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24 Sep

San Francisco Chronicle wine critic Esther Mobley was named feature wine writer of the year Thursday in the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards, a prestigious international competition.

Mobley was recognized for her body of work in 2018, which included “Battle for Napa Valley’s future,” an insightful look at the 50th anniversary of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve and the controversial 2018 ballot measure, Measure C, that sought to limit new vineyard plantings.

In reporting the story, Mobley found Napa Valley bitterly divided over the measure. She went on to detail in the article how “Measure C, and the oak trees it aims to protect, epitomize a battle over what Napa Valley has become and what it should be.”

“The great wine country of California has met its match in Esther Mobley, who has in a few short years become not only the go-to expert on the region’s industry and its world-renowned wines. She’s also the chronicler of a way of life, found in the stories of the winemakers, and the histories of the vineyards and their future under climate change,” said Kitty Morgan, deputy managing editor of The Chronicle. “It’s her amazing range — whether she takes up pop culture trends or the serious business of cult wines — that sets her apart.”

The Roederer awards — named after famed French wine producer Louis Roederer — is arguably the most prestigious writing award for wine journalists outside of an award from the James Beard Foundation.

“This award doesn’t just recognize my individual work — it also reflects The Chronicle’s amazing, ongoing commitment to wine coverage,” Mobley said. “I’m lucky to be the only wine critic at a daily newspaper on the West Coast, and we’re uniquely positioned to tell the story of California wine.”

Mobley joined The Chronicle in 2015 to cover the state’s wine, beer and spirits. She previously was an assistant editor at Wine Spectator magazine in New York.

Justin Phillips is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @JustMrPhillips

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21 Sep

About 30 producers took part Wednesday at New Zealand Naturally at San Francisco’s Fort Mason. Photos by Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly


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Kim Crawford and his wife, Erica, founded and own Loveblock. They farm about 250 acres in Marlborough and another 20 acres in Central Otago

There was plenty of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to taste Wednesday during the walk-around of New Zealand wines at Fort Mason in San Francisco. At the same time, there were also Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris wines.

US distributors may think having one Sauvignon Blanc and think they have the entire country covered, said David Strada, US marketing manager for New Zealand Winegrowers, which organized the event. “That’s crazy.”

“One of the challenges for New Zealanders is they do so much so well,” Strada said.

Still, Sauvignon Blanc remains the South Pacific nation’s most dominant wine variety. Its growth is a reaction to the market, said Strada said. “People demand it.”

That does not bother Strada. “If it were a fad, I would be concerned. But I don’t see it that way. I think it’s established,” Strada said.

New Zealand has been a leader in sustainability over the past two decades, a fact that speakers brought up during a tasting of biodynamic, sustainable and organic wines from the North and South islands. More than 98 percent of the vineyards are certified sustainable.

The entire country, except from one growing region, has a maritime climate, said wine writer Elaine Chukan Brown said as she led the tasting with Loveblock winemaker Kim Crawford. “What that means is that you have profound humidity,” she said.

“The fact that a country with island viticulture, which is very challenging to pull off, is so hugely focused on sustainability, is really remarkable,” Chukan Brown said.

“At the core, sustainability is really that mutual interest. ‘What can we do to improve quality now in a way that will benefit generations later,” she said.

Wine is also a business, she added. “The romance (of wine) will not last if the business cannot afford to last,” Chukan Brown said. “For sustainability to work, you have to have a viable business,” she said, adding that means investing in people.

She mentioned watching growers and winemakers in New Zealand eat from their cover crop while walking through vineyards. “You’re not going to do that if you don’t believe in what you’re farming,” she said.

Crawford and his wife, Erica, farm 250 acres in Marlborough and another 20 acres Central Otago, where one of the main pest are rabbits. About 50 acres are farmed organically in Marlborough.

Kim Crawford, the winery’s winemaker, is optimistic about the future of the wine industry in his home country.

“The industry is very good at the moment, very bullish,” he said after Wednesday’s masterclass where nearly half of the attendees had traveled to New Zealand.

“The real reason, I think, New Zealand has become so popular is Lord of the Rings,” said Crawford, referring to the fantasy adventure movie.

The 30 producers present at Fort Mason included Archer McRae Beverages Ltd. which sells wine in cans – still and sparkling wines – as well as spritzer wines. The brand “Joiy” include Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay and Pinot Noir from Central Otago.

The cans are 100 percent recyclable, produce zero waste and much lighter to ship than glass, said Cath Archer, founder/managing director at Archer McRae Beverages Ltd. “They’re much more environmentally friendly,” Archer said. “We are achieving carbon neutrality.”

