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August 21, 2014

Places to Drink Wine: Terroir Natural Wine Bar and Merchant

When Terroir Natural Wine Bar and Merchant came on the scene, many did not know what to make of the place. Founders, Luc Ertoran, Guilhaume Gerard and Dagan Ministero were serving wines that were made without chemical intervention meaning no pesticides, herbicides or commercial yeast. As the name suggest, they wanted wines that were pure expressions of the places they came from. Natural meant just that – getting back to methods that were used before the advent of modern wine technology - and in 2007, when this eclectic enclave opened in SOMA, very few places carried these wines let alone served them exclusively.

It was not just the concept that was novel. The wines, which were often made from obscure grapes such as Pineau d’Aunis, an old indigenous varietal found in Touraine and Jacquere, a Savoie native, confounded the palates of many wine drinkers.

Now, seven years later, Terroir has become a trendsetter, having influenced winemakers, sommeliers and wine buyers in the Bay Area and beyond. Gerard left in 2009 to start an import company, “Selection Massale,” which employs a similar philosophy but Ertoran and Ministero have persevered, even after a flood caused them to close down for four months.

The wine list is French centered with some Italian and California selections. Given that the Jura and lesser-known Loire Valley appellations have been the hotbed for natural wines, it is not much of a surprise to see them offered by the glass on any given night. Occasionally you may find a Bordeaux but it is likely to be along the lines of Tire Pe, a modest, certified organic wine made on the outskirts of the region.

While Terroir may not be as geographically diverse as some other wine bars in town, it takes chances others don’t, without sacrificing quality. There are not too many places that pour Sébastien Bobinet’s 2012 “Amatéüs Bobi,” an old vine Cabernet Franc from Saumur ($15gl/$50bt) or Azienda Agnanum’s 2012 Piedirosso from Campania ($50). Perhaps I should say not too many places that pour it yet. I’ve seen wines at Terroir several months before they are on numerous other wine lists around town.

Ertoran, who is French-Basque, sees more California wines in Terroir’s future. “That is my greatest hope,” he says. As the number of quality natural wines reigning from California’s vineyards continues to increase this should be easily realized.

To a large extent, a wine bar is only as good as its service. Especially in a place like this, customers often need guidance and most of the staff does its best to educate the clientele.

Terroir’s atmosphere matches its philosophy. It is minimalist but not sparse, ever so slightly kitschy but not tacky. You might hear Fela Kuti, Johnny Mathis or side one of Some Girls. Food is kept to a minimum. There are a few cheeses and charcuterie, c’est tu.

The key to Terroir’s success might be that they have never strayed from their original concept. To them, supporting natural wines is not just a business but also a way of living and they are only too happy to share this gospel. Says Ministero, “We serve wines we would drink and convince you with ease that you should drink them too.”

As many wine drinkers have moved in this direction, it is pretty safe to say that Ertoran, Ministero and co. have done a good job converting at least some of the masses and introducing younger wine drinkers to the ‘new old way.’ All it really takes is one extraordinary wine to get hooked, and if you are in any way curious, make sure to put Terroir on your map.

Natural Natural Wine Bar & Merchant
1116 Folsom Street (7th Street in SOMA)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 558-9946

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