Best San Diego Wineries
“Great wine requires a mad man to grow the vine, a wise man to watch over it, a lucid poet to make it, and a lover to drink it.” – Salvador Dali
California is renowned for its wineries. And one of San Diego County’s best-kept secrets is the growing community of amazing San Diego wineries and tasting rooms in the city’s foothills.
California’s wine history actually began in San Diego with Father Junipero Serra, founder of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Mission monks planted the first vines producing communion wines around 1778.
Today, there are well over 100 wineries in San Diego, scattered throughout the county, many boasting award-winning medals from some of the top wine competitions in the U.S.
How to choose which San Diego Winery to visit?
First of all, wine tasting should be a fun experience. Second, wines should be really good, and there should be a uniqueness about the setting. Obviously, with the Coronavirus pandemic, we can’t get out to visit these San Diego wineries at the present. But the good news is that wines can be ordered and either shipped or picked up curbside.
When we can all venture back out (and we will again), here are our top 10 recommendations to get you started on your San Diego wine tasting quest.
Escondido/Highland Valley Wineries
Altipiano Vineyard and Winery
Perched high above San Pasqual Valley, views from Altipiano’s Mediterranean tasting room and grounds are nothing short of spectacular. It was a trip to Southern Tuscany and Montepulciano, Italy that inspired owners Denise and Peter Clarke’s love for Italian wines.
Unbelievably the devastating 2007 San Diego wildfires actually made their dream a reality when avocado groves on their property burned. In 2008, they planted Brunello grapevines along with Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah varietals.
Denise is Altipiano’s award-winning winemaker and her reds, especially the Super Tuscan blend and Sangiovese are without a doubt the superstars of the winery. Visitors can taste Altipiano’s fine wines in the tasting bar, or our favorite, the colorful patio overlooking terraced gardens with some of the most glorious San Diego sunset views.
Tasting Room Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Noon to 6 pm
Tasting Fee: $15 pp/5 wines. Premium: $35 with winemaker/7 wines with signature glass
Making wines in the Italian Old-World tradition only makes sense as Cordiano Winery owners Gerardo and Rosa Cordiano are first-generation immigrants from Southern Italy.
Located in Escondido with sweeping vistas of the mountains and vineyards, the family owned and operated winery not only specializes in an impressive menu of whites and bold reds, but in their gourmet pizzas as well baked, of no surprise, in an authentic wood-burning oven.
Italian wine and food couldn’t possibly taste better while sitting on their expansive outdoor patio taking in the view. But save room for some delectable homemade desserts like Tiramisu and Cannoli. This is also a popular wedding venue.
Tasting Room Hours: Wednesday through Sunday 11 am to 8 pm
Tasting Fee: $15pp/5 wines
Domaine Artefact Vineyard & Winery
We stepped out of Italy and into France as premier Rhône-style wines are the signature of Domaine Artefact. Named for Native American artifacts found on its picturesque Highland Valley estate, the winery is nestled between granite-studded ridges.
Co-owner and winemaker Mark Robinson’s whites, roses and reds are magnificent as the elevation and unique microclimate moderated by cooling ocean breezes enable the French grapes to thrive here. Mark’s wife, Lynn produces organic olive oil from its 250 estate olive trees. Lastly, Domaine Artefact is also home to a family of animals which includes four “wine dogs,” horses, pigs and chickens.
Tasting Room Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday Noon to 5:30 pm
Tasting Fee: $15 pp/5 wines
Speckle Rock Vineyards
The tragic San Diego Witch Creek Fire of 2007 destroyed structures, farm equipment and 3,000 avocado trees of Duane and Clea Perrin’s 320-acre bucolic property. Duane wistfully proclaimed that the only figures left standing were the speckled boulders of granite.
Thus, the slogan “Born from the ashes, raised on the vine” became their inspiration, and vines were then planted on property. Today, their vineyards grow a myriad of red and white grapes. Of note: Falanghina, an ancient varietal originally cultivated on coast of Naples in Southern Italy is their flagship wine. It’s the one visitors come for and return for time and again. And also, for picture-postcard views from its outdoor patio along with their other award-winning varietals.
Tasting Room Hours: Thursday through Sunday Noon to 6 pm
Tasting Fee: $15 pp/5 wines
Winery in Julian
Volcan Mountain Winery
Nestled at the base of the 4,200-foot Volcan Mountain, the picturesque boutique winery, tasting room, and orchard is located just two miles from the heart of historic Julian. Here, Mike Hart and brother, renowned winemaker and co-owner Jim Hart of Temecula, have brought the family’s expertise and passion for hand-crafting great wines to the apple pie capital of the world.
Vineyards are planted with Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir, though the winery also produces a host of reds and whites from local and regional grapes. Visitors can taste these varietals in their rustic indoor tasting room or outdoors on Adirondack chairs that always beg us to come and “sit a spell.”