The cans are also convenient and encourages people to drink smaller amounts, Archer said, as she poured wine from 250 milliliter cans.

The company started producing wines in a can three years ago. It now produces between 34,000 and 35,000 cases a year, Archer said. The main markets are Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company hopes to sign a distributor on this trip.

Arabella Waghorn, apprentice winemaker at her family’s wine company, Astrolabe, was also among the exhibitors. She trains under the guidance of her father, winemaker Simon Waghorn, who released the first Astrolabe wine in 1997. Simon Waghorn trained as a winemaker in South Australia before returning to New Zealand.

Astrolabe, which owns one vineyard, produces 50,000 cases a year, said Arabella Waghorn. Most of the wine is exported to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and South East Asia.

The company sources wines from 10 vineyards in Marlborough, including the family’s vineyard in Grovetown. “We get a huge range of diversity of sub-regions,” Arabella Waghorn said, as she pointed to the vineyards location on a map of Marlborough.

Astrolabe started producing Sauvignon Blanc in 2003 – 2004. The company sources 60 percent of its Sauvignon Blanc from Awatere Valley, a narrow, windier and drier valley than the other in the region, where the soils are predominantly clay. Thirty percent of the fruit comes from Wairau Valley, Marlborough’s biggest valley. The other 10 percent of the fruit is sourced from vineyards along the rugged Kekerengu region along the coast. The company grows most of its Pinot Noir from the Wairau Valley, the biggest valley.

Waghorn, who studied fine arts in college, has been an apprentice for a year under her father’s guidance.

“We’re very similar with our taste,” said Waghorn, 28. “We have the same palate,” she said. “And Marlborough is such a lovely place to live, I think,” she said. “And the wine industry has basically everything. It’s hospitality. It’s nature. It’s creativity.”

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Arabella Waghorn, apprentice winemaker at Astrolabe, Waghorn’s family wine business, presents one of their wines at Fort Mason in San Francisco during the New Zealand Naturally tasting. Photo by Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly.

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17 Sep

There are few stories that embody the American dream as much as that of the Daou brothers, Georges and Daniel, owners of DAOU Vineyard & Winery in Paso Robles. In Paso’s breathtaking Adelaida District, 10 minutes from downtown, DAOU’s dining terrace, European-inspired furnishings and impeccable grounds have expansive mountaintop views overlooking what is easily California’s most gorgeous vineyard.

People of passion

As young children, Lebanese-born brothers Georges and Daniel left during Lebanon’s traumatic civil war and grew up with their family in France. Later attending University of California, San Diego, Georges studied mathematics and Daniel became an engineer. One business success after another followed. The Daou brothers ultimately sold a public company they created that provided software services to the healthcare industry; it catapulted them to another financial realm, granting them an entirely new level of prosperity and associated freedom.

From left, Georges Daou, Fred Dame and Daniel Daou are DAOU Vineyard & Winery’s passionate leaders. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

More business successes ensued. Was there anything the Daou brothers could touch that wouldn’t turn to gold? In 2007, they bought what is now known as DAOU Mountain in Paso. Since then, DAOU has produced exceptional wines winning the highest accolades from major critics and has created a magical tasting environment that pays homage to the terroir the brothers so clearly love.

In addition to great wines, an utterly enchanting setting and delicious food, what sets DAOU apart is quite simply, the brothers’ passion: passion for their families, their employees, their friends, the community, the terroir they cultivate and of course, the fantastic wines they produce.

Last August, master sommelier Frederick L. Dame, one of the world’s most revered sommeliers, joined DAOU as its global wine ambassador. His expertise, dedication and devotion to great wines is propelling DAOU to even greater heights. Without doubt, this marriage of DAOU and Dame is an oenophile’s wedded bliss.

On any given day, visitors to the DAOU Vineyard can enjoy wine tastings, culinary pleasures with divine pairings, retrospective experiences that include a private ATV ride amid the vineyards, or attend a special event DAOU hosts, including the after-hours Sunset Series on DAOU Mountain with live music and featured wines, or wine-paired dinners at top restaurants nationwide.

DAOU’s Annual Gala

In addition to other notable events hosted in Paso and elsewhere by the brothers, for the past six years DAOU has hosted a themed anual gala at the vineyard. This year’s theme was “Moulin Rouge” following the concept of the famed Parisian cabaret. And what a gala it was, with 330 costumed guests and 300 staff.

Dancers perform at the 2019 DAOU Annual Gala themed “Moulin Rouge.” (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Talented musicians and highly skilled professional dancers provided all manner of a French cabaret entertainment. Incredible add-ons included a candy colored merry-go-round, contortionists, and for those in need of channeling their inner toddler, a dreamy adult-sized bouncer.

