behind SF Wine Week put an incredible amount of time and energy into this event, and it showed. There wasn't an evening which had less than 200+ people at it.

Over the course of 6 nights, guests can taste a multitude of wines from around the world in a new venue each night. Tickets were only $75 for a pass to the entire week, which is a steal if you plan on going out for more than one night.

As the artist for the Friday night event, I had access to all the events but didn't actually plan on going to that many of them. However, I found myself at 4 of the 6 nights because they were simply so much fun. The wineries represented were top notch, the crowd was great - and the venues were impressive. Plus everything is done by 9 or 10 so it's not a rough schedule for those of us who have to work the next day.

The demographic covered young and old, hip and stylish, but what I noticed the most was how well behaved, friendly and interesting everyone was. As a wine tasting event, it was fresh and fun, not stuffy and boring. Another nice thing about having a week long event is that you actually have some time to get to know some really great new people and make a few friends along the way.

As a side note: The music wasn't "thumping electronica". It was appropriate, and the only night which was a little more loud and perhaps "rowdy" was the final "Red Gala Event", which was the point. And the venues weren't even at Bars, except for one. So it wasn't a promotion for the venues, considering they were beautiful lobby spaces of downtown buildings, industrial retail spaces and the likes.

The fact that you think this sort of event is, as you say, utterly lame, before you even attend one of the events is a testament that perhaps you are getting too old!

winegirl_oak wrote:
11.18.08 at 12:00 AM

I went to 4 of the events and while I enjoyed tasting wine and chatting with my friend and some new people, I think it was poorly executed for many of the aforementioned reasons. Some of the wineries and distributors were pouring wonderful things, but there was only food on two nights (except for a basket of rolls).

The "Red Gala" was just like all of the other nights except that the volume was turned up after 11... nothing was particularly special about it and I would have felt gypped if I'd paid the one-night price. On Sommelier night we only met one sommelier and he was there on his own, not as an official part of the event.

Would I try it again next year? Maybe, but only if I know I'll be able to make it on several nights to get my money's worth.

conrad wrote:
11.19.08 at 1:17 PM

wonderful festival!

as a transplanted manhattanite, i'm often amused by the deep and evolved provincial mind-set that can take hold in SF/bay area...especially, under the pretense of sophistication

let me tell all (especially those who did not attend, but somehow have something to say)...

SF Wine Week was a fantastic event! i KNOW. i was there for all six evenings.

visionary in who they were targeting. many of the comments i've read sound so pathetically dated. SFWW gets major points for its modern view of an urban wine festival. qudos to SFWW'S egalitarian price-point of $75 for the week...i was impressed by the attendance every night.

many of the comments i've read fall in line as to why most wine festivals are culturally FRUMPY...period! this event was not.

alder, where do you get off criticizing something that you did not have the decency (maybe energy)to attend? trust me, if you were there, you'd still not understand it. your comments are typical of a simplistic and monolithic view of ALL THINGS WINE (or is it WHINE?).

and as for your disciples of a non-expansive view of wine (events/festivals),i
simply yawn!

Alder wrote:
11.19.08 at 4:17 PM


Maybe in your rush to declare me an out of touch, monolithic, whining, wine snob you overlooked the fact that my post was written BEFORE the event. It represented not a criticism of the event, but of what the event appeared to be based on the only public information (marketing) that was available.

The people who comment on this blog are not disciples, they are readers. And their opinions are their own, as your own snide comments so clearly prove.

epicuria wrote:
11.20.08 at 11:49 AM

Since the ballot box, a.k.a. comments section, can be stuffed by "friends of the promoter" it would be good to have a post hoc assessment by the wineries which had to cough up a fee ($250 I think) plus pour free wine and take the time to attend and prep. It very well could be that going into such venues and offering samples to those who don't attend the typical wine events proved worthwhile.

Bobby wrote:
09.06.09 at 1:29 PM

Does anyone know if SF Wine Week is going on this year? Last year was amazing. The venues were unique and the wines were even better! I sure hope someone is working on organizing another wine week for 2009!

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