WBW 18: Fav Shop Edition (Soif Wine Bar and Merchant)

bustling 2

Would you believe me if I said the most sophisticated wine bar in
the Bay Area is not in the city at all, but all the way down in Santa
Cruz?

For the latest edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday -yes, yes, I know
it’s Sunday now but my cat ate my homework-
our wonderful host Dr.Vino
asked us to write not about wine, per se, but about a wine shop that is near and dear to our heart. And hey, in a couple of weeks
I’m going to be living a few blocks from this one, so it is not only dear but certainly going to be quite near as well. (Oh yes, there’s a bit of news for you nosy readers, but a little
bit later for that ok? D’abord on parle de vin!)

I’m talking about a spectacular place called Soif Wine Bar and Merchant
in downtown Santa Cruz. It’s both a wine shop and a wine bar. The
shop, also affectionately known as the Bonny Doon Alumni Association, is owned by
Patrice Boyle and Hugh Weiler, both expats of the famous Bonny Doon
Winery (hence the nickname.)

I was introduced to Soif by David, who had been waxing poetic about
this hip little place ever since we met. Frankly, my-city-snob-self
wasn’t so convinced -hip and Santa Cruz not being particularly
compatible in my vocabulary. Imagine my surprise when I was taken to a
neat space that could have been at home in the Mission or SOMA, and
found a menu that featured a flight of the obscure traditional
Burgundian grape variety, Aligoté? Not just any old Aligoté, mind
you, but those from famous producers like Ramonet, Arnaud Ente,
Jayer-Gilles, and Aubert de Villaine! I could hardly believe my eyes, or my
palate, for that matter.

Come to think of it, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The Santa Cruz mountains area is home to some very good and original wine makers. While much of the rest of California race to make the ripest, most extracted, Parkerized monstrosity that –frankly- taste all the same to me, some Santa Cruz wine makers like Randal Grahm of Bonny Doon and Jeffrey Patterson of Mt.Eden dare to be different. Randal Grahm is a fervent supporter of biodynamic growing practice and makes wines that are just as unique as his irreverant personality, while Patterson grows his vines on the barren mountaintop so that the small yield would make complex if under-rated wines. There is a wine culture here that –albeit small- is more than sophisticated enough to support a gem like Soif.

Soif sells more than 350 wines, focusing on small production, terroir driven wines from producers who preserve the traditional and sustainable wine making techniques, the sorts of wine that you might not find at your local Costco. Find one and take it home, or bring it over to the bar and pair it with your choice of delicious small plates ($3.50 a pop) or entrees (ranging from $5-15). Any bottle can be drunk in the bar with your dinner at merely $10 over the retail price. If that’s not a good deal I don’t know what is. And if you can’t down an entire bottle, then you can choose from the nearly 50 by-the-glass offerings to accompany your dinner, or try a well-contructed flight and get a free wine education besides.

At any given night you could find the knowledgeable and affable Hugh pouring wine at the bar, while manning -or woman-ing, rather- the wine shop is the lovely and no less knowledgeable Beccy Breeze. Ask them anything about any wine and they can give you a mini-lecture on the growing region, particularities of the variety, and even peculiarities of the wine maker. That’s a lot of fun even if you’re not drunk yet!

Patrice told me Soif was intended as her post-retirement project, to keep herself occupied and to have a fun place to go drink wine without having to trek all the way up to San Francisco. Little that she knew that her little project would grow to be busier and even more time consuming than the job she supposedly retired from. I’m glad though, self-servingly enough. The prospect of moving to Santa Cruz would have been a little dire had it not been for a place like this just down the road.

(Yes, I did say moving to Santa Cruz. You guys don’t miss anything, do you? No worries, I’m not really leaving San Francisco yet. It’s just that I’ve been –theoretically- using San Francisco as a base and Santa Cruz a satellite. The only problem is I’ve spent far more time down here and found myself far too often missing my favorite dress in the closet two hours north –yes, I am that shallow- so I decided to swap the cities. (Ok, sure, you know who figured in that decision somehow too.) Santa Cruz will now be the base, with the full content of my closet, while San Francisco the satellite, with just enough space to hang my proverbial hat. I’m going to be in the city a couple days a week, and the rest of time in Santa Cruz, so, no Mr.Skipper, you’re not taking back my Urban Food Blog award just yet!)

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  • http://profile.typekey.com/IndolentAgain/ Matthew Bowden

    350 wines and 50 by the glass for a wine bar is fantastic. And at those markups I could rent barspace !!!!!.
    I hope you are able to walk to and from this location to your new home because that makes a place like this perfection. Also that second and third bottle are never far away :) .
    I will check out the wines themselves when I get home from work (crazy security policies and all that).

  • http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/ sam

    when I noticed you call me nosey, I thought at first I might have to buy a hat, but one step at a time, eh? Having ‘the dress’ in the other closet isn’t the way to live, so it sounds like you have made a good decision.

  • rachel

    I agree with Sam, along with love, clothing locality is an excellent reason! Congrats on both!

  • jen

    hi pim.
    i just recently starting reading food blogs, and yours bew my mind. beautiful pictures and incredibly perceptive reviews that are never nasty or egotistical. thank you for your posts.

  • http://www.caseyellis.com casey

    I heard about Soif months ago but haven’t made it there yet. Your article makes me want to go soonest.
    Also: great job on the Commonwealth Club panel last night. My only complaint is that I’d have liked to hear more from all four of the panelists. Still, a good program.

  • Laurie

    i’m in the same boat but haven’t made the switch from SF as base to southern locale as satellite yet…but am there enough to have found soif about 4 months back and declared it on par with SF’s most laid back and ‘pleasant’ (for lack of a better word) wine bars-it’s like a cross of the hidden vine and cav….i love it and probably completely contrary to what the owners want, said “wow, they should open a few more of these…”

  • http://chezpim.typepad.com Pim

    Matthew: You should check out the place too, not just the wine list, no?
    Sam: No it isn’t. And I certainly hope so.
    Rachel: Thanks. :-)
    jen: Thanks. I guess.
    Casey: Soif is great fun. You definitely should go. Thanks for joining us at the Commonwealth Club. Yes, I agree that the time was short but that was probably than listening to us speaking all night, because, trust me, with the four of us together, we certainly could have.
    Laurie: Well what are you waiting for then? I could use more wine drinking and eating companions down here!

  • http://www.caseyellis.com casey

    had dinner at soif last night and absolutely loved it. lamb meatballs with almond sauce: outstanding. but everything we had was very good.

  • http://www.drinksos.com JOhn

    No I won’t believe..just because you are asking me to believe it :P