Giants’ history-making sommelier Evan Goldstein is out to bring wine culture to Oracle Park
San Francisco Giants fans — decked out in orange and black caps, jerseys and shoelaces — will stream into Oracle Park April 7 for the season’s home-opening game. What they’ll find is something totally new: a wine culture in the making.
“Everywhere you can buy a hot dog, you should be able to buy a glass of wine as well,” said Evan Goldstein, who begins his first season as the Giants’ master sommelier.
The Giants were the first major league baseball team to serve wine at games beginning in 1977 at Candlestick Park, the former home of the Giants. It’s not surprising perhaps, given their proximity to Wine Country. Now, they’re the first sports organization to have their own sommelier, who wants to take it to the next level.
“I don’t want people to think wine is just for those who are sitting in luxury and corporate suites,” Goldstein said. “We’ll find opportunities where people can bring wine into their world, from the (less-expensive seating) 415 section to the promenade level to the upper deck.”
Goldstein, 61, is one of 273 master sommeliers worldwide. Precocious, he passed the prestigious master sommelier exams by age 26, becoming only the eighth American to earn the title and the youngest ever at the time.
With his well-educated palate, Goldstein said he’ll focus his efforts on developing the synergy between wine and baseball.
“There’s always the possibility that the players and the fans could wind up like me,” he said, “a guy who’s as crazy about wine as I am about baseball.”
The preseason gathering of true Giants fans is held at Oracle Park every year in February. During FanFest, fans tour the clubhouse, walk through the dugout and even have access to the press box. They also get to meet some of the players, announcers and media personalities.
This year, the Sonoma County Winegrowers, the association that represents wine grape growers and wineries, was the exclusive wine sponsor for the Feb. 4 event. Their rollout was called “Sluggers & Sommeliers.”
“The energy at Oracle Park that day was amazing,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers.
A long line of fans snaked around the front of Willie Mays Plaza, eager for the gates to open, Kruse said. When they did, Sonoma County vintners were the first to greet them with a glass of wine.
Joe Dutton of Dutton Estates, Steve Sangiacomo of Sangiacomo Vineyards, Taylor Serres of Serres Ranch Wine and Mark Orsi of Orsi Family Vineyards were on hand to pour their wines. Other brands represented included Kenwood Vineyards, Rodney Strong Vineyards and Rombauer Vineyards, all in Sonoma County.
A long-term partnership is in the works between the trade association and the Giants. While Kruse declined to disclose the details of the deal until after it’s finalized, she said the goal is to expand their participation in more events like Fanfest.
Somm’s affinity to Sonoma County
Goldstein said he’s fond of Sonoma County wines because they’re diverse and affordable.
“As an overall wine culture, Sonoma County is very approachable,” he said.
One summertime event in the offing is taking the players’ spouses and significant others on a field trip, and there’s a good possibility the destination will be Sonoma County, Goldstein said.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for Sonoma County,” the master sommelier said. “In Dry Creek Valley, on any given day, the vintner could be there to greet people. You don’t see that happening in a lot of other areas.
“In Sonoma County, you’ve also got the cheeses, the oysters, the vegetable stands, the Barlow and Bodega Bay. You’d be hard-pressed to find all this in other places.”
Like a cabernet that improves with age, Goldstein said his vision of a wine culture is one that’s unrushed. Instead of launching many wine initiatives at the ballpark, he wants to focus on a few and make sure they’re popular.
“Some risk doing too much too quickly and do it poorly,” Goldstein said. “We don’t want to do that.”
That said, the master sommelier has one metric he’s hoping to achieve. He wants to increase wine sales at the ballpark by 20,000, from 80,000 glasses last year to 100,000 this year.
Oracle Park, the Giants’ home since 2000, has a wine bar on each level, California wine carts along Promenade and View Levels and seven other locations that offer wine on tap.
The beer and wine licenses for these ballpark venues are with Bon Appétit Management Co. It provides cafe and catering services to venues, so the master sommelier is simply offering suggestions when asked.
Beyond that, he’s introducing wine picks with the Gotham and Cloud clubs (membership clubs with venues at the ballpark), as well as coordinating efforts with their events.