Sort-of Secret: Sommelier Factory, a downtown wine bar that’s also a wine school

Sort-of Secret: Sommelier Factory, a downtown wine bar that’s also a wine school

Part of our series spotlighting the city’s edible hidden gems

Two people clink wine glasses

More Sort-of Secrets

The sort-of secret: Sommelier Factory, a wine bar and school
You may have heard of it: If you’re a wine nerd or you stopped into its previous iteration, Grand Cru Deli
But you probably haven’t tried it because: While the wine school has been around for almost a decade, master sommelier Bruce Wallner and Court of Master Sommeliers advanced sommelier Nabilah Rawji recently rebranded the downstairs space as a bar and a hub for budding wine nerds

Sommelier Factory isn’t new–the downtown wine school has been in operation for more than a decade. Back then, it was much smaller, perched on the second floor of a sports bar. The only way to know it was there was through word of mouth.

When the owners of the main-floor sports bar retired four years ago, they offered Wallner and Rawji the downstairs space. The duo turned it into Grand Cru Deli, a spot for sandwiches, brunch and a wine menu chock full of serious sleeper hits.

The outside of a bar with a patio lit by a strand of twinkle lights

Related: Downtown Winery, a new winery, snack bar and bottle shop on Ossington

But, while Grand Cru was often busy, it wasn’t just because of its mortadella sandwiches—the bar had become an overflow space for the upstairs wine school. Students would camp out after class, and sommeliers would stop in for the great bottles the bar was always pouring, but the school itself was still relatively unknown. “We don’t have the SEO capacity of larger institutes,” says Wallner. So back in September, they rebranded Grand Cru Deli as SommFactory: a dedicated wine bar with an emphasis on education.

Walk into the space (spot the basketball floor tiles leftover from its past life as a sports bar) and up the stairs, where wine school is often in session. SommFactory offers a range of courses, many of which are rigorous and aimed at sommeliers pursuing professional certifications (like the 18-week Certified Sommelier Program).

Wine school students talk to each other

A man pours wine into a glass

Those without such lofty goals can join one of SommFactory’s less rigorous courses aimed at nascent wine nerds. At six weeks long, the Foundation Program lays a strong base of wine knowledge—understanding regions, grapes and how to navigate a wine menu.

Outside of multi-week programs, there are individual master classes guests can jump into and out of. Is your champagne knowledge lacking? Step into a deep-dive seminar all about the sparkling region. Rusty on Rhone? There’s a class for you (and it’s got plenty of Syrah). Rawji says these classes are particularly popular with people who have vacations on the horizon. For example, anyone planning a trip to Tuscany can take Chianti-specific classes or Sangiovese seminars.

A man sits at a table with a glass of wine
Wallner is one of the country’s few master sommeliers


A bartender smiles from behind a bar where she has been pouring wine
Nabilah Rawji, behind the bar

Master classes are constantly running: three weeks on a white region, three on a red and three on a larger topic, like sustainability, biodynamic practices or farming philosophies. Recent classes have included a guide to blind tasting, a dig into Loire Chenin blancs and “Napa Legends.”

On the main floor, there’s a long bar and tables spread throughout the space for remote work, reading or enjoying a glass of something special. At the back is a bottle shop which leans relatively inexpensive: a selection of $20 and $30 bottles to pick up on your way home from work or eat with pizza in a hotel room. There’s also a little stash of hidden gems, including champagne, older vintages and other eclectic offerings.

A spread of small plates at a wine bar

A chef sprinkles chives over a beef dish

Unofficially, the bar’s food menu is designed to work well with champagne, so expect salty, creamy snacks that taste even better with a swig of something sparkling. There are charcuterie boards, cod croquettes, tins of conservas served with fresh baguette, anchovy-topped burrata, plates of jamón and squash ravioli. For anyone who ends up staying later than planned (it’s bound to happen), the menu offers a couple of larger plates, like chestnut potato gnocchi in a patchwork stew of beef cheek and heirloom carrots. And Monday nights are reserved for flights of wine and fondue.

True to a bar run by sommeliers, the wine list shifts constantly—though there is always a decent champagne available by the glass. Fun fact: off-the-menu options include interesting bottles leftover from wine school.

Sommelier Factory, 304 Richmond St. W.,, @sfwinebar

Cheese fondue with bread and pickles

A shelf stacked with wine bottles