I recommend you this link:
about “Of Ontario Prohibition and Guasti” on Foothills Reader
I recommend you this link:
about “Of Ontario Prohibition and Guasti” on Foothills Reader
December 23, 2011
Local wine enthusiast and vintner Bill Velto of Upland is interested in growing his own grapes for his home winemaking hobby and asked me about the different grape growing techniques found the vineyard.
Bill and his wife Jody recently returned from California’s Central Coast where they toured Edna Valley Vineyard. “We travel about 3 times a year to Paso Robles wine country. I have noticed that some of the vineyards have different types of trellis,” said Velto.
“At Edna Valley, outside their tasting center, is an informative demonstration vineyard with 14 rows of vines, each row displaying either a different type of grape variety or trellis growing system design. It was interesting and fun to sample the different varieties of grapes used in winemaking. The most common that were seen was the Anchor End Post System with a Tie Back Post. The grape’s tastes were so different, the tart and sour of some, and the sweetness of others, it gave me a new appreciation for the fruit. I am interested in the different types of grapes, trellises and what the differences are.”
Edna Valley’s Paragon Vineyard first planted in 1974, is located in the heart of the valley and represents the first major investment in growing premium wine grape varieties in this cool growing region.
The winery was built six years later, and Edna Valley’s reputation soon flourished. As part of Diageo Wines, Edna Valley Vineyards (EVV) is a leading producer in this respected growing region. EVV produces estate-grown Chardonnay, and has recently expanded its operation to accommodate the increase in its production of premium red wines. The winery also produces Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Muscat Canelli, and Ruby Port.
Here’s a cluster of the featured varieties growing at Edna Valley:
— Sangiovese which produces the best-known red wines in Italy: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. Sangiovese offers lightly colored wines with firm tannins and good acidity, with fruity aromas and flavors.
Grown on a “Verticle Shoot Positioned” VSP trellis, based upon a bilateral cordon of permanent wood with spur-pruned shoot positions along the arms. The VSP holds the shoots in place by at least four foliage wires and all shoots are trained upwards. This design keeps the canopy away from the fruit and allows the grapes to receive full sun and air exposure and helps control excess vine vigor.
— Semillon is the second-most planted white varietal in France. This versatile grape makes a wide range of wines from very dry to sweet dessert types. The vine offers medium-sized clusters and is moderately vigorous with an upright growing habit. VSP trellis.
— Symphony is a modern varietal developed at UC Davis in 1948 by crossing Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria – both used for making off-dry white table wine and sparkling wines. VSP trellis.
— Syrah hails from the Rh ne wine region in Southern France, and is known as Shiraz in Australia and by some American vintners. Its skin is black when fully ripe and displays black cherry and blackberry flavors, a lush wine with a full, viscous mouthful with medium tannin. Grown on a “Smart Dyson” system, the vine is normally spur pruned with half the shoots trained upwards, allowing the fruit to receive more sun exposure and reducing the need to remove leaves.
— Pinot Noir is the noble, red Burgundy varietal of France. This grape prefers a cooler climate and is moderately vigorous. Clusters are small in size and cylindrical in shape. Berries are small and blue-black in color. Grown on a “Scott Henry” system, this design similar to VSP, vertically separates the canopy but half the shoots are trained upwards and the other down. Vine is caned pruned.
— Merlot is one of Bordeaux’s noble red varietals (with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon). A very vigorous vine in fertile soil, its clusters are medium-small and long in shape with reddish-black to black berries. This vine features the “Ballerina” trellis system, a variant of the Scott Henry which half the shoots are trained upwards and balance downwards. The lower shoots are left to fall naturally which provides fruit protection from the sun in areas prone to sunburn.
— Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of all reds. World renown for producing fine, long-lived wines. Vine growth is very vigorous in an upright position. Clusters small and long shaped with black colored berries. The “Lyre” system divides the canopy horizontally with shoots trained to grow vertically upwards, increasing sun exposure and allowing air movement around the vine.
— Sauvignon Blanc, also originated in Bordeaux, is a very aromatic varietal that makes some of the world’s most popular dry white wines. A very vigorous vine that produces small, conical and compact clusters with medium-large green berries. The Lyre system is utilized.
