Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review January 2010.
The Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchant
By Craig Smith
The Oxbow Wine and Cheese Merchant in the Oxbow Public Market is known for, well, wine and cheese. What people are slowly discovering is that it is also a restaurant. A very good restaurant, at that, with Miguel Sanchez, formerly of Square One in San Francisco and Manka’s in Point Reyes, at the helm. “It’s a small kitchen, but Miguel does an amazing job,” said Peter Granoff, one of the Oxbow Wine and Cheese partners. “I know it sounds self serving,” Granoff laughed, “but he’s created a roasted chicken, rubbed in seven spices and served with mashed potatoes and greens, that is amazing.”
When it comes to taste, Granoff’s palate is trustworthy. In 1991, he was the thirteenth person to become a Master Sommelier, one of the highest credentials bestowed in the world of wine. Granoff worked hard for the distinction and is appreciative, but it’s just one stop in his long journey on the food and wine path.
Granoff was raised in the Carmel Valley and started working at Will’s Fargo restaurant there when he was thirteen. After high school graduation, he worked for a small luxury hotel in Switzerland. “The standards there were very high. The commitment was to give the guests whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it. Everybody on the staff was expected to do anything and everything to make that happen and, if necessary, we worked around the clock.” After college graduation from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Granoff was recruited to work in France for a company offering week-long, luxury ,hot air balloon experiences. He said it was a fluke. That he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. “Many of the company’s clients were wealthy Americans. I understood the level of expectations they had from my time at the hotel in Switzerland, plus, I speak French, so I got the job. It was heady stuff for a young guy right out of college.”
After two years, Granoff returned to California. While working at a private club in LA, he was recruited by Stanford Court Hotel as the food and beverage manager. “They were still an independently owned hotel and had broken new ground with Fournou’s Ovens, proving that an American hotel could operate a world-class restaurant.” It was while there that he was asked to study for the Master Sommelier program. He talked the hotel into letting him concentrate on wine only, and studied for a full year. After credentialing, Square One, the highly acclaimed restaurant in San Francisco, hired him. It was there that he met Miguel Sanchez.
In 1995, he and his brother-in-law opened Virtual Vineyards, a dot-com business ahead of its time. “ We opened before Amazon. I believe we were the first company to process a secure credit card transaction on-line.” Although they grew by leaps and bounds, the business closed in 2001 when the dot-com bubble burst. “As with many dot-com businesses, there was an accumulation of unrealistic performance pressures when multiple venture capital firms got involved”. Granoff laughs that they were “sucked into the vortex of ludicrous dot-com expectations.”
In 2005, he and three others opened the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant & Wine Bar in the Ferry Plaza Building in San Francisco. They then brought much of that model to Napa when they opened the Oxbow Wine Merchant & Wine Bar, and the Oxbow Cheese Merchant here. For serious food and wine people, they operate a very down-to-earth, low key operation.
“The four of us taste every wine we sell. That doesn’t mean ‘expensive,’ it means carefully selected. We don’t care what the critics say about a wine, how many points someone has given it or any other third party comment. It just has to be good wine.” The same standards are held for the cheese part of the business, and the restaurant as well.
Open seven days a week, until 8 Sunday and Monday, 9 Tuesday through Thursday and 10 Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit http://www.oxbowwinemerchant.com. And try the chocolate bread pudding – you’ll love it.