It was a certainly a night to remember, all of which was planned, created and executed by the DAOU team led by wunderkind event planner Christina Rivera-Glenn.

A guest reclaims his youth on the carousel before the gala begins. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Talented estate chef Cody Thomasson oversaw the continuous supply of delectable hors d’oeuvres and the elegant dinner that commenced with seared ahi salad followed by divinely tender braised short ribs.

As sweets are my life’s blood, I was successfully attaining nirvana as an entire jazz club-like room was set up for desserts, or rather, artistically displayed, almost-too-pretty-to-eat tables covered with anything a high-octane sugar addict could need, imagine or desire, from gourmet candy apples to towers of multicolored macaroons and everything in between. This, of course, provided the requisite additional fuel for the wild night ahead of dancing under the stars at this special place.

The jewel of ecological elements

In a corresponding great American dream story, André Tchelistcheff was the son of the Russian Supreme Court chief justice before the Russian Revolution. He fled to France, then arrived in the U.S. in 1938. Pioneering modern viticulture, he became known as the “dean of American winemaking“ and the “winemaker’s winemaker.” He once heralded the Adelaida District — of which DAOU Mountain is a part — calling it the “jewel of ecological elements.”

Not surprising, then, that the DAOU brothers became enamored by the unparalleled growing conditions of Paso’s Adelaida. Just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 2,200 feet above sea level, DAOU Mountain is a microclimatic marvel, its soil more closely matching that found in Bordeaux — clay with limestone subsoil — than what is found in California. Stretching 212 acres, with 120 under vine, DAOU is planted predominantly with cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals.

Proprietor Daniel Daou samples barrel pours. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

In discussing wine, contemplating oenological nuances or altering viticulture technology, winemakers who knew André often asked, “What would André have done?” If André were still alive, I am absolutely certain he would have come to DAOU Mountain and been thrilled at what the DAOU brothers have created and the impressive, award-winning wines they have been so successful at producing.

Mesmerized by the views while sitting with a glass or bottle of one of DAOU Estate or Reserve wines, especially the 2016 Estate Soul of a Lion — 76 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent cabernet franc and 11 percent petit verdot, given 98 points by Jeb Dunnuck and 94-96 by Wine Advocate — it becomes clear that something special and unique has been created on DAOU Mountain.

The DAOU brothers’ distinctly evident passion, talent, business acumen and heartfelt vision are matched with the magic of DAOU Mountain. This is a great and truly inspiring American story and one in which those dreams have been realized, perhaps beyond measure.

If you go

It is best to make a reservation to visit DAOU Vineyards & Winery. Call (805) 226-5460 or visit

DAOU wine tasters enjoy the views and the wines. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Stay at the 20-acre Allegretto Vineyard Resort. Even though it has 177 spacious, well-appointed rooms, its layout and Italianate design, fire-pit freckled courtyard and cabana-clustered pool and Jacuzzi feel less like a hotel and more of a country retreat to a wonderful uncle’s Tuscan villa.

Black-and-white photos that line one hallway reflect the owner’s family contribution to California development, and a vast, museum-worthy collection of art is on display, including some spectacular and rare East and South Asian pieces. A small gym, spa, chapel and tasting room complete the vineyard-lined property, while delicious meals are served inside or out on the lovely terrace at Cielo. Call (805) 369-2500 or visit

Julie L. Kessler is a travel journalist, attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Some vendors listed hosted the writer. Content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the writer’s opinion.


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05 Sep

Outraged over plans to close dozens of permanent mental health beds at Zuckerberg San Francisco Hospital, Supervisor Hillary Ronen plans to put forth legislation that would fund and mandate the City to operate no less than 55 residential treatment beds for mental health clients at all times.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman on Tuesday requested legislation also requiring the department to fill all 55 long-term residential treatment beds in the Adult Residential Facility (ARF), a unit in the hospitals’ Behavioral Health Center. However his legislation calls for the beds to be filled “as soon as possible,” but no later than 2021.

Ronen, who on Tuesday called for a public hearing on the issue along with Supervisor Matt Haney, called that time frame “misguided” given The City’s severely impacted mental health system and called for immediate action. With the two pieces of legislation, she is challenging The City’s Department of Public Health to reverse its plan within a month.

“On my way home from work yesterday I saw three people in complete mental health crisis on the street. I am afraid that those people are going to die if we don’t get them the help that they need and they deserve,” said Ronen. “I’m not willing to wait two years when we have beds that are licensed that could be opened immediately.”