Zinfandel, grown primarily in California, this popular red is reported to have originated in Croatia as Crljenak. This moderately vigorous vine offers clusters that are medium-large, cylindrical and compact. Berries are reddish-black to black in color. Vines are traditionally “head trained” with support of a wood stake, and spur pruned which results in very small pruning wounds and consequently, excellent vine longevity and resistance to fungal infections after pruning. Nearly all the original Cucamonga Valley’s Zinfandel were planted as head trained vines.
Bill also shared with me that his grandfather Filippo Spina lived in New York City and made his own wine from grapes purchased from the local farmer’s market. Bill’s mother told stories how when her father would disassemble their barrels each year, he would have her smell the wood until she could no longer smell the wine from previous years. Bill said his appreciation for wine is in his blood, and that his brother Alex has introduced him to many more vintages than he would not have found on his own.
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at email@example.com
Upland, once considered the lemon capital of the world, is not a place ever included when discussing California’s interesting wine regions, nor is it a hot topic among oenophilias (oenophilia describes a disciplined devotion to, or simply enjoyment of wine), however its foothills are home to Brian and Camille Brandt’s award-winning Brandt Family Winery in San Antonio Heights, and a cluster of vintners including Gregg Denson.
For the past decade, Denson’s interest in growing vines and producing wines has transformed from general interest to deep passion. He first became interested in the viticulture history of Rancho Cucamonga upon his daily commutes past the old Thomas Brothers Winery site. “I began to wonder, this is a great old winery building, but where did all the vines go? With the housing boom, I noticed more and more vineyards being replaced by new homes and retail centers. It made me sad to see such a rich part of the cultural history of Rancho vanish before my eyes,” said Denson who serves as Director of Design at Architerra Design Group in Rancho Cucamonga.
“Originally, my idea was keep a little piece of history and grow the signature Zinfandel grapes of the Cucamonga region; not necessarily make wine. But after three years in the ground, and with grapes on the vine, I harvested and crushed my first small vintage in 2004 from a handful of vines, netting only 10 bottles!”
Denson inquired about growing and producing with his fellow co-worker, John Federico, who had worked the DeAmbrogio Ranch many years before as a young man. “He knew a great deal of history about the vineyard, and right before the property was graded over, we drove through the vineyard rows in winter and picked up some of the recently pruned canes. It’s my understanding that some of the vines on that property were over 100 years old. I thought it would be a good legacy to preserve the parent plants of this vineyard.”
Denson began his vineyard with a dozen vine cuttings, selected from various varieties at the historic DeAmbriogio Ranch. “Maybe half rooted in from the original planting and after a couple of years of growth, I took additional cuttings and increased the number of vines. Currently, I have about 30 Zinfandel vines, 4 Red Malaga, 2 Syrah, 2 Thompson Seedless and 1 Mission on our standard residential 8,000 square foot lot in Upland,” said Denson. “Grapevines pretty much drape most of my yard, with the majority of the vines planted in the front yard sharing space with California native plants. The soil is coarse and littered with stones, gravels and sand. The ancient alluvial soils of the Cucamonga Creek are deep and drain quickly.”
Originally located on the southwest corner of Foothill Blvd (Route 66) at Haven Avenue (west of the Rancho Cucamonga Civic Center), the famed DeAmbrogio Ranch served as the valley’s grape packing and shipping center. “Mary and Frank DeAmbrogio were the last of the large grape packers and shippers of our valley,” said local winemaker Don Galleano. “I remember they were sending their prized Cucamonga Zinfandel grapes to the east coast as late as the early 1980’s via refrigerated trucks. DeAmbrogio Zinfandel grapes were the best in the valley,” said Galleano who worked closely on several vintages with respected Australian-born Enologist Daryl Groom at Geyer Peak Winery – in Geyserville – which produced the highest-rated Cucamonga Zinfandel ever, a “92 point score” in Wine Spectator. Galleano continues farming portions of the vineyards once cared for by the DeAmbrogios.
“Upon first view of the small bush-like vines, and the sandy soils, I fell in love with them. They reminded me of the very old Shiraz vines at Kalimna,” said Groom. “The wine was rich, dark and jammy with a distinct character I called, ‘Cucamonga character’ – a sort of earthy and warm character. It was that Cucamonga site which inspired me to plant zinfandel.”
