Jeremiah Morehouse of San Francisco’s Gary Danko on North Coast Pinot and South Africa

Jeremiah Morehouse, MS, started drinking wine when he was attending UC Santa Cruz, braking out a bottle for Sunday dinner with his roommates. He grew up in Sacramento, and has worked in restaurants since he was 19, starting his education in earnest when he landed behind the wine bar at a restaurant at 21. By the time he was 24, he’d taken the introductory exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers. After he moved to San Francisco, he started working at SPQR, where owner Shelley Lindgren got him an invitation to a lunch with Fred Dame, MS, who became his mentor. By 2017, after he’d been at Gary Danko for three years and the wine director for two, he earned his Master Sommelier credentials.

Of the 2,750 wines on your list, how is it that Frog’s Leap Rutherford Cabernet landed as both your best new success and your number one top-seller?
We’re an old-school institution, so, for us, it will always be the classics. A lot of people want California, whether they are from California or are visiting and want to drink California. Overall, based on the quality and price point, Frog’s Leap is a brand I always Iike to carry and show across their range—not just the cabernet sauvignon. We carry a lot of half bottles, and they are very good about doing half bottles, so it’s been one where I can have sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon all in both half and full bottles. They deliver a great value and it’s an easy one to recommend. I had the opportunity to visit six months ago and hang out with John [Williams] and dive into their philosophy. It’s very inspiring to hear him talk. Not only does the wine taste good and offer good value but, more than that, Frog’s Leap still feels like a small family-run winery. Hands are getting dirty; there’s a commitment to understanding the vines and the land.

Has pinot crested, or is it still growing at Gary Danko?
I still think pinot noir is at the top of the list as far as outweighing cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay for frequency; it’s the most popular thing we move through. I think because of our food style, and the tasting-menu format—going from apps to fish and seafood, then meat and gamebirds, and the cheese cart—if guests say they want to drink red, I may say we should look at pinot noir. If they drink full-bodied Napa cabernet, they may realize it’s not the best for their scallops.

People might steer first and foremost to Russian River Valley because it’s something they’re familiar with, whether it’s the history of the producers or the region. Then it comes down to the interaction: Does a guest feel comfortable looking at wines from a region that they’re not as familiar with? If they’re more familiar with drinking Burgundy but want to drink California because they’re in California, that’s when we can get more into regions that are not as well known, but align more with the style they prefer. Or are they looking for the rich fruit generosity? Then I can take them to Santa Cruz or Santa Barbara, or wherever they might land.

As for outliers, you have the Meerlust 2010 Stellenbosch Rubicon Cabernet for $22 a glass.
I am a big proponent of South African wines. I’ve worked with that bottling for five vintages now by the glass; I’ve poured it consistently for the last four years. That particular estate, the history and legacy, the quality you get in that wine is spectacular. I could pour a Bordeaux by the glass, but I feel like I’m getting better quality and value by looking for something unique. It’s everything you want in a Bordeaux-inspired blend, but distinctly different. If you look at the global market over the last 20 years, South Africa has probably improved its wines more than any other region. I’ve poured South African chenin and sauvignon blanc; it’s not a place that I’m afraid to show off. Part of it stems from my studies: I had read about these properties and wanted to learn about them, taste them, learn why they are so well respected. One of the first wines I added to the list was the Hamilton Russell chardonnay from Walker Bay, a wine I had had before I started at Gary Danko. Since then, I’ve been really impressed by what’s out there.

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