There’s something soothing and downright divine about sipping good wine with the people who light up your world. During the pandemic, it’s the sort of simple indulgence we’ve come to appreciate in deeper ways. 

Even in the midst of COVID-19, Escondido wineries offer sanctuary from our new heights of stress, giving us a safe way to socialize when we need that connection most. Collectively, these wineries deliver a lineup that’s worthy of a full day trip. And with cooler fall days rolling in, now’s the perfect time to pack a picnic, pop some pinot, and let that pandemic tension melt away. 

To help you make the most of your visit, here’s the scoop on Escondido wineries, and a couple that make for great starting points: 

Top-Notch Wine, Right Under Your Nose

Tourists flock to Temecula’s 30 or so wineries — but in fact, San Diego County is home to far more, with 115 wineries and counting. California’s entire wine history, in fact, started in San Diego County more than 230 years ago when Spanish missionaries planted grapes in nearby Valley Center. So, it’s not so surprising that winemaking has been a part of Escondido’s heritage for centuries. What is surprising is how few folks realize it.

“Escondido wineries aren’t even on the radar of many wine lovers, which is a shame because the quality here is off the charts,” says Amber Tarrac, the city’s Deputy Director of Economic Development. Escondido winemakers have racked up dozens of international gold medals — but they’ve all still kept a relatively low profile. It’s this laidback vibe that largely defines the Escondido wine scene. “In Escondido you can chat directly with the people who make world-class wine,” says Amber. “That sort of facetime isn’t typical, but it’s part of the draw to wine tasting here.” 

Town & Country: Two Vino Vibes  

Escondido’s wine scene offers a mix of urban wineries and more traditional, sprawling vineyards. To illustrate that diversity, we’ll spotlight a shining example of each sort: 

   📍First stop: BK Cellars Urban Winery & Tasting Lounge

      2225 Barham Drive, Suite D, Escondido, CA 92029

      760.270.9851 or info@BKCellars.com 

BK Cellars sits in an industrial corner of the city, where owner Joe Ames has reimagined the space with a hip revamp — complete with sleek sofas and crystal chandeliers.

 

BK Cellars’s cosmopolitan-style lounge opened its doors in 2014, and has been making award-winning wine on premise with California grapes ever since. Courtesy photo.

 

Beyond the glossy digs, you’ll find wine that packs a punch. Its cabernet franc, for example, has won multiple gold medals in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.“Cabernet franc isn’t something you see on the supermarket shelves, and even at specialty wine retailers, the selection is not large,” Joe says. “With green pepper notes, it’s something truly different and delicious.” 

“In fact, a chance crossing between cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc created the cabernet sauvignon we all know and love today. So, I often say that cabernet franc is earth’s original cabernet,” he adds. 

Joe talks about each of his wines with that same intimate knowledge. He’s spent the past seven years carefully curating grapes from all reaches of the state. The result is a potpourri of wine profiles. “The aromas and flavors of every wine are unique,” he says. “Even the vintage of the same varietal is distinct.” 

🍷 WHAT TO ORDER WHEN YOU GO:

In addition to that award-winning cabernet franc, Joe recommends the vermentino, a lesser-known white wine with guava and grapefruit notes. The tempranillo, which is made with Paso Robles grapes, is also a top seller — accounting for about half of sales in recent weeks. The syrah here is made with grapes from Hunter & Mazzetti Vineyards in Valley Center, which Joe says makes for exceptional wine. And lastly, Joe says he’s partial to Lodi-based zinfandel, especially old vine zinfandel because it has jammy and licorice notes.

✅ WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

Due to COVID-19 related state mandates, wine can only be enjoyed in the newly-created outdoor area. At the time of this writing, wine tasting is only offered by appointment, which must be booked onlineReservations can only include up to four adults, and are capped at 90 minutes. Food is not served here, but everyone is encouraged to bring their own picnic or order delivery from a nearby restaurant. 

Wine bottles can also be purchased to-go via the online store. 

   📍Next stop: Altipiano Vineyard and Winery 

      20365 Camino Del Aguila, Escondido, CA 92025

      619.857.7242 or denise@altipianovineyard.com

Further out in Escondido’s backcountry, you’ll find a trove of sprawling wine estates, including Altipiano Vineyard and Winery. It sits on a former avocado grove, one of many in the area. 

 

Altipiano’s vineyard has 2,400 brunello vines (sangiovese grosso grapes), and 1,100 barbera vines (even split between cabernet sauvignon and petite syrah grapes).  Courtesy photo.

 

There’s no telling for certain how long it would have stayed that way had fate not intervened. In 2007, owner Denise Clarke took a trip to Tuscany where she fell in love with Italian wine, namely the sangiovese varietal. 

“Brunello stole my heart on that trip,” she further clarifies. Denise returned with the dream of growing her own brunello grapes — never imagining it would soon happen due to a waking nightmare. Mere months after her trip, the Witch Creek Fire tore through Escondido, turning the avocado grove to ash. Heartbroken, Denise and her husband picked up the pieces. In the burned earth, however, they saw a blank slate prime for brunello grapes.

Twelve years later, their vineyard is a testament to resilience. “During the fires, I witnessed our community come together and that’s what I’m seeing again as we weather this storm,” she says. Particularly, she’s been inspired to see people support local businesses, including Escondido wineries that are fighting to survive this pandemic. 

“We’re all working hard to give everyone a safe way to have fun, because we all need that right now,” she says. “The support to local businesses makes all the difference. We can’t know how long it will last, but I believe if we all support each other, we’ll get through it.” 

🍷 WHAT TO ORDER WHEN YOU GO:

True to the Italian style, Denise says she’s known for big red wines, which have won Double-gold, Gold, and Silver medals at the San Francisco International and San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competitions. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a crowd-pleaser, featuring notes of sweet tobacco and vanilla with blueberry and blackberry. Another top seller is the Estate Sangiovese, which has an earthy taste on the nose, and rounds out with plum, cherry and nutmeg on the finish. 

Lastly, for those who prefer white wine, Denise recommends the Pinot Gris, which is crisp with hints of green apple, pear and honey.

✅ WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

Due to state mandates and COVID-19, guests must be 21 years or older, and wine can only be enjoyed outdoors. At the time of this writing, reservations are required and can be made through opentable.com or by calling (760) 839-7999. The winery maximum group size is limited to 10 guests. All other tables are 2, 4, 6,  and 8. There is no cap on the time limit. Food is not served here, but guests are encouraged to bring their own picnic or order delivery from a nearby restaurant. 

Wine bottles can also be purchased to-go via the online store

Thirsty for more? 

Round your day trip with some of the other not-to-be-missed Escondido wineries. And if you have a beer lover in the group, check out our Escondido craft breweries, too.

Pro tip: Eat local 

While you’re in town, show Escondido eateries  love by ordering a takeout dinner to go with your wine. To sweeten the deal, several restaurants are offering discounts and deals through the Escondido Eats program. some