At a Board of Supervisors hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Ronen said that she will make a supplemental budget request to provide DPH with the funding it needs to operate “55 long-term board and care beds for the most mentally ill people in San Francisco” through the end of the fiscal year.

And in two weeks, she plans to follow up that effort with legislation that would require The City to run a board and care facility with a minimum of 55 permanent beds and to create an “urgent hiring plan” to staff that facility.

A total of 55 beds are currently licensed by the state to provide long term housing to mental health patients too sick to care for themselves within the ARF. However, nurses at the hospital last month revealed that health officials planned to close down 41 beds in that unit to enable a 27-bed expansion at Hummingbird Place, a psychiatric respite facility also housed at the hospital where client stays average 19 days.

At least 18 ARF patients and their families were blindsided by 60-day relocation notices last month. Outrage over the move grew after it was revealed that 32 of the 55 ARF beds have gone unfilled for nearly a year, despite an urgent need for assisted living placements.

DPH leaders have cited staffing issues as a reason for the empty beds and said the ARF beds were underutilized.

“We want an expansion of Hummingbird Place, so they can do that, and we don’t want to take away that money. But we absolutely need them to maintain 55 beds for the most mentally ill patients,” said Ronen, adding that “as long as there is a city run public board and care facility with 55 beds, we don’t care where it is.”

City leaders attempting to stop the permanent loss of the residential beds agree in spirit, but opinions on how to most effectively address the issue vary.

On Wednesday, Mandelman said that the point of his ordinance is to “say that as soon as possible, we want [the ARF] to be a public long term residential care facility,” but added that he did not believe that this could be done in a month.

“We need more information to understand what needs to change,” said Mandelman. “The presumption of Ronen is we need to apply more pressure on bureaucrats to get this done in a month. She may be right and I’m not fully convinced she is,” he said.

While he believes it to be “absolutely important to listen to frontline staff” opposing the reconfiguration, Mandelman said that “it’s also important to listen to management in the department who say they have been trying to solve this problem for a long time and that it is difficult and complicated.”

“That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be pushing them, but I think it’s important to listen to those who run a public hospital — that’s not the workers or the Board of Supervisors,” he said.

Nurses who have struggled to place patients in appropriate care settings, however, have called Mandelman’s legislation “disappointing.”

“It’s pretty ridiculous to hold a private entity to a higher standard than we hold our public institutions,” said Jennifer Esteen, a psychiatric nurse at the hospital, referring to a local law that requires any changes or reductions to services at private hospitals to be subject to a public hearing.

“We don’t need new legislation that repeats old patterns. We certainly don’t need to allow DPH to regulate ourselves less than we regulate private enterprises. We are the example setters,” she added.

Esteen, who has helped to publicize the ARF bed reconfiguration, added that per state law, county hospitals such as ZSFGH must also undergo a public process when modifying services. It is unclear whether the law, called the Beilenson Act, applies to ZSFGH’s Behavioral Health Center.

“The BHC was created based on the auspice of better care provided by more skilled workers. The pay supports that. But now we are attempting to shift beds and staffing to nonprofits and a different category of care,” said Esteen.

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31 Aug

Many San Franciscans now have the images of Paneez Kosarian fighting off Austin James Vincent in front of her Embarcadero condominium building burned into our collective memories.

This story of a young, severely impaired man, assaulting a woman to save her from what he thought were robots incited widespread fear, as mental illness is highly stigmatized and associated with violence even if the “violent mentally ill” typecast is a well proven fallacy. Since this incident, there has been much discourse on how to address the mental health crisis on our streets, from the misguided call to halt the creation of a new Navigation Center on the Embarcadero to thoughtful calls for solutions.

On the heels of this saga, the proposal to cut 41 long term beds in our only public board and care facility is a mindboggling disaster. The city has stated they will put 13 Navigation Center beds here instead; they are needed, but not nearly as badly as board and care beds. Worse still is the discovery that these golden beds have been held empty and all placements have been halted since September of 2018. Meanwhile, people in dire need were told no beds were available.

After Mr. Vincent was stabilized and responding to medication in a residential facility, he was removed and sent back to jail, where likely he will be in worse shape when he eventually gets out. If a board and care bed is available, he can be stabilized and live out his life with the opportunity for transformation, but more likely, with the loss of these beds he will return to the streets and decompensate again. It makes one want to run screaming down the street.

In the early 80s, many San Franciscans first noticed large numbers of people with mental illnesses wandering the streets. It was right after a little known but hugely tragic move by former President Ronald Reagan to remove all recipients from disability benefits. Untold thousands of people with mental health disabilities lost their placements in board and care facilities that their disability benefits had once paid for. As calamitous as that policy was, at least back then we had capacity in board and care facilities. However, in the years since over 2,300 of those beds have slipped away, as the old Victorians they are housed in are sold off to the next generation.

