The wine and cheese bar isn’t exactly a novel concept around the Bay Area. San Francisco is a hotbed of culinary culture, and with the country’s most famous wine region just up the road, locals and tourists alike are ravenous about opening good bottles of vino.
When Chris Wanner decided to leave the wine distribution industry to open his own wine bar, West Coast Wine • Cheese, he didn’t have to overcomplicate things to stand out in a crowded San Francisco field. He focused on local wine — and a gorgeous wine wall to tempt guests.
“In this city, businesses go up and down so quickly,” he says. "The point of differentiation was crucial.”
Seems surprising that focusing on California wines (and the rest of the coast in general) would stand out, but the city’s global prestige as a culinary destination has brought in heady sommeliers who love to seek out wines from obscure villages in the Rhone Valley — meaning that sometimes the great wines from 45 minutes north (or east or south) get forgotten.
“It’s disappointing to see the focus on imports,” he says. “I’ve always sold domestic wines, exclusively from California, Oregon, Washington.”
Simple enough. And it’s working, as West Coast Wines is nearing its third birthday.
Wanner also credits success to the details, ranging from the glassware selected for each wine to serving it at the perfect temperature, alongside locally-sourced foods and a significant side of wine education.
“As simple as it sounds, it’s shocking how many people in San Francisco just overshoot the obvious,” he says.
Oh, and the restaurant design helps.
This shotgun-sized room offers a few cozy booths in front with the rest of the seating essentially along the bar. When working on the design, he borrowed elements from some of the favorite wine bars he’d visited, allowing the restaurant designer to then meld all the interesting elements he loved.
Including a wine wall, naturally.
Just behind the bar seating is a space efficient and sexy wine wall featuring VintageView’s Wall Series steel racking in Satin Black finish. Wanner saw the concept at Uncorked in Squaw Valley, and he knew he wanted something similar in his spot.
The application in West Coast Wine • Cheese is inset into the wall so the bottles don’t impede a narrow walkway. The display is framed by the cut out, and the wall has a reflective antique wall paper for an added visual pop. Guests sitting at the bar can also see it clearly through a mirror behind the service area.
The wine wall has a few purposes:
- Easy access to the wine list in a confined SF space
- An engaging décor piece that prompts guests to take photos — which often winds up in customer's Instagram feeds, helping with West Coast’s viral marketing.
“The general reaction is, 'I want this wall in my house,'” he says. “It’s an aspirational vision in their heads for their own house.” Good wine. Good design. Good service. It’s the simple things that keep a wine bar alive in the highly competitive San Francisco market.
What Chris Wanner is Drinking Right Now:
Wines from “Amador County (east of Sacramento), because the quality and depth of their Rhone varietals — grenache, syrah, mourvedre — is really, really impressive.” Wanner says this region is coming of age. Plus, “Sta Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County), Oregon pinots, Red Mountain region (Yakima Valley, Wa) … We get all over Paso (San Luis Obispo County, Ca.). GSM blends from Paso are just outstanding."
What to Order at West Coast Wine • Cheese:
Roederer Estate Brut (Anderson Valley, Ca.) with Mt. Tam Triple Cream Brie (on special every Monday)
Failla 2014 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, Ca) with Bacon Wrapped Dates
Wine Wall Details:
- 720-bottle capacity
- Wall Series 8-foot (48-bottle) steel wine racks kits
- Label-forward display
- Satin Black finish
- Approx. Racking Cost: $2,850 ($3.95/bottle)
- Hundreds of Instagram posts, and counting