A whiff of the right flower or a bite of chocolate can bring us back to our earliest memories. For wine expert Tala Drzewiecki, the memory of receiving moldy sausages and esoteric Polish sweets in the mail from her late grandmother now fills her with a sense of love and longing. With that grandmother front of mind, Drzewiecki is getting ready to debut her eponymous natural wine bar, Tala Wine, on June 16.
Born and raised in Oakland, Drzewiecki is an IT professional turned wine importer and entrepreneur who made the rounds at local businesses like Ruby Wine in Potrero Hill over her decade in the industry.
Acknowledging that natural wine has become a trendy shorthand for varietals that are socially conscious but not always palatable, Drzewiecki said she hopes to focus on organic and biodynamic winemakers that eschew industrial practices yet appeal to a wider demographic. Natural wine generally refers to varietals that are minimally modified, with little to no additives or filtration processes. Tala’s selection centers on smaller French, Spanish and Italian winemakers that meet sustainable farming requirements.
“Funky natural wine can be off-putting to people,” she said. “I want to prioritize wines that taste good.”
After getting laid off early in the pandemic, Drzewiecki said she realized she couldn’t put off her dream of opening a wine shop any longer. First launching an online store, Drzewiecki said she devoted long hours to market research before landing on an unusual storefront at Mission Street and Brazil Avenue in the mellow Exelsior, which is home to a growing list of hidden gems that includes Gentilly and the Dark Horse Inn.
Drzewiecki summed up the location in one word—“oddball.” One of the first buildings to be constructed in the neighborhood on the heels of the great earthquake of 1906, the building originally belonged to the Bank of Italy—an institution established to serve San Francisco’s Italian American residents that ultimately morphed into Bank of America.
More than a century later, the historic landmark now houses her posh wine bar as well as a neighboring T-Mobile store. Drzewiecki said she’s making good use of the bank’s architectural vestiges, storing wine in the old vaults and embracing the building’s crumbling concrete.
The bi-level wine bar is, above all else, a keepsake dedicated to Drzewiecki’s grandmother—the individual from whom she and her wine bar got their first name. As Drzewiecki told The Standard, the original Tala was a Polish immigrant who filled her Queens home with idiosyncratic antiques.
With a mural of dahlias above the bar, tufted leather chairs and vintage light fixtures, Drzewiecki appears to have achieved her desired aesthetic, which marries Victorian-era decor with an Art Deco sensibility that she feels sets the place apart from the hyper-modern mentality currently dominating other Bay Area bars and restaurants. But more importantly, Drzewiecki said she wants the place to invoke her fondest memories of her grandmother.
“I want it to feel like her home,” she said. “Maybe those things seemed like kitsch to me when I was a kid, but now I think they’re beautiful.”
One of those memories leads us back to wine. Drzewiecki said she can picture her grandmother at 95—a devout Catholic—inviting Drzewiecki in one more time to share a bottle of wine.
“We sat there with this shitty cheap wine, and that was the last time I ever saw her,” she said.
Drzewiecki said her grandmother’s care packages also inspire Tala Wine’s menu—a selection of shareable build-your-own charcuterie plates. But don’t worry—she’ll replace those moldy sausages with fresh, artisanal meats and cheeses.
On June 24, a week after opening, Drzewiecki plans to host a “fancy pants” themed grand opening party—just in time for both pride weekend and Drzewiecki’s birthday.
Sarah Holtz can be reached at [email protected]