And yes, there’s even the award-winning, elegant Dolcezza Apple Wine and the sweet dessert Estate Pommier Wine produced entirely from estate-grown apples.
Tasting Room Hours: Thursday through Monday 11 am to 5 pm
Tasting Fee: $12 pp/6 wines
Castelli Family Vineyards
What began as a hobby for a Columbian soccer player and winemaker Nelson Pizzaro has become so much more. When Nelson and Cassie, daughter of Castelli Family Vineyard’s owner Mike Castelli were married at a nearby winery, Mike was inspired to plant vines on his own bucolic property.
Nelson became the winemaker in 2012, and in 2016, the winery opened for business. Though San Diego isn’t known for their Pinot Noirs, that didn’t stop Castelli in the least. In 2017, they produced their first Pinot with grapes from San Luis Obispo as estate grapes had suffered the intense summer heat. In 2018, they released their own award-winning estate Pinot. And they are both magnificent to say the least!
Tucked away in a private community in the scenic rolling hills of Highland Valley, Ramona, the winery has both an impressive indoor tasting cellar surrounded by wine barrels, as well as an outdoor patio with a large firepit overlooking the vineyards.
Tasting Room: By appointment only
Tasting Fee: $12 pp/5 wines
Milagro Farm Vineyards and Winery
Set in a tree-lined pastoral setting in the rolling hills of rustic Ramona, Milagro is Spanish for “miracle.” The property boasts a working estate winery, organic farm, and orchard. Wines produced here are 100% estate grown.
The philosophy of owners and venerable Valle de Guadalupe winemaker, Hugo D’Acosta is to be in harmony with the land and capture the essence of their own terroir. From Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to Rose and Super Tuscan reds, Milagro’s award-winning wines are truly fantastic.
A re-designed indoor tasting room features a more modern architectural style and outdoor patios provide picturesque views of the countryside, lake, and vine-covered buildings. It’s no wonder Milagro is such a popular wedding venue. The family-friendly winery also features live music every other Saturday.
Tasting Room: Saturday and Sunday 11:30 am to 5:30 pm
Tasting Fee: $14 pp/6 wines
Turtle Rock Ridge Vineyard Winery
Located in the picturesque back country of San Diego County, Turtle Rock Ridge is named for the large granite monolith that towers over the vineyard. And yes, it looks just like a turtle.
With a selection of reds and whites, our favorites, hands down, are the velvety smooth port-style wine known as “Chocolate Turtle” and the magnificent Sangrias, both red and white, and perfect for a warm summer day.
There’s an indoor tasting room, though we and other visitors gravitate to the expansive outdoor patio overlooking the boulder-strewn vineyards. Cheese trays can be purchased to accompany the wines, and visitors are encouraged to bring in a picnic lunch should they choose to.
Tasting Room Hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10 am-6 pm. Other days by appointment.
Tasting Fee: $10 pp/5 wines
Beach House Winery
George and Kim Murray’s passion for making wine started as “garagasites” when they produced wine in the garage of their Oceanside home for self-consumption. In time however, it became more than a hobby. In 2010, they established Beach House Winery, the first vineyard/winery in the agricultural hills of Oceanside.
Their Vigna al Mare (Vineyard at Sea) property offers stunning vistas of the countryside. Wines here range from Chardonnay, Viognier and Rosé to Grenache and Petit Sirah. They’re renowned for their Beach Break GSM and sweet barrel-aged Late Harvest Merlot.
Tasting Room Hours: Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 pm. Other days/hours by appointment.
Tasting Fee: $15pp/6 wines
Rancho Bernardo Winery
Journey back through time while walking the grounds of Bernardo Winery, California’s oldest operating winery. Surrounded by a cluster of rustic charming shops, galleries and their own restaurant, The Kitchen at Bernardo Winery. The property also hosts a Friday Farmer’s Market and seasonal art and craft shows.
Ambience is king here and while the inside tasting room is lovely, we can’t beat sitting outdoors, listening to live music or strolling wine in hand through the historic village surrounded by antique winemaking equipment.
Family owned and operated since 1927 by the Rizzo family, the winery has been growing and producing wine in the same Italian tradition for three generations. Our favorites? Viognier, a slight deviation from the classic Rhone, and their Merlot Reserve.
Tasting Room Hours: Daily 10 am to 6 pm
Tasting Fee: $16 pp/5 wines
San Diego wineries are amazing. I am amazed by the love and passion these winemakers have for their craft. You can taste it in their wines. I have to admit that living in Italy and traveling a lot has turned me into a bit of a wine snob, but let me tell you, these San Diego wineries measure up with some of the best wines I have ever had.
So whether you are in San Diego for a short visit or live here, try some of the local San Diego wineries and expect to be impressed.
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