San Diego Cellars Review
Address: 2215 Kettner Blvd. San Diego,California 92101.
Phone Number: 619-269-9463
Tasting Hours: Tues-Thurs 3:00-10:00, Fri 3:00-11:00, Sat 12:00-11:00, Sun 12:00-10:00
Region: South Coast and S. California, California
Reviewer: Becky Parr
Review Date: 9/9/2014
Reviewer: Becky Parr
As I’ve reviewed wineries, I’ve sometimes described newer wineries as still needing some time to find their direction, learn the complexities of making and marketing wine, and make wines that taste mature. If I see a winery with a start date of fewer than five years ago, I usually lower my expectations a bit. A young winery can often be a great place to go, but I usually think of it in terms of the potential they have, rather than what they are right now.
So, when I learned that San Diego Cellars opened in 2013, I expected a young winery that still needed to grow up.
But this winery is a full-fledged grownup already! The first sip of wine changed my expectations completely, and everything I tasted followed suit. This winery is going to stand up and be noticed.
The Place:  The tasting room is small and in the midst of San Diego’s Little Italy. Its atmosphere is more wine bar than winery, which makes sense since it’s in an urban area not many vineyards in the heart of San Diego! It is, however, a block away from Ballast Point Brewery, where we might or might not have stopped for a tasting while waiting for San Diego Cellars to open at noon on a Saturday. (If we had stopped, I’d highly recommend it.) It was a warm day, but it was still a reasonable walk from our downtown hotel, from the U.S.S. Midway, and from other attractions.
The San Diego Cellars events calendar is pretty full with painting parties, private events, and live music. I wondered aloud how they could fit a large group of people in the smallish space. When we came in, let’s just say we knew we were in the right place because the room was full of barrels! Apparently, though, the barrels get cleared out for events, and there’s a patio with a fair amount of additional space. Being from Texas, where the evening patio temperature can vary from 100 degrees in the summer to subzero in the winter, I forget that in San Diego, the patio is pretty much always usable space.
The bar is sided with curved pieces of barrels, which is seriously cool, and there are chalkboards made out of the ends of barrels above the bar. I didn’t notice it immediately, but the bar has a wine tap, not unlike a beer keg tap! The wine emerges nice and aerated and ready to drink.
The People:  Robin loves her job. She didn’t say that straight out, but she blamed herself for the fact that they were out of the 2009 Viognier because she bought it all. She also showed us some of the crafts she teaches people to make in the winery on craft nights, including painted wine glasses and hanging corks with actual plants growing out of them! There were two other groups at the bar when we arrived, and she took care of us all effortlessly. They have poker chips to keep track of tastings Robin said some people say they’re cheesy, but I thought they were pretty clever! She served us, worked on preparing for a wine club party later in the day, explained the CRUzer bottles, offered my husband a very interesting beer, and kept managing the behind-the-bar operations, all without breaking a sweat. Come to think of it, there might have been two of her or else she’s the personification of the word “multitasker.”
What’s a CRUzer bottle? Considering there are dozens of them on display above the bar, I had to ask. Well, they’re refillable wine bottles, complete with instructions printed on the side of the bottle: Have filled with your favorite San Diego Cellars Wine. Drink within three weeks. Wash with hot water only. Repeat.
It is California, so why am I surprised that they came up with a way to go green?
Based on the menu, it seems that some wines are bottled, but some are exclusively distributed in CRUzers. This might present a problem for me – since I don’t live in San Diego – because the 2012 Chardonnay seems to be a CRUzer wine, and I’m not sure how well that will ship to me in Texas. Robin assured me they’d come up with something. When it’s no longer a thousand degrees in Texas and we can ship wine without fear of in-transit spoilage, I’ll be calling to see how they can get that Chardonnay into my kitchen!
The Wines:  Ah, that Chardonnay. It’s buttery, creamy, and well-balanced, with a great Chardonnay nose. It was the first sip I took, and it caused me to sit up and take notice. Fortunately Robin gives a generous pour, so I could give my husband a sip and still have plenty for me to keep sipping. Next I tried the Viognier-Chardonnay blend, which is a light, summery wine, also well-balanced, with some taste of vanilla. I was sad that the 2009 Viognier was gone because Robin said she started working at the winery because of it.
My first red was the Grenache, nice and light, and totally classic Grenache. This is a red wine that could be drunk in warm weather without too much blushing. The Tempranillo tastes of cherry and berries and is fairly acidic, but still good. I really enjoyed the Dry Creek Zinfandel, which is on the lighter side for a Zinfandel, but still spicy with a big burst of fruit.
Robin said the Boarhog Blend was the most popular wine, so I went with that; it’s a blend of Syrah and Petite Syrah. I can see why it’s so popular. It’s a great blend, with a very smooth finish. I found the Petite Syrah to be more tannic and probably the only one out of everything I tasted that I wouldn’t consider buying. The star was the Old Vine Zinfandel, with its big berries and jam and a cherry finish.
Overall, I didn’t taste anything I didn’t like!
The Experience:  This is a don’t-miss in San Diego. It was a find. If I were a local, I’d belong to the wine club and be down there all the time to get my CRUzers refilled. As it is, I’m going to have to find a way to get San Diego Cellars’ wine into a Texas kitchen!