Meet Chase Center Taste Maker Paula Harrell

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paula harrell
Paula J. Harrell is a San Francisco native and founder of P. Harrell Wines

Chase Center, the Warriors’ new 18,064-seat privately financed sports and entertainment arena in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, is now open. Together with food service partners Bon Appétit Management Company and Levy, the Warriors have launched a Taste Makers at Chase Center program to give small, only-in-Bay-Area food and beverage businesses a (three-point) shot at the big time.

San Francisco native Paula J. Harrell, owner and founder of P.Harrell Wines, was just announced as a Taste Maker. Lucky premium ticket holders can ask for her 2018 Haight Street Dry Riesling — which won a Gold Medal in the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition — in the Theater Box bar. P.Harrell wines are also available at several restaurants in Oakland and San Francisco stores. Check out her website (pharrellwines.com) for the most up-to-date locations and to read the full version of this interview.

How are you trying to set your wine apart?

A few different ways. First, by offering varietals and/or blends that are a little less well-known, but also by my story. There are very few women of color in this industry. I’m hoping my history and path will help make this brand very relatable and accessible to everyone, not just the seasoned wine drinker/connoisseur.

You were a mortgage and real estate advisor by trade. How’d you get into wine?

I did a semester abroad in Spain during college and had my first wine culture experience while in Madrid. When I returned home, my interest grew, and I began spending quite a bit of my free time exploring wine. I purchased a timeshare in Napa in the late ’90s for easier access. My mortgage and real estate advisor job was mostly remote, and I took advantage of that freedom! I spent time working at a couple of wineries for their events like Sonoma Passport or harvest weekend; they paid me in wine. I just immersed myself in the culture.

I knew I wanted to do something in the wine industry, but wasn’t sure what. One day at dinner with my family, my Uncle Gregory Turner passed the wine list for me to choose a wine. As usual, I asked for a taste of several different wines to help me decide — and because I always want to try new wines. Well, I had pours of a Zinfandel and Petite Sirah that I really felt would be MUCH better together, so I did something that is a huge no-no and surreptitiously blended the two at the table!

I shared “my” blend with Gregory without telling him. He said it was the best one and wanted to order it. I admitted it wasn’t on the menu. He was pretty stunned, and he said, “I’m not sure how you knew these would be better together, but they are! However, I suggest you make your own damn wine and stop blending other people’s!” And a lightbulb went off in my head.

Your family’s history has inspired some of your wines. How did they influence you, business wise?

My father, Paul, was from Oklahoma, and my mother, Jeanette, was originally from Panamá. (I’m named after them.) They both migrated to San Francisco in the ’50s, met, married, and started a family. My paternal grandmother and my father opened a series of residential care home facilities for the elderly, primarily in the Western Addition and Haight Ashbury, which they operated for 40- plus years. My father was also a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and my mother worked for city hall as a switchboard operator. In the midst of all of this, my father (with my mother’s help) obtained his MBA from University of San Francisco. My parents also invested in several residential income properties.

So I was basically raised in a family of entrepreneurship. Starting in high school I worked closely with my father with the eldercare facilities as well as his investment properties. He inspired me to obtain my MBA from San Francisco State University. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with it at the time, but I knew for sure that I would want to go into business for myself.

Tell us about why you called your Riesling Haight Street — and what it pairs well with?

The year I was born, my father and grandmother built one of their facilities from the ground up on Haight Street. It was the cornerstone of their business. They’ve passed on now, but I still own this property with my brothers. So I decided to name my Riesling Haight Street in their honor, as I hope it is as bold and driven in its complexity and flavor as they were in their business.

In terms of pairing, this wine is an aromatic grape variety that opens with a bouquet of peach blossom and passion fruit on the nose, with a palate full of citrus fruit, lemongrass, and honeydew, and high acidity. It has an outgoing, food-friendly character, so it can fit a broader food-pairing bill. It pairs well with spicy and flavorful foods, such as Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Mexican. It also pairs well with a variety of poultry and pork dishes, not to mention many desserts and salads. 

Any parting thoughts?

My company is very currently very event-driven (public and private), and I’ve personally attended 95% of our events to interact with customers, explain this incredible world of wine, and help everyone experience it, whatever their background. My pursuing a business in a male-dominated industry, and one in which I did not have any formal training or education (just  passion, drive, and confidence!), will hopefully be an example to others to follow their dreams and not to be intimidated by a lack of these things. Everything one needs to succeed can be acquired. I will to continue to share my love and what I’ve learned about wine. 

Bonnie Powell is the director of communications for Bon  Appétit Management Company. This advertorial was paid for by Bon Appétit at Chase Center.

Edible San Francisco relies on the support from advertising partners like Bon  Appétit Management Company and Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors who share our vision and want to see the Bay Area’s local food community grow and flourish.