The loss of Social Security benefits was followed by realignment hitting California cities’ mental health budgets hard in the early 1990s. Between 2007 and 2012 the city enacted recession era austerity measures that cut $40 million more in direct behavioral health services, knocking even more folks to the concrete. Each of the last four decades have seen its own sword slashing deep into the heart of our mental health system, and each decade has lacked corrective action. Today, we are in no position to respond to a massive opioid epidemic, further complicated by a homelessness crisis. For the third of our homeless population impacted by mental illness, having no place to live makes recovery almost impossible, and instead they suffer more frequent and severe psychiatric episodes.

A whopping 4,666 homeless people are brought into Psychiatric Emergency Services at SFGH every year, and 1,786 are released back to the streets without even a referral. As we churn people through our system, we amplify harm, disintegrate trust and waste valuable investments. Meanwhile, our policy makers seem more interested in soundbites and juking stats than substantive change. They have shortened stays, so the city can serve more people, giving handy “success numbers” for press releases. They focus on do-nothing proposals that score political points. A long string of mayors take credit for adding programs, while quietly cutting others. Recently Mayor Breed announced adding mental health beds at St. Mary’s, but cut beds out of county. City officials stopped counting turn-aways and eliminated waitlists, so they can claim there are none. When San Franciscans ask, “why do we force people who are mentally ill to wander our streets?” it is a fantastic question, the same question asked by the people who are living it. We are failing our most vulnerable. We are failing our neighborhoods. Our once flourishing mental health system is now in shambles.

More important than “why?” though, is how. How do we get out of this mess? One of the most important things we can do is ensure there are beds at every level of care, from prevention, to crisis care, to residential treatment to most importantly long term housing for those who simply cannot care for themselves. Our system must be engaging and fluid and responsive on demand. We can’t keep separating substance use treatment from mental health, and we need to be real about our system failures. We must incorporate treatment for psychiatric trauma at every level of care. Alarm bells must sound at the sight of anyone with severe mental illnesses who appears homeless on the streets, and intensive assertive care must surround them. Once in care, that care must continue into housing. Otherwise, all that care, while offering important respite, will not mean much if the person is yet again homeless and churned back out to where they started. That status quo has to stop. These are big goals but with the political will that can only come from citizen pressure, they are achievable.

Luckily, there are measures on the horizon that will get us closer – Our City Our Home, which voters passed last November and is held up in courts, will result in over $70 million each year to build up our mental health system with new innovative approaches, while also creating the requisite housing to stabilize folks post crisis. Voters will also have the opportunity to pass Mental Health SF on the March ballot, that will provide Universal Mental Health care. In the meantime, let’s preserve the beds we have. That means holding onto our only public board and care beds at the Adult Rehabilitation Facility, and rising to address the staffing issues. This is too valuable a resource to walk away from. This also means that the city needs to quickly find somewhere for the navigation shelter beds.

When our hearts are broken in tragedy, all those pieces create more surface area, and somehow there is even more capacity to love. As awful as the Embarcadero incident was, it is an opportunity for change. It is our civic responsibility to ensure that the tragedy on the Embarcadero becomes not another missed opportunity but a moment for transforming our system into one that works for all of us.

Jennifer Friedenbach is excutive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

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28 Aug

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The city of San Francisco will expand mental health programs at its public schools to help kids deal with stress, depression, suicide and bullying among others issues, Mayor London Breed announced Tuesday.

According to Breed, she’s included $3.5 million in the city’s budget to fund the programs for the next two years.

“Middle school and high school can be a difficult time for a lot of students, and this funding will support programs that help students navigate and deal with the challenges they face in a healthy and safe way,” the mayor said in a statement.

“Students who can access wellness services tell us that they feel better about themselves, get along better with family and friends, are better able to cope when things go wrong, and come to school more often,” San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews said.

SFUSD’s current Wellness Initiative serves more than 15,000 students at all of the district’s 19 high schools, providing them with skills and tips on dealing with complex issues, like trauma and substance abuse as well as sexual health.

The new money, however, will help expand the program and provide additional clinical mental health services at schools that historically serve marginalized communities, where the need for such services may be higher. The expansion will take place this fall at all high schools and select elementary and middle schools.

Currently, all SFUSD middle schools only have one nurse and one social worker to deal with mental health and wellness. The new funding will allow some middle schools and high schools to hire a wellness coach, trained to provide counseling, case management, and restorative practices.

