Dagan Ministero’s room where it happened. Revisiting Terroir SF, a natural wine icon.

De naturali vinorum historia…

My mind teemed with memories as the doors swung open and let me into Terroir Natural Wine Bar on Folsom in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood like an old western gunslingers’ saloon.

The time Tracie and I watched one of the owners chase down a thief who stole two bottles in front of our very eyes. They got the bottles back.

The time my band was playing Café du Nord and we turned Joachim Cooder onto Muscadet. He was our drummer at the time and he loved it.

The countless times that the soldiers of the new wine, the natural wine, gathered there to banter, debate, and deliberate over the new language and new world that they were simultaneously discovering and forging.

It would be hard to overestimate the role that Terroir in San Francisco played in the nascent natural wine movement. Like its counterpart in New York, The Ten Bells, it was pioneer, progenitor, and in a certain sense an ante litteram avatar of the new natural wine culture.

Looking back to 2007 when Terroir opened, when people were just beginning to wrap their minds around natural wine, it’s clear that the venue and its cast of characters — including some of the wine world’s proto-bloggers, and you know whom I’m talking about — populated an early outpost of natural wine’s fourth estate.

At the time, no one beyond a small circle of the intelligentsia had even heard the pairing of “natural” and “wine.”

It’s incredible to think that a word that we once uttered audaciously as a challenge to the wine firmament is now part of the workaday parlance of broader viti-culture and commerce. Terroir was the setting — the context — for the text. Although the words had been uttered however sparingly before that time, Terroir was at once locus and locution for some of its earliest enunciations.

But Terroir didn’t just provide the proscenium for some of natural wine’s proto-dialectic.

It was also a super fun bar to hang out in and a wondrous meta (in the ancient Roman sense) for the wine-curious. Vinyl spun on the jukebox as eno-hipsters streamed in and out. And the wines… oh the wines! There was always something macerated and/or oxidative (back then it wasn’t so easy to find those wines). And the conversation was as high-pitched as it was catholic (with a small c).

And even though one of the things that made it sexy was the slight sense of danger that you always felt there, owed in part to the hyper-urban environment where it is located, it was also a safe and welcoming space for those who wanted to expand their wine knowledge and experience.

Today, as the natural wine world has revealed its sharpest elbows, Terroir was a place where even a wine neophyte like a drummer in a faux French rock band could hang out and let it all hang out.

I was so fortunate to get to sit down with my old friend Dagan Ministero, Terroir owner and founder, last week for what I can only describe as a pseudo-séance.

We talked at length about the many luminaries of natural wine who have sat in his chairs over the years. We parsed the evolution of the language of natural wine in the 14 years that have passed since I first sat there. And we tasted… we tasted and tasted and tasted… just like the old days.

Revisiting after so many years and after the lockdowns, this space still had the same mystical, magical effect on me that it did when I first visited in 2008 (my band was still extremely active then and SF was one of our top cities in terms of our draw). And the wines were funky, cloudy, and great…

Chapeau bas to Dagan who has remained one of America’s essential hosts, soothsayers, and sorcerers. Natural wine — and wine in general — could more humans like him.

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