Sports fans can start popping bottles. Mission Bay’s Chase Center opened a couple of months ago, announcing an ambitious range of food options, and now it’s rounded out the menu with a full wine program from industry veterans Debbie Zachareas and Peter Granoff, owners of the Wine Merchant in the Ferry Building and Oxbow Market in Napa.
Initially, the partners had hoped to do a small wine bar somewhere inside the stadium, but wound up with one located just outside (Mission Bay Wine Bar at Thrive City, slated to open in a few months), along with a nearby wine and cheese shop, and a gig consulting on the full wine program inside the entire center. The local wine pros say they’re intent on raising the bar on the drinking experience within Chase Center. “An 18,000-person arena gave us a huge opportunity to shape the way people drink wine,” Zachareas says. “And we were given free rein to do creative and outside-of-the-box experiences.” Granoff adds, “Particularly in San Francisco, where we already have such a knowledgeable, curious, and sophisticated audience, it presented a juicy opportunity.”
What could a modern wine list for thousands of sports fans and concert goers look like? Zachareas and Granoff tasted 700 wines before winnowing it down to a hundred, focused on producers based in California. Of course, they also have a couple of big sponsors, namely Silver Oak and Twomey Wines, and Moet & Chandon for standard sparkles. But the pair also tapped small locals, including Radio-Couteau, known for old-world reds, Anthill Farms, with limited barrels of pinot, and the Mascot, boasting a cult-favorite cabernet. Zachareas and Granoff estimate a typical stadium updates its wine offerings once a year and works with about five vendors. In contrast, Zachareas and Granoff plan on updating their list every couple of months and using 50 vendors.
Perusing the options, Chase Center guests can buy a glass of Primary Chardonnay or Sans Zinfandel for $12, and bottle prices go all the way up to $1,200 for a Screaming Eagles Second Flight cabernet — Zachareas says tech execs bought every bottle the first night. From the cheap seats to the exclusive suites, Chase Center has a lot of levels, and Zachareas and Granoff say they’ve planned options for every tier. For the 36 general concession stands, wine will be served in cans and plastic cups. Drinkers can also get an entire bottle poured into a plastic carafe to take back to their seats.
Granoff is a master sommelier, and he says he’s training the arena staff to suggest wines that pair with everything from the humble hot dog and beyond. “Wine in cans is a category that’s exploded over the past few years,” Granoff insists. “The industry is getting out of its own way, and there are dynamic options.”
For the top-tier experience, the arena’s 32 courtside lounges each come with a private wine cellar. Zachareas and Granoff will work directly with those season ticket holders if they need help stocking their coolers, and they’re also offering exclusive tastings for those in the elite boxes: For each of the 42 games in the season, two hours before tip off, vitners are coming in and pouring. “I told them to bring the best wines in their entire portfolios,” said Zachareas. “It’s an opportunity to chat with winemakers and buy bottles that aren’t even on the list.”
Overall, Granoff compares the food and drink program at the new Chase Center to the improvements seen at SFO over the past few years, which responded to higher expectations from travelers. “In airports, the worse the flying experience is, the better the drinks have to be,” he quips. “But at the Chase Center, the better the entertainment, the higher the caliber of the food and wine.”