Kai Oliver-Kurtin | Downtown News
A career transition from attorney to vintner may be an unlikely move, but it’s one that San Diego Cellars winemaker Todd Hipper decided to make when opening his own winery, tasting room and kitchen in Little Italy last month.
San Diego Cellars held a grand opening celebration Nov. 9, filling the building to capacity and utilizing every wine glass in their possession. For $10, guests can taste six wines—some being poured from a bottle and others straight from the tap.
Hipper sources grapes from all over the state, including Lodi, Napa, Paso Robles, San Marcos and Santa Barbara. He still provides counsel on alcohol compliance laws for other wineries and breweries, but San Diego Cellars is now his full-time venture. As a father to small children, he enjoys the flexibility this new work schedule brings.
Like most winemakers, Hipper tends to focus on the varietals of wine he enjoys drinking—known for his Syrahs and Old Vine Zinfandels—with Viognier being his signature white. Right now he has three Syrahs and will soon release a fourth.
“I’m most excited about getting this stuff in front of people,” Hipper said. “We want to see people enjoying the wine and food, be able to entertain them and give them a new experience. We’re excited to have an audience.”
Hipper, a South Park resident, was born in San Diego while his father was stationed here with the U.S. Navy, making it a familiar home in which to establish his business. Beginning as a hobby, winemaking grew into an occupation when Hipper began producing several hundred cases of wine per year beginning in 2008.
“We’re hoping people catch on,” he said. “San Diego is ripe for tasting rooms and refillable bottles [and] people are looking for small batch stuff made for the customer.”
To demonstrate their commitment to this trend, San Diego Cellars sells wine “CRUzers,” ecofriendly, refillable, swing-top wine bottles. Similar to beer growlers, the CRUzers make wine on tap portable for home consumption.
To facilitate this business, Hipper started a wine club for San Diego Cellars which is free, although members are required to pay for at least a case of wine annually, which works out to be approximately three bottles and $75 per quarter. Included with membership is a 20 percent discount on everything else, including food, as well as complimentary tastings for members and up to three guests.
San Diego Cellars holds quarterly pickup parties, where wine club members have the opportunity to select their own wines, taste limited or new releases, and enjoy live music. If members can’t attend a pick-up party, wine is selected on their behalf. A pre-holidays pickup party is currently being scheduled, and San Diego Cellars also took part in Small Business Saturday on Nov. 30, a day when shoppers around the country are encouraged to support local small businesses.
Hipper said he was drawn to the centrality of Little Italy and the back courtyard area of his particular property, which allows for a production facility. He said that the Little Italy Association and neighboring businesses have been welcoming, and his fluency in Italian has already been put to use.
San Diego Cellars will soon partner with the new Ballast Point Tasting Room and Kitchen, located nearby on India Street, to create a barreled-aged beer. Using wine barrels to create a unique brew, the beer’s label plans to play up the businesses’ similar address.
America’s first Master Sommelier Eddie Osterland—one of only 211 with this distinction worldwide—lives nearby and has already visited Hipper’s tasting room.
Moving in across the street from San Diego Cellars is celebrity Chef Richard Blais’ new venture, Juniper & Ivy, currently slated for a February 2014 opening. Blais’ rise to fame is a result of winning Bravo TV’s Top Chef All-Stars, coupled with his successful Atlanta-based eateries. San Diego Cellars hopes to capitalize on the extra foot traffic that Juniper & Ivy will undoubtedly bring to the block.
Hipper also hopes to draw guests in with their live music, typically played Friday and Saturday nights, but San Diego Cellars won’t be a late-night destination, since they’re only permitted to serve alcohol until 11 p.m.
To complement its varied wine list, San Diego Cellars also offers hors d’oeuvres including a charcuterie or gourmet cheese plate, crostini appetizers, salads and desserts.
“The idea was to create a menu that pairs with wine,” said Chef Samantha Roach. “All the food is selected for pairing and sharing with friends.”
With a kitchen adjacent to the tasting room that also has no range hood, Roach currently has some cooking limitations; but she’ll soon acquire a grill in the back courtyard area that will diversify her menu offerings.
Formerly in the kitchens of Blind Lady Ale House, Eden, and Indulgence Catering, Roach has been consulting and planning with San Diego Cellars for the last year.
“I’d like to see how far we can take the menu,” she said.
San Diego Cellars is located at 2215 Kettner Blvd. For more information, visit sdcellars.com.
Kai Oliver-Kurtin is a local freelance reporter who also works full-time doing social media marketing for the U.S. Navy. She enjoys covering events, restaurant news, culture and entertainment. Contact her at email@example.com.