The funding will also be used to expand clinical mental health support at 21 of the district’s middle schools, providing one-on-one clinical therapy services for their students.

Additionally, with the funding, schools will be able to collaborate with community-based organizations for providing mental health services to students.

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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21 Aug

The City is preparing to close dozens of permanent, residential treatment beds at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in order to increase capacity in a short-term psychiatric respite program also operated at the hospital.

On Monday, at least 18 patients received 60-day relocation notices informing them that they will soon have to vacate the hospital’s Adult Rehabilitation Facility — where some have been living for more than a decade — and move to another part of the facility.

The proposed closure of 41 beds in the unit, which currently operates 55 residential beds reserved for patients with severe mental health challenges who are unable to live independently, would reduce its bed count to 14.

The closure is being protested by nurses who work at the hospital and as of Tuesday, a petition opposing it had garnered over 560 signatures.

The nurses plan to officially oppose the ARF bed cuts at a rally at the Behavioral Health Center at 887 Potrero Ave. on Thursday.

“People have lived in the ARF for 15 years — this is their home. They are stable, and they are being incredibly jarred by this,” said Jennifer Esteen, a registered psychiatric nurse who called the plan “outrageous” and added that the center’s staff were initially told by The City to keep the plan “a secret.”

“You have permanent housing that you will turn into temporary shelter beds — its bad math,” added Esteen. “Because we are having a homelessness crisis I know we need to come up with creative solutions but closing permanent beds could never be a solution when you are having a permanent crisis.”

Citing Mayor London Breed’s decision in September 2018 to declare a state of emergency in San Francisco’s struggle with homelessness, the notices received by ARF patients state that the unit has been “asked to support response efforts” and that a majority of the beds within it “will be placed in suspension.”

While the ARF unit is licensed for 55 patients, only 32 beds are currently occupied. Fourteen beds will remain at ARF, although it is unclear if all 14 beds will be occupied.

At least 18 current patients will either be relocated to the hospital’s Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE) — a unit in the same building that operates 59 beds for seniors, 37 of which are currently occupied — or must find accomodation elsewhere.

Esteen said that beds have been kept empty pending the reconfiguration of the building’s units despite the hospital’s psychiatric in-patient unit being at capacity. She said the most recent admission to the ARF took place nearly one year ago.

None of the patients currently living in the ARF will lose their homes, stressed Department of Public Health Spokesperson Rachael Kagan, who said that the beds are being “redistributed” to allow for a 27-bed expansion at the hospital’s Hummingbird Place, a low-barrier homeless shelter, called Navigation Center, that specifically serves clients struggling with mental health and substance use issues.

Kagan described the model as both successful and “popular” at the hospital.

In February, 14 new substance use and stabilization beds were added at Hummingbird Place, bringing the number of total beds to 29. At the time, Breed announced plans to open an additional 86 new substance use and behavioral health stabilization beds in San Francisco with funding from the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund windfall appropriation earlier this year.

According to a ZSFGH Behavioral Health Center spokesperson, the average length of clients’ stays at Hummingbird Place is about 19 days.

“Hummingbird Place has been used by Psychiatric Emergency Services [PES] to discharge people to …and we found its beneficial to patients who are not taking on the next round of voluntary services available to them but do need a place to rest and regroup and consider their options,” said Kagan. “It’s popular and fills a gap in the system in which people [who] leave PES … often go back to the street.”

But the nurses behind the petition criticized the plan to expand temporary Navigation Center beds in exchange for cutting much needed, long-term assisted living beds as an “unequal exchange.”

Esteen condemned the proposal as a reactive solution to addressing an increasingly visible population of homeless individuals struggling with substance use and mental health issues on San Francisco’s streets, at the cost of preventative services and beds that protect The City’s most behaviorally challenged from becoming homeless.

“Permanent lasts longer than temporary,” said Esteen, who works in the Behavioral Health Center’s transitions placement division, and is among other things tasked with identifying placements for clients who are discharged from the hospital’s locked facility and other units.

“One of the problems we have been having is that there are no beds for our clients who will never live alone — they typically live in board and cares, and we have been having a crisis in board and care closures,” Esteen said.

Assisted living facilities, or board and cares, offer assistance with basic daily living tasks, provide around-the-clock supervision, and support medication adherence. To meet the current need for long-term care for adults and seniors, San Francisco contracts with a number of small board and care providers that operate in the community but are disappearing at alarming rates, a 2018 report found.

The report noted that assisted living facilities in San Francisco — for seniors over 60 and for adults aged 18 to 59 — have declined by 26 percent and 34 percent since 2012, respectively.

