How A16’s Shelley Lindgren Built a James Beard Award-Winning Wine Program at a Neighborhood Restaurant

A16A16 is a warm and intimate restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina district. It’s known for authentic Neapolitan pizzas made in the traditional pizzaiolo style: crusts blistered in a wood-fired oven, with a few simple toppings that showcase the freshest local ingredients. It’s the kind of place locals come again and again — where you can stop in for a quick bite, or stay for hours sharing pizza, pasta, and carafes of wine with friends.

It is not, at first glance, a restaurant you would expect to have a James Beard Award-winning wine program.

“I’ve always thought that we are such a smaller neighborhood restaurant,” says owner and wine director Shelley Lindgren, who was honored by the James Beard Foundation this year with the Outstanding Wine Program award for her work at A16. “To have so many supporters nationally that voted for us and think that it’s James Beard Award noteworthy — it was really exciting.”

The tome of a wine list at A16 showcases southern Italian bottles, along with California wines, meant to complement the restaurant’s rustic Italian cuisine. Instead of the usual Barolos and Brunellos, you’ll find lesser-known grapes like Fiano and Nerello Mascalese.

It’s an incredible learning opportunity for guests, if they’re up for it. And it’s certainly a departure from the typical fine-dining world of sommeliers and wine programs, which almost always revolves around France.

We caught up with Shelley at the restaurant, where she stopped by after a run with her dog Georgie (appropriately, he’s an Italian Spinone, commonly bred for truffle hunting) and joked about all of the nominations she received before actually winning the Beard Award. She walked us through the origins and evolution of the wine program, how she works with producers, and how she guides guests to their perfect bottle. Here’s how she built one of the most important and groundbreaking lists in the country.

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Olivia Terenzio is the Content Marketing Manager at OpenTable and editor of Open for Business