Finding the divine in wine

Scopo Divino offers wine from around the world.

Scopo Divino offers wine from around the world. Photos by Marc Gamboa

Q & A | FAITH WHEELER

The latest wine bar to pop a cork in the neighborhood is Scopo Divino, a cozy bar and restaurant that has taken over the Food Inc. space at 2800 California, near the corner of Divisadero. Owner Tim Schuyler Hayman, a first-time restaurateur and career newspaper ad man — with nearly 20 years at the SF Weekly and the Chronicle — explains his vision for the new neighborhood spot.

How did you come up with the idea of changing your career and opening a wine bar?

I have always been interested in small business and I had a lifelong dream to run one myself. I discovered wine at age 4 when my father put a big glass of burgundy in front of me and told me to smell it. It was love at first whiff.  Tasted terrible, but I discovered flavor later.

I grew up in Sonoma and Marin so I have childhood memories of going on tasting tours with my parents in Glen Ellen. The feel, the damp wood smell, the musty cellars — they all bring back my fondest memories.

As I got older, I would frequent wine bars in the Bay Area and knew I could do better: take a tasting room concept from the wine country and bring it to the city.

Was that the inspiration for the design?

Yes. We set out to create a relaxed wine country feel with designer Daryle Baldwin of Bausman & Co. The Tuscan red walls create a living room effect, alongside the custom-built alder wood bar and bar stools made by Bausman. Tapestry lounge chairs and sofas clad in old world fabrics like an Italian cut velvet and a Belgian kite chenille add a homey touch. The wallpapered powder room also reads more like a residence than a restaurant.

And the response so far?

I have found that people are looking for a place that is cozy.  I’ve watched customers come into bars and they first take the most comfortable corner, they next look for the best overstuffed chair, and so it goes. I was not going to have metal chairs and cement floors. Comfort is key. We have lots of cozy corners and comfortable nooks and people seem to love it. They are also shocked by the breadth of our food program.

Scopo Divino owner Tim Schuyler Hayman

Scopo Divino owner Tim Schuyler Hayman

What makes Scopo Divino different?

Some wine bars have good wine without good service; some offer good service but not good food. Our aim is to do it all. We spent eight or nine months tasting multiple vendors and hundreds of wines to curate our list. And then we were lucky to find our chef, Mark Cina, who had past experience working under Corey Lee at Monsieur Benjamin and Benu.

We have more than 1,000 bottles of wine and offer 36 wines by the glass, choosing the signature varietals by region. We have terrific Zinfandel from Oakville, Gruner Vetliner from Austria, Barbera from Italy. We believe the expressions of the wines are best as signatures from the original heritage.

The heart of the program is Burgundy — a forever favorite of mine. Wines are available by glass or bottle and tastes of some of these wines are accessible using the Coravin system. We are proud to offer labels from all around the world that will blow people’s minds.

Do you offer flights?

At the moment we have three flights: “A Taste of France,” featuring a Provencal Rose, Sancerre and Viognier; “A Taste of Italy” and a “Wine Therapy Session,” aka the Bartender’s Choice.

You speak of wine therapy, and it says “wine therapist” on your business card. What do you mean by that? 

Well, Scopo Divino translates to “divine purpose.” And we believe the purpose of wine is as a mood enhancer or mood changer. We almost named the bar, “Wine Therapy.” We look to discover how people are feeling when they come in and pair their emotion to the wine accordingly.

So if I walk in in a bad mood, what would you serve me?

First I would gauge if you’d prefer a white or red. If you said white, I’d probably move you to something bubbly. It’s hard not to improve your mood with a Lambrusco Italian-style sparkling wine. It’s usually red and sweet, but ours is blush and a little dry, beautiful by the glass and just $11.

What If I said I had a fabulous day?

Then I’d take you straight to champagne. I love the whole emotion of champagne. Another factor is if you are alone or with a group. Or if you really want to celebrate, then I’d show you our library list of harder-to-find wine. Brut Blanc de Blanc from Jura, produced by Francois Montand, is one of my favorites at $9 a glass.

Scopo Divino brings a wine country tasting room to the neighborhood.

Scopo Divino brings wine country tasting room style to the neighborhood.

What about the food?

Our food program really surprises people since they don’t expect great food coming out of a little neighborhood wine bar. We offer a grazing menu and our chef has taken our bar bites to another level: sophisticated plates that are really well matched with wines.

We have a nice sized cheese and charcuterie program that we developed with San Francisco Cheese School, a handful of great nibbles including truffled popcorn, house-made pasta and focaccia. But the star of the show is the Petites Assiettes section offering composed dishes from $7 to $17.

Some standouts include the Lobster Cavatelli, Mushroom Stuffed Quail on a Bed of Gnocchi, Cauliflower a la Plancha and a Bavette Steak. We turn out so much food in this tiny kitchen. And everything is small and to share so the prices don’t break the bank.

Any plans to open for lunch?

Yes. Currently we’re open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Soon we’ll add lunch Wednesday through Friday. And brunch is coming on Saturdays and Sundays.

So what are your wishes for this place?

I truly want to provide people an extension to their living rooms. When you think about all of the small apartments in the city and people paying really high rent, it’s time they had a neighborhood gathering place — a place to unwind and feel comfortable. People say this place feels like home, and that’s exactly what I want.

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