Blink, and you could miss it. The Alemany Farm, just a stone’s throw from Interstate 280, is a splotch of green surrounded by gray concrete and black asphalt—an urban oasis occupying 3.5 acres of public land.
There, to the left of the grassy slope where the Portola District meets Bernal Heights, you’ll find a variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits grown by a volunteer group called the Friends of Alemany Farm. You’ll also find the only vineyard in San Francisco. It is here that viticulturist Christopher Renfro grows Gamay, Grenache Blanc and a number of various hybrids, which he has selected for their heartiness.
But Renfro’s ambitions go far beyond harvesting rare grapes and turning them into wine. For him, it’s about activating unused public space and growing the ranks of people of color in the winemaking industry.
Renfro’s interest in bringing more people who look like him into the world of wine stems from his experience working in restaurants. Prior to the pandemic, Renfro was the assistant wine director at San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club. While he was passionate and engaged in the horticulture classes he took for professional development, and although he loved visiting wineries in his free time, he was bothered that he was almost always the only Black guy in the room.
“Black people live in a community like this,” he said, gesturing toward a cluster of nearby public housing and talking about the toxic impact of living in food deserts and neighborhoods devoid of green space. Meanwhile, he continued, “white folks and Asian folks live up on the hill in Victorian houses…They can eat, they have grocery stores. … This community down here has nothing.”
In 2019, Renfro founded the Two Eighty Project, a community initiative aimed at giving historically underserved communities in San Francisco access to tools, expertise and opportunities to succeed in the wine industry. The Two Eighty Project Apprenticeship Program—a collaboration with Steve Matthiason and UC Davis—is a six-month paid, hands-on program that teaches “everything from the vine up.” The program is open to all but is especially focused on reaching the disadvantaged and underrepresented.
Though Renfro has been growing wine grapes on this land since 2019, he’s yet to give the plot a name. When asked what he called his vineyard, Renfro paused, looked over at it, and said, “Let’s call it… Mirror Vineyards.”
Renfro notes that the vineyard mirrors both Interstate 280 and the nearby public housing complex.
The vineyard has four rows, just like the freeway’s four lanes. They are named after historical African American figures.
As for the way the vineyard mirrors the neighboring public housing, Renfro said he has invited locals to come work the land and hopes that some of them come to see themselves in the soil and feel some ownership over the fruits of their labor.
“I’m on the path to open a Black winery in the city,” he said, explaining that he eventually wants to buy some land in Hunters Point and open a Black-owned and operated wine collective—“a safe place to celebrate and be passionate about learning and growing,” he said.
Meaghan Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]