The front yard vineyard at the Denson home has become a special place. “It’s an annual event of getting together with family, friends and neighbors to enjoy food and wine while we harvest and crush the grapes. It’s always fun to see the look on someone’s face who has never stomped grapes by foot before. There’s always some apprehension, followed by a big smile and laughter. What originally started off as a idea to preserve a portion of viticulture history of the Cucamonga Valley, has blossomed into a family tradition that marks the culmination of another growing season. Each year I bottle up a little gift of Denson Reserva Cucamonga Valley Zinfandel for those who attend our family harvest!
Local wine enthusiasts may also appreciate the small vineyard planting located at the Mercury Insurance building in Rancho Cucamonga, designed by Architerra Design Group in Rancho Cucamonga.
Cucamonga grown Zinfandel wines can be purchased at: Liquorama Fine Wines in Upland, Galleano Winery in Mira Loma, and J. Filippi Winery Rancho Cucamonga. Brandt Family wines can be purchased at Pacific Wine Merchants in Upland
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com
In just a few days, the 72nd Grape Harvest Festival (GHF) presented by the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce uncorks!
The three-day event takes place adjacent to the Rancho Cucamonga Epicenter Sports Complex on Rochester Avenue – south of Foothill Boulevard.
Sponsors for this time-honored celebration of the grape includes city of Rancho Cucamonga, Burrtec Waste, Coca Cola, Total Wine & More, and the Daily Bulletin. The GHF is one of the few festivals offering traditional grape stomps for guests. Bare feet required! Once again, local winemaker Don Galleano will be providing more than one half ton of sweet and juicy red grapes.
The GHF opens Friday, Aug. 19 at 5 p.m. Friday’s Multi-Chamber Mixer is from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Wine Appreciation tent open to public 7:30 – 11 p.m.
Hours on Saturday are 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Arts and crafts, food booths, wine appreciation, and continuous live entertainment are also offered. General admission is $5, wine tasting (adults only) is extra.
Throughout the years, local wineries, service clubs, and hundreds of community volunteers continued to celebrate the tradition of the Grape Harvest Festival (aka Wine Festival) until 1981 when the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce revitalized the festival, creating one of the largest regional events of its kind.
Longtime residents often recall former Festival sites included La Mancha Golf Course, Guasti Regional Park, and Victoria Gardens. In 1987, the Legislature designated the event as officially being “California’s Oldest Grape Harvest Festival.”
The great Cucamonga Valley (aka: Cucamonga-Guasti Wine District), where vineyard planting began in 1838, was once considered the largest wine-growing region in the United States, and included the communities of Rancho Cucamonga (Alta Loma, Cucamonga, Etiwanda, Grapeland, Rochester), Chino, Ontario (Guasti), Fontana, Mira Loma (Wineville), Rialto and Upland (North Ontario, Magnolia), all of which have a rich history rooted in their agricultural past.
Cucamonga’s first large grapevine planting (1838) was at the Cucamonga Rancho by land grantee Tiburcio Tapia. In 1859, rancher John Rains began large vine plantings (125,000 plus). He started a revolution by introducing agriculture on a large scale to replace cattle and sheep raising.
Much of our valley’s grape and wine prosperity, however, is owed to Secondo Guasti (1859-1927), who founded the Italian Vineyard Co. (IVC) in 1883 and built it into a gigantic wine enterprise prior to Prohibition (1919-1933).
In 1917, Guasti was advertising IVC’s vineyards as 5,000 (contiguous) acres, “Largest in the World.” Many are amazed to learn that the Cucamonga Valley vineyards once spanned over 20,000 acres, more than in Sonoma and twice as many as Napa County before Prohibition arrived.
Thomas Pinney, professor emeritus of English at Pomona College, who authored “A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition” (1989) and “From Prohibition to the Present” (2005), references “Cucamonga” and its important role.
“Curiously enough, Cucamonga old vines Zinfandel now enjoy a prestige value such as it never had before; but one wonders how secure a tenure on life those old vines can have. The belated discovery of the outstanding quality of Cucamonga Zinfandel, just as it hovered on the verge of extinction, is one of those bitter ironies of which all history is full,” wrote Pinney in 2005.
