There’s no denying it: San Diego is craft beer royalty with more than 150 breweries from well-known Ballast Point to cult-favorite Societe Brewing Company. So, you might think beer is the whole story, but, take a second look and you’ll find a deep history of wine. As in, San Diego was first in California to plant vineyards and produce wine.
Wondering why you haven't heard much about it? Because, according to the San Diego County Vintners Association, the wine industry struggled after a hat trick of issues: a devastating flood in 1916, the Prohibition era, and World War II. But that was then -- these days San Diego is buzzing with the growth of its urban winery scene.
From beachside communities to inland neighborhoods, San Diego has quite a few urban wineries, and instead of venturing out into the countryside they’re making the winery experience super accessible. These urban wineries bring the winemaking experience from the vineyards to an urban setting and they borrow a page from their brewery cousins by doing most of the production — crushing, aging, bottling and serving — right on site. That means sampling a glass of locally produced wine is as easy as running to the nearest Target.
To make it even easier, San Diego Urban Wineries offers a passport that includes a wine tasting at all participating wineries. There are more than a dozen urban wineries in San Diego, but here are five to try right now:
LJ Crafted Wines (La Jolla)
Just a few blocks from the ocean in La Jolla's chic Bird Rock community this family-owned, open-air urban winery is staffed with approachable sommeliers who can guide you to your perfect glass. LJ Crafted Wines’ barrels are displayed in the bar area, so you can wine taste while you watch take-home growlers being filled by their "Wine Steward," a proprietary apparatus that delivers their wines directly from the barrel to the bottle for maximum flavor. When you visit, taste their lively Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc or their Pinot Noir Rosé from the Sonoma Coast.
San Pasqual Winery (La Mesa | Downtown)
Wedged just 15 miles east of San Diego in the revitalized La Mesa area, the cozy patio of San Pasqual’s tasting room is a prime people-watching spot. And, since La Mesa is located a bit further from the touristy spots in downtown of San Diego it’s easy to settle in and feel like a local. While this urban winery offers a number of traditional blends, their passion fruit wine with habanero is a crowd pleaser. Oh, and, if waterfront sipping is a life goal, you're in luck: San Pasqual now has a tasting room in downtown's Seaport Village.
Solterra Winery & Kitchen (Leucadia)
A restaurant slash urban winery, Solterra has their wines and mediterranean plates with a California coastal twist since 2013. In addition to locally sourced grapes, Solterra also uses grapes from the up-and-coming wine region of Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico’s Baja California. Their Tempranillo and Chardonnay, among other wines have scooped up awards in competitions throughout the state.
Carruth Cellars (Carlsbad | Solana Beach | Downtown)
Carruth Cellars is the biggest urban winery on this list with two locations in North County San Diego and a new-ish tasting room in Little Italy. Carruth Cellars make California-style wines with grapes from Central and Northern California. Choose from bright whites, berry forward and slightly earthy red blends, an award-winning Cabernet Franc, port style wines, and more. The Little Italy location is an ideal starting point for exploring the neighborhood's various independent boutiques and restaurants.
Koi Zen Cellars (Rancho Bernardo)
Don’t let Koi Zen Cellars’ location in a business park deter you -- their minimal aesthetics are because they put all their effort into their wines. Easily accessible from I-15, Koi Zen is a welcome addition to the North County, and, between Wednesday and Sundays, you can enjoy a glass at this family-owned urban winery.
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Opening photo by Cameron Whitman