The Wine Sellar & Brasserie offers high-quality wine, food, storage space and more
By Karen Billing
The Wine Sellar & Brasserie will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. Like any fine vintage, the Sellar has simply gotten better with age, adding onto its public wine storage facility as customers requested more and more.
Now it is much more than just storage space: The WineSellar & Brasserie is a full-service wine shop, a fine dining destination in the upstairs Brasserie, and a spot for happy hours and tastings at the downstairs Casual Side. The WineSellar and Brasserie also offers a unique monthly wine club and off-the-beaten track wine tour excursions to wine regions such as Spain, France, South Africa and, next year, Italy.
“It’s a real fun business to be in,” said Lori Parker, who owns the business with her husband Gary. “The people who really like fine food and wine tend to be very fun and interesting people, they love to travel and they really enjoy life.”
“We’ve made a lot of great friends over the years,” Gary added.
The Parkers lived in Encinitas for 27 years before moving to Del Mar a year ago.
A San Diego native, Lori first got into wine when she went to college in Northern California, close enough to explore the Napa and Mendocino wine countries. Gary started out as an architecture student but he fell in love with wine and food and never looked back. He managed Mon Ami, one of San Diego’s first French restaurants, and also worked at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe.
Lori and Gary met when they both had jobs selling wine for a European company, quickly falling in love. Ask Gary what’s the best thing they have in the WineSellar and he’ll sweetly indicate that it’s Lori. She will beam.
“When we had been selling wine so many people would say they would buy more wine if they had a place to store it,” Lori said.
At the time there were no public wine storage facilities, save for a local dentist who would help people store their wines in an empty space under his dental practice — wines were separated by chicken wire. The dentist gave the Parkers a list two yards long of people on a waiting list to get into his makeshift wine cave.
A year later in 1984, the Parkers opened their first facility with 33 wine lockers.
When they found their current Sorrento Valley location in 1989 they knew it was the perfect spot: a three-story building in a central location. Gary tapped his architecture background to design a state-of-the-art three-story, earthquake-proof wine storage facility. Now 200 wine lockers deep, people keep their collections safe in the optimal temperature, 55 to 59 degrees. One customer has more than 1,500 cases in storage.
“I enjoy when people come back and they haven’t been to see their wine in a number of years and they’re all excited about it,” Gary said.
There were few boutique wine shops when they opened in 1989 and they put Gary’s knowledge and expertise to work.
Currently the wine shop has an “off the charts wonderful” Saint-Joseph white from the Rhone Valley in France that you can’t find anywhere else in Southern California, and their most prized possession is a magnum of a 1947 Chateau-Chavel Blanc that is worth $40,000.
Last week the floors of the shop were full with WineSellar’s wine club orders.
“The wine club is unique in that we handpick the wines every month, they can come from anywhere around the world and aren’t just one winery,” Lori said.
They offer three levels in their wine club, ranging from $35 to $100 for two bottles a month. Due to their buying power, WineSellar is able to negotiate prices well below what the public might pay, typically 10 to 40 percent less than the suggested retail price for the wines.
The upstairs Brasserie menu changes on occasion but there are mainstays that will never be taken off the menu — Lori said they’re known for their duck confit and their grilled leg of lamb salad.
“It’s a French-based menu but it’s really French-Californian, there’s no heavy creams and butters, everything is made in house with all organic produce,” Lori said.
The Brasserie recently expanded its hours and is now open for lunch five days a week, serving up items to enjoy in the restaurant or to-go such as its chicken liver pate terrine appetizer, soups, salads and sandwiches, such as the warm brie with pear, prosciutto and blueberry butter.
Like wine microclimates, the WineSellar is a variety of different spaces, from the white-table cloth fine French dining upstairs it transitions to the wine shop and Casual Side bar and lounge downstairs.
The Casual Side is a place where people can come for happy hour after work, meet friends over a glass of wine or a cocktail, or one of the eight San Diego craft beers they always have on tap. The food menu is not your standard bar menu — “It’s a little more sophisticated ... flavorful and different,” Lori said of items such as artisan duck leg confit tacos, seared polenta, smoked rabbit sausage and New England green lip mussels.
The WineSellar offers twice-weekly tastings: Wednesday from 4-9 p.m. they do tastings in the Casual Side and on Saturdays they do a fun wine tasting in the Brasserie, with a special entrée to go with the wines for only $12.50, from 2-5 p.m.
Once a month the WineSellar does special walk-around tastings that allow people to try 15 to 20 different wines, always on a theme, for a low price. Every six to eight weeks they also hold Winemaker’s Dinners.
For information on the wine club or upcoming tasting events, visit winesellar.com. The WineSellar & Brasserie is located at 9550 Waples St., Suite 115, San Diego, 92121; 858-450-9557.
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