By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Negociant Urban Winery brings a diverse spirit to North Park
The most commonly asked question by first-time visitors to Negociant Urban Winery is, “Do you make the wines here?”
According to co-owner John Rinaldi, their jaws often drop when he answers “Yes,” despite stacks of wooden barrels forming the backdrop to a modest-size tasting room and wine-making facility that formerly housed a tanning salon.
And for those trying to make sense of the winery’s name, the definition of “negociant” hangs on a wall near the entrance. In short, it’s the French word for a wine merchant who purchases grapes from outside growers.
Camouflaged in the shadows of San Diego County’s multiplying craft breweries are more than a dozen urban wineries like Negociant. They represent a nationwide movement that brings enology from rural vineyards into the commercial hearts of big cities.
Rinaldi and his business partner, Zane Mumford, are members of the LGBT community as well as San Diego Urban Wineries, an organization that promotes a growing coalition of artisan winemakers in the region.
They opened their 3,000-square-foot facility in 2015 and have since produced a portfolio of 16 wines using grapes sourced from Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Sonoma and Washington state.
“Being an urban winery, you learn to do a lot more with a lot less space,” said Rinaldi, who combines his passion for the craft with a career in investment real estate.
Mumford, a former project manager for Sony Games, oversees most of the winemaking.
With the goal of creating a winery that can be enjoyed from morning until evening, they annexed the tasting room with Grinds & Vine Coffee Bar, which is loosely separated by sliding barn doors — that Rinaldi and Mumford build themselves — and has a kitchen and a dog-friendly patio.
Customers can potentially preclude their workdays with a chai latte and breakfast sandwich, and return after clocking out for a glass of reserve Zinfandel at the wine bar while savoring a smoked pork sandwich with Syrah barbecue sauce.
Beer lovers are in luck, too.
The bar carries several craft brews on tap that always include at least one from the gay-owned Hillcrest Brewing Company.
In turn, the brewery carries some of Negociant’s wines.
The vino collection features everything from crisp Viognier that hits the palate with waves of lemon and apricot to the lusty-red Concupiscent, which daringly blends Sangiovese with Nebbiolo.
“In Italy it’s a no-no to see those two grapes blended together. For us it was a creative, deliberate decision that made for a really interesting well-balanced wine,” Rinaldi said.
There’s also a smooth rosé boasting discernible flavors of summer berries.
“Everyone’s snapping it up right now,” Rinaldi added. “When paired with our cheese board, people end up drinking multiple glasses of it.”
In celebration of San Diego LGBT Pride, the winery will spotlight its 2015 Symphony, a standout white made with a hybrid varietal of Muscat and Grenache Gris. The grape was created in 1948 at UC Davis.
Sweet up front and boasting tart pineapple on the finish, Rinaldi aptly describes it as “a wine to drink while sitting on the porch in the hot sun.”
Mumford said the winery will offer the Symphony for $5 a glass — straight up or mixed into a mimosa — before, during and after the Pride Parade on July 15 to “customers who come in and express their pride.”
Nearly all of the wines on the list are available by the glass at prices ranging from $9 to $16. Bottles start at $19.99 and don’t exceed $50. Growlers are also available, and club members are afforded various freebies and discounts (see sidebar).
Negociant’s tasting room — appointed with chandeliers crafted from wood fruit boxes and a white screen used for videos and slideshows — doubles as an event space for private parties and corporate events.
It can accommodate up to 200 people and has also become a popular venue for fundraisers benefiting LGBT causes, cancer research, animal rescues and more.
As a way of giving back to the community, Rinaldi and Mumford implemented a “Sunday charity” program whereby nonprofit groups come in with their staff members and stakeholders to drink and eat.
For all beer and wines sold by the glass, 35 percent of the sales are donated to the organization in addition to 20 percent of bottle sales and 10 percent of food purchases.
At least 10 LGBT fundraisers have been held at Negociant, including those for the San Diego LGBT Community Center and the San Diego HIV Funding Collaborative organized by the Red Dress Party.
In addition, Negociant sponsors a team in the San Diego American Flag Football League, and displays its A-Division Champions trophy inside the tasting room.
“We’re the Noah’s Ark of wineries,” said Rinaldi, who didn’t rule out opening additional tasting rooms in other parts of San Diego. “Our customers are everything from bikers and seniors to gay and straight, novices and connoisseurs, and even beer drinkers. We continue to grow and have been well-received by the community.”
Negociant Urban Winery is located at 2419 El Cajon Blvd. in North Park. For more information, call 619-535-1747 or visit negociantwinery.com.
To sign up, call 619-535-1747 or visit negociantwinery.com.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.