Generation cork

Three family wineries spread California love and innovation

Limestone caves at Kelly Fleming Wines in Calistoga.

BEER AND WINE It's a unique time in Bay Area winemaking. We see more California winemakers finding harmony between New and Old World-style production, laying off heavier-handed extremes of overly-oaked or high alcohol wines, honing in on our region's true terroir. While global love for big, bold California wines isn't going anywhere, it's ever more apparent that our range is far beyond what might be assumed.

Small, family-run wineries have long undergirded our region's greatness, and today there are many new wines, from Sonoma to Napa, adding nuance to the landscape. As is the case historically, many wineries are a family affair where parents and children share in the work, from production to business operations. Here are a few we felt you should know about; you can order most of their wines through their websites.



San Francisco holds a treasure in the person of Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars. He walks the fine line of approachability and Old World-influenced production style. At 22nd Street and Illinois sits a funky warehouse winery where he throws Jug Sundays, tapping barrels and selling jugs or liters of wine (email directly through its website — — to be added to the event email list). Carl corrals Dogpatch neighbors to supply grub, like Olivier's Butchery or the TomKat Asian street food truck. His wife Sharon often pours and works with him, both of them wine aficionados and passionate global travelers.

His grapes grow mostly in Sonoma County (with a little Mendocino in the mix), and are often single vineyard wines. At a time when many claim personal care, Sutton's brown label wines are actually filled and corked by hand. Often this kind of care implies high costs, but Sutton stays amazingly affordable at $14–<\d>$21 a bottle.

Sutton is heavily influenced by France and Spain. He offers a full-bodied Rattlesnake Rosé ($15), but also the stunning Fizé, a 2010 rosé of organic Carignane grapes. It unfolds with each sip: tart cranberry and pomegranate notes, and a crisp effervescence. With no yeast or sulfites added, fermentation actually happens in the bottle. It possess a bready nose, with a profile far beyond typical rosés on either end of the sweet/dry spectrum (find this beauty at the winery, Bi-Rite, Rainbow Grocery, D&M). As of last week, he has keg preview of the 2010 Rattlesnake Rosé on tap at Magnolia Pub and Brewery.

His 2007 Carignane is an acidic, balanced, food-friendly red (barrel fermented in neutral oak). The aged La Solera is an elegant after-dinner imbibement and one of Sutton's best creations. A blend of syrah, zin, and carignane wines from 1999-2006, it at turns evokes Madeira, Banyuls, sherry, even whiskey, with whispers of burnt orange, and a golden richness from its time resting in the sun, a classic method he picked up in Spain. La Solera is at the top of his price range at a mere $30, a steal for such a complex wine.

Sutton's Brown Label Vermouth (unaged brandy-fortified neutral white wine, infused with 17 botanicals, bottled fresh weekly) is a winner. The Alembic was the first place to serve this refreshing aperitif on tap, enjoyed on the rocks, Italian-style. Sutton bubbles over with visions for a wide range of wines and liqueurs, including at least one new aperitif/digestif wine due before year's end.



Head off Silverado Trail, past vines and olive trees, onto a dirt road that leads to a gate. Beyond a sea of cabernet vines, lies Kelly Fleming's stone winery (, evoking an Italian villa, similar to many I explored in Tuscany. The winery's stone walls and wood shutters imbue the space with a rustic character far beyond its years.

Related articles

  • Cover in pinot: Behind the scenes at the Beer and Wine photoshoot

  • Bottoms up!

    Naked wines, rogue brews, family vines, upcoming booze to-dos: Drink with us through the luscious Beer and Wine Issue

  • Rogue pairings

    The Pacific Brewing Laboratories guide to DIY food and local brews

  • Also from this author

  • Our 50 favorite San Francisco bars -- all on one page!

  • The G50: San Francisco's top bars

    From splashy dives to upscale classics (and everything in between) — our favorite spots to grab a drink

  • Fresh sips

    Cocktail, food on the side: What to eat when you're sipping around town