For Joel Bleskacek, the best way to understand a wine is to learn the story of its origin. Bleskacek gains a deep sense of place by traveling to wine regions around the world, and visiting with California winemakers at local tastings. He brings that unique knowledge back to his customers at Ruby Wine, a boutique wine shop in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill district. “I don’t speak winespeak,” he says, “I’d rather tell my customers what was happening in the Anderson Valley that year, or the story of the people who hand-harvest the Grüner Veltliner in Austria.”
Bleskacek spent 20 years working his way up the ranks in some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants (Campton Place, 42 Degrees, Oliveto), where he had the good fortune to befriend several top sommeliers. “They introduced me to wines that wowed me,” he recalls, “and we started to put together tastings.” After marrying his wife Maxine, then a chef, it’s all in the family. “It’s hard to separate food, wine, and entertaining friends and family. I’ve incorporated my passion into my work, and there’s not a big distinction between my home life and work life,” he says.
Seven years ago he opened the boutique, named for daughter Ruby, bringing Bleskacek’s ambitions full circle. “We sell wine and offer tastings, Ruby Wine is really a hub for the neighborhood,” he says. Rather than selling by points, which are nowhere to be found in his shop, he sells by his palate. He prefers to get to know his customers, and help them cultivate their own sense of what they like. He notes, “Everyone has their own palate, and until you actually try a wine - which is half the fun - you don’t know what you like.” His advice to wine lovers: trust yourself, try new things, and be open to suggestion.