At the time of the report, The City was subsidizing some 16 percent of San Francisco’s assisted living facility beds and had 131 fewer ARF beds than in 2012.

This year, San Francisco is set to lose some 30 more assisted living beds, according to Esteen. Those patients could be absorbed by ZSFGH’s ARF unit, where some two dozen beds are currently empty.

Among the board and cares set to close is a six-bed facility operated by Aurora Concepcion, who once operated five board and cares in San Francisco, but has shuttered two over the past two year and is poised to close a third this year. Concepcion blames a lack of investment in board and cares by The City.

“We have been underpaid for so many years by The City. We are regulated like a big business, with minimum wage and worker’s compensation — this is not a mom and pop business anymore,” said Concepcion. “The only reason why I’m still around is because we have patients who have been here for 25, 28 years. They will be lost.”

The ZSFGH nurses are calling for all of the beds within the Behavioral Health Center to be filled to capacity as more patients from the board and care facilities set to shutter will need placements.

The nurses are also calling for the public to have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed ARF bed reduction at the hospital.

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06 Aug

Buena Vista Cafe has served more than 40 million Irish coffees since it introduced the drink to San Francisco (slash, the world) in 1952.

And Paul Nolan has made more than 5 million of them.

The 67-year-old has been a bartender at the Fisherman’s Wharf institution for almost two-thirds of his life — 43 years and counting — and has spent nearly the entirety of his tenure there in the Irish coffee hot corner.

“I’m handling, on any given day, probably 80 percent of all the drinks that come in,” says Nolan, who’s comfortably seated at a break room table deep within the bowels of Buena Vista. “And that’s because at the end of the bar I handle all the house and part of the bar, where I’m also doing service for four to seven people.”

Nolan worked as a bouncer at Buena Vista the summer after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1973 (his brother Larry actually got a job there a month later — they still both work at Buena Vista to this day), then took shifts behind the bar off and on between picking up a Masters in business from Queens University in Ontario, Canada. He then worked in the Hyatt Corporation’s headquarters in Burlingame before the hotel mega-chain picked up its HQ and moved it to Chicago.

Nolan stuck around and settled in full-time at Buena Vista in 1977, and five years later, he made a decision.

“It was sort of a temporary job until I found something more aligned with what I wanted to do. And that was 43 years ago. I realized I was no longer going to look for another job around 1982,” he says. “I felt like, I don’t want to quit this. We’re an old school bar, you don’t try to make it too fufu or too crazy. You don’t try to say, ‘oh, what’s the hippest thing’ and this is what we’re going to do. What we do well is Irish coffee, we’re world famous in that. We do it so well that we sell as much as we do.”

Nolan regularly makes Irish coffees 25 at a time, which is hard to really even fathom until you see him do it.

He rinses all 25 glasses with scalding hot water from a coffee pot, drops a pair of white sugar cubes into every glass, then comes scalding hot coffee, some extremely vigorous spoon swirling, and finally the healthiest of pours of Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey, plus a house-whipped heavy cream topper.

And the Berkeley-born bartender does it all in a pristine white tuxedo jacket that somehow stays pristine white despite all the coffee sloshing around.

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In a city where the food and beverage industry is struggling to retain staff thanks to the insanely high cost of living, where bartenders make $36,000 a year on average (before tips) according to the US Department of Labor’s 2018 report, and where some bars provide housing to their drink-makers as a retention tool, Buena Vista is an anomaly.

It’s hard to find a bartender who hasn’t been there for more than three or four decades, which means picking up a shift at Buena Vista if you aren’t full time is incredibly hard to do.

Nik Plebger, who’s a full-time photographer, serves as a vacation relief bartender at Buena Vista. He’s now in his ninth year as a Buena Vista pinch hitter.

Looking for work that isn’t behind the bar? Good luck. There are bus boys (bus boys!) who’ve been there for 30 years plus.

“Tourists are attracted by the amount of people in here and they say, ‘oh, this must be a cool place.’ Because it is a cool place,” Nolan says. “We have so many people that come in, and you have the amount of tips where you can get by in San Francisco with a living wage. And that’s maybe why I don’t regret anything. I knew I wasn’t going to get rich, but I figured I’d rather be happy, have fun. Do something that’s keeps me active.”

Very, very active. As Buena Vista General Manager Kevin Jones explains, there’s more to being a bartender at Buena Vista than simply churning through more Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey than any other bar in the world — Jones says Buena Vista goes through around 24,000 liters a year.

“You’ve gotta have a personality,” he says. “It’s a show. Like going to Disneyland.”

And like any good show, it attracts quite the crowd.

