Wineries in San Diego? really?

There’s this point in just about every conversation I have regarding wine in this town, where someone inadvertently blurts out that question that usually makes me take pause for a moment while I sip my Syrah and contemplate the most effective answer. “There are wineries in San Diego??” sip. another sip. smile. breathe….

“Why Yes, there are..  many of them, let me tell you about them while I pour you a glass”

I used to just answer that question with a sharp bleeting yes and then go into some diatribe about the ignorance of the sheep, blah blah blah, that travel Northward to Riverside Country, namely Temecula Valley, to taste wine when we had such interesting and diverse wineries in San Diego sprouting up, right here in their own backyard. Sloshing wine and waving hands I would curse the hordes that travel en masse, en bus to Temecula, jostling to taste wine, as San Diego Wineries quietly greeted the lesser numbers of visitors that sought our their tasting rooms. The unlucky querent would then quickly react as though they had stepped on a snake and move away from the conversation without getting further bitten. Ok, so being a part of a local winemaking family,  I took it just a bit personally.

I  soon realized, news flash… that  San Diego wine tasters were not privy to the local wineries. They drove Northward because they didn’t honestly know there was wine under their nose, that there was a choice between driving an hour North or driving 15 minutes locally to taste wine. Temecula has sold itself very well as a wine region, hands down. They have some beautiful wineries to behold and have branded themselves well in San Diego. The problem is.. (this is where it gets awkward) is that many people you ask say “oh San Diego Wine.. you mean Temecula?” errr no. Nice job with the branding guys, but you are Riverside and We’re San Diego. let’s just let that elephant out of the closet, shall we, and set things straight?

So after many a wide-eyed response of “really, I had no idea??” and several glasses of spilled wine I came to the realization that people honestly had no idea there were wineries in San Diego, let alone over 50 of them. They weren’t informed, didn’t realize what was here in the county, no harm, no foul, and definately, no more bantering from this Diva. Just information with a smile, and let the people decide.

The Wineries here just happen to be tucked away, for the most part, in the hills and valleys of San Diego County, dotted across the landscape.  Families, some second and third generation winemakers, planting, pruning, nurturing, and hand crafting wines. Some have been in San Diego since as far back as 1889, some just opened last month. They’re not all down one tidy little convenient street, mind you.  Hell, they’re not even all in one town. That’s the beauty of it. 

The wineries of San Diego, much akin to Sonoma, are found down beautiful country roads, nestled into the landscape, set away from the crowds and the highways.  They’re jewels to be found by the wine traveler, who seeks them out one by one, sometimes visiting a few on one day, that are clustered together.  Bernardo, Orfila and Cordiano are neighbors in the North County and Schwaesdall Winery, Pamo Valley, Woof n Rose, Cactus Star and Milagro Farms are in The Ramona Valley but San Diego Wineries stretch as far North as Warner Springs and as South as Campo, near the border. They vary in size, shape and production numbers like a white house party of foreign diplomats but all have a commonality, a love for winemaking.  The best part is, they’re not shy about sharing that love, turning the soil and harvesting the grape.

San Diego Winemakers work together, in harvest, in sharing grapes, in laughter and community, an extended family of sorts, who has each others backs. This is a San Diego winemaking tradition that hasn’t changed much since early San Diego winemaking when abundant harvests and family, friends and festa were the way of the land.  The first grapes were planted in California by the Spanish Friars, the beginnings of the San Diego wine industry.  Prohibition, rising water costs and severe draught crippled the industry for some time, leaving only two wineries standing in San Diego but since then the grape has slowly made its way back into the soil.  With the cost of land falling and the rising awareness of the rich terroir of San Diego County,  the San Diego County Vintner’s Association has grown significantly in the last couple of years from a handful of wineries to over 50. Vineyards have sprung up across the County. Very exciting!

No corporate wineries here, just people who use sustainable farming, know their craft and are working hard at it.  The old, with the new, each sharing techniques and advancements in wine technology and science with each other. The diversity of the micro-climates of San Diego lends itself to the wide variety of grape growing,  from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo and Arneis to Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Primitivo, Petit Sirah, Aglianico and Nebbiolo.

Well, San Diego Wine Country is ready to earn its rightful place on the California Wine trail and secure the southernmost place on the map.  With the changes in San Diego County Ordinances last year,  allowing smaller vineyard owners to open tasting rooms, many of them are busy opening their tasting rooms for the first time and increasing the number of local wineries significantly.

Welcome to San Diego Wine Country my friends. You’re armed and dangerous with the knowledge of what’s out there.  Now, go out and explore all San Diego has to offer. From Cordiano and it’s delicious wine and weekend wood-fired pizzas fresh from the oven to La Serrissima’s expansive vineyards and Bernardo’s 120 year old winemaking history, there is so much to explore. Enjoy and Salute!

SDWC Wineries


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3 Responses to Wineries in San Diego? really?

  1. los pilares wines says:

    we’d like to invite you to a tasting of a very new wine produced from 100% san diego county grapes. unadulterated, un-oaked un molested grenache/carignan. los pilares wines academy92101@gmaildotcom

  2. Hey Diva,
    Did you get an invite to our launch event? We need your email address. I believe that we, along with Vesper Vineyards, are the first proponents of natural winemaking in San Diego County. A lighter, balanced style. Low intervention. All local fruit and none of it overripe. Low alcohol. Made to live with, to drink with food, not for “tastings.”

    -michael christian of Los Pilares. write me at See us at

  3. Trisha says:

    Just ran across your blog from reading a RT of one of your posts. 🙂

    I’ve lived in San Diego county off and on since 2003 and I thought the closest wineries were in Temecula as you said. I had no idea there were so many right here in the county. My husband and I recently took a wine tasting tour up in Paso Robles and had such a fantastic time and discovered many truly fabulous wines. Now I want to get out in San Diego and discover some closer to home. Thanks for this article!!

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