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Taste of Wine: BK Cellars sets the bar for urban wineries

Urban wineries are a late-blooming dynamic part of the total wine scene.

The distinguishing characteristic is that they sell one brand of wine, their own, in a retail setting, usually a neighborhood shopping or warehouse setting.

Dania and Joe James operate BK Cellars in Escondido, a leading urban winery and tasting lounge in an intimate setting. Photo by Frank Mangio

Recently, these wineries, now up to 12 in San Diego County, gathered for public events in San Diego and Escondido for a “Sip the City” celebration. Their motto is “Grapes from the Country, Wine Made in the City.” San Diego Urban Wineries was founded in 2013 to showcase the unique varietals and blends they offer.

Joe and Dania James are an important part of this growing group of winemakers in an urban setting. To really know how determined and possessed they are with a love of winemaking, I need to take you back to Oct. 6, 2016. They, like other urban wine proprietors, will go many miles out of their way to find the best wine grape varietals to offer to their guests and customers. They love Tempranillo, the most popular of the Spanish wines, with a thick skin, black coloring, low alcohol for a red with good acidity. When it’s made well and properly, it can soar to the top of any red wine lover’s list.

James had a sense of Tempranillo’s potential when he discovered Pomar Junction Vineyards in Paso Robles. Shortly after the 2016 harvest, he and his wife Dania drove all night with empty “macro-bins” that they would load up early the next morning with the harvested grapes.

Shortly after, the crushing, fermentation and barreling began. Five barrels of the Tempranillo are awaiting bottling sometime next year.

I attended a barrel tasting session at BK. It was an all-barrel drawn tasting containing a 2015 and 2016 Syrah from nearby Valley Center, a 2014 and 2016 Cab Franc from Temecula and the Tempranillo from Paso Robles. He also had a very nice bottled Fume Blanc.

James will have his work cut out for him when harvest rolls around soon and it will be time to pick the varietals for 2019’s bottling.

“I am concerned about the heavy rainy season we had earlier in the year,” he cautioned. “Some grapes may have high water content.”

Other reds already in bottles just released and tasting delicious include: a Paso Robles GSM Blend (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre), a South Coast Cabernet and a Paso Robles Pablo’s Tinto, a blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet. BK Cellars has a thriving wine club with special discounts and events. Get the full story at


Wine Bytes

  • Pala Casino is the place to be for the big Starlight Food & Wine Festival from 5 to 10 p.m. Aug. 19. More than 50 leading California wines are featured on the lawn of Pala’s Starlight Theatre and in the underground wine cave, plus stunning food pairings highlighting its 11 restaurants led by Executive Chef Robert Camerota. Live music by Harmony Rock. Wines include: Banfi, Beringer, Daou, Ferrari-Carano, Franciscan, Justin, Robert Mondavi, Trefethen and ZD. Tickets are $75 per person. Call (877) 946-7252 or visit
  • Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas is into their Summer Cinema Series and the next film will be “Decanted” from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 11. See a great wine movie, with popcorn and wine, in the cellar room. Cost is $30 per person. RSVP required, limited to 16. Call (760) 479-2500.
  • A Taste of Encinitas is planned for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 8 in the downtown area. Treat your taste buds to food and drink from 30-plus restaurants. Enjoy wine and beer samples from 19 “sip shops” hosted by the shops and salons. Tickets are $45. Purchase online at and at the Encinitas 101 office downtown.
  • The San Diego Brew and Food Festival returns for the third annual celebration from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Embarcadero Marina Park North downtown San Diego. More than 200 seasonal and craft beers from 70 breweries will be on display. Dishes from 20 chefs will be available for sampling along with live music. Prices start at $40. See


Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading commentators on the web. View his columns at Go to menu then column. Reach him at