Alan Shepherd, the first American in space, was a regular for years. The Clintons have been in. As have the 49ers.

“(Former 49ers owner) Eddie DeBartolo and (former 49ers President) Carmen Policy were regulars here. Joe Montana has been here and Jim Plunkett. There were politicians within the democratic national committee. You get actors, which I do not recognize, but I have my other people tell me, ‘oh, that’s so and so,” Nolan says.

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Count famed Cheers bartender Ted Danson as one of the actors Nolan didn’t recognize.

“I served him and we talked for five minutes and he’s asking me questions and when I go get some coffee around the corner, one of the servers says to me what are you talking about with Ted Danson? And I say who? Then I look out and I recognize him.”

The really unique thing about the Buena Vista Cafe, though, is that despite crowds that rival Alcatraz, it never feels like a tourist attraction. It feels like a bar that’s been frozen permanently in time, and it’s patroned by people who understand and appreciate that. Nolan explains the phenomenon as well as anyone can: “Most tourists have been here so many times. It’s like home.”

Back at the bar, two such tourists visiting from Las Vegas — Bill and Renee Marion — are happy to tie Nolan’s story in a neat little bow.

“The first time we came here we had the best Irish coffee we’ve ever had,” says Bill in the middle of his second visit to Buena Vista with wife Renee. “This time we’ve had the second and third best Irish coffees we’ve ever had.”

Grant Marek is SFGATE’s Editorial Director. Email: | Twitter: @grant_marek

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16 Jul

About 160 people convened at the Presidio Officers’ Club in San Francisco on Saturday to taste wines from 15 West Sonoma producers, said Jessica Edwards, president of Taste West Sonoma. Producers present included Halleck Vineyard, Paul Mathew Vineyards, Martin Ray Vineyards & Winery, Red Car, MacPhail Wines and Emeritus Vineyards. Most of the wineries in the group are in the Russian River Valley.

Starting in September, the group will be renamed “Taste West County” – to avoid the confusion with West Sonoma Coast, Edwards said. West Sonoma Coast is a proposed American Viticultural Area. Taste West County is a referral group in West Sonoma County.

Taste West Sonoma focuses on boosting direct-to-consumer wine sales. “We’re just trying to promote the wines of west County,” said Edwards, the general manager at MacPhail Wines. Taste West Sonoma also promotes other West Sonoma makers, including local cheese producers, artisans and restaurants.

Taste West Sonoma organized a tasting at Fort Mason in October. Taste West Sonoma tries to find creative ways to lure visitors to West Sonoma County, Edwards said. That has become particularly important since the October 2017 fires caused a lull in tourism, she said. The hotels that burned during the 2017 fires hosted visitors heading to the Russian River Valley, she noted.

Photo by Kerana Todrov/Wine Business Monthly

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02 Jul

San Francisco is introducing a ban on the sales of e-cigarettes until their effects on health are clearer.

The ban will come into effect in seven months in an attempt to curb the rise of vaping amongst youths.

Despite the ban, it will still be legal to purchase traditional cigarettes and marijuana products.

‘We spent a few decades fighting big tobacco in the form of cigarettes,’ Shamann Walton, who co-authored the legislation, said to The Guardian.

‘Now we have to do it again in the form of e-cigarettes.’

Growing popularity

Despite a decline in youth cigarette smoking, nicotine use amongst American teenagers has been on the rise.

The number of US teenagers who use nicotine products rose by around 36% last year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the last year, the number of American teens using e-cigarettes has increased by 1.5 million to over 4.9 million.

‘San Francisco is taking action to protect our kids,’ the San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera, said.

‘This temporary moratorium wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government had done its job.’

‘Difficult to understand’

Despite the ban, Public Health England (PHE) is encouraging smokers in the UK to try using e-cigarettes.

Its evidence review in 2015 found that vaping was 95% less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes.

PHE believes more people could give up smoking tobacco if they switched to using e-cigarettes.

‘In San Francisco, they have just abandoned any thought that e-cigarettes might be a significant off-ramp,’ Martin Dockrell, head of tobacco control at PHE, said to The Guardian.

‘They are only concerned about young people starting to use nicotine.

‘Interestingly, they haven’t banned vaping cannabis.

‘It’s still legal to vape cannabis and worse still, to smoke cannabis.

‘It’s clear that the harm from smoking anything is much greater.

‘Alcohol, smoked tobacco, cannabis, smoking or vaping – all of them are legal but the least harmful is e-cigarettes and they’ve banned them.

‘Not just sales to young people, which we’ve done in this country, but for adults too.

‘That is particularly difficult to understand.’

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