The Paul Hofer family was instrumental in the successful operation of a co-op enterprise, the Cucamonga Pioneer Vineyard Association, which included 12 local growers.
“The group farmed over 4,000 acres in the valley and they worked together in an attempt to help control their own destiny,” said Paul Hofer III of Ontario. The Hofer family has been farming in the Cucamonga Valley since 1882.
By 1939, the Cucamonga-Guasti area was home to 41 bonded wineries, 13 brandy distilleries and a storage and fermentation capacity of more than 13 million gallons of wine. By the mid-1940s our east/west oriented valley region included about 55 wineries with 35,000 acres of vines.
By the late 1960s, the Cucamonga area alone accounted for 98 percent of the 9.5 million gallons of wine produced in the Southern California wine district, which included the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Barbara.
In 1995 the “Cucamonga Valley” was officially deemed an American Viticultural Area by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a result of a petition written and filed by myself on behalf of Cucamonga Valley area growers and vintners, conveying long-deserved recognition to the vintners of the historic wine-growing region.
Sadly, the celebrated Cucamonga Valley vast vineyard acreage has been lost to urban expansion. Today, only four of the area’s original wine-growing families (Biane-Tibbetts, Filippi, Galleano and Hofer) remain active. The loss of our vineyard land continues and many of our nation’s oldest vines have disappeared.
Today, commercial producers include Brandt Family Winery Upland (San Antonio Heights), J. Filippi Winery in Rancho Cucamonga, Galleano Winery in Mira Loma, Rancho de Philo Winery in Alta Loma, and The Wine Tailor in Rancho Cucamonga.
There are also a cluster private operators including the Biane Brothers, Chris Capalbo, and George Walker all in Rancho Cucamonga, Ron Mittino in Claremont, and Dana Chandler (Wild Cat Cellars) in Upland.
The GHF offers opportunities for volunteers. If you or your organization is interested in assisting, please contact the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce at 909-987-1012. See you at the wine festival!
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com
Greetings from the vine!
Often times when wine enthusiasts peruse the aisles of their favorite shops and cellars in search of that special drop, the aesthetics of the bottle packaging and name of the wine, often impact the purchase decision.
Unbeknownst to some consumers, there is often much more to the heart and soul of a particular bottle than one may be aware. One such creation is Colby Red.
Two weeks ago I shared the juice from fellow vintner Daryl Groom about his 13-year-old son Colby Rex Groom. I caught up with Daryl who was judging at the Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition at Fairplex Pomona. “Groomy” as he is affectionately called by insiders, is one of the world’s “flying winemakers” and has over 3 decades experience producing wines.
Colby is a young man who endured back-to-back open heart surgeries at the ages of eight and nine. His desire to help others with heart disease provided the idea to inspire his winemaker/enologist father, Daryl to create a red wine to help raise money for heart research.
“My biggest pride and joy, and what has been taking much of my time over the last few months is the launching of a new wine called Colby Red – a 2009 vintage California blend of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, shiraz, merlot and petite sirah,” said Daryl.
“Colby, ever since his surgery, has felt the need give back because he feels part of the reason he is alive is because people have donated to heartresearch. He is the recipient of a mechanical heart valve in his heart.”
“Colby came to me a year ago on a Sunday afternoon and he said, `Dad do you think we could make a wine together? I’d really like to make a wine together.’ I asked him, `Why do you want to make a wine, you know it’s very hard work.”
“He responded that he was really interested in the winemaking process – the science of it,” said Daryl. “He then came back at me and said, `I really want to do it Dad. Do you think the wine will be any good?’ Well, Colby I’ve made wine for 30 years, of course it’s going to be good! Do you think we could sell it and could the profits go to heart research he asked?”
The father and son had planned to make 2 barrels.
“I was telling Colby’s idea and story to one of the wine buyers from Walgreens and they fell in love (with the story) and said they would like to take it on nationally and support us,” said Daryl.
“So from an idea that was going to be making just 2 barrels, we now in 3 months have raised over $115K for heart research, and my son, my wife and I have been traveling around the countryside attending and hosting special fundraisers for the American Heart Association.
“This is a unique and generous red wine, just as Colby is a unique and generous child. I blended five different grape varieties to make a red that’s juicy and velvety smooth, with rich fruit flavors and a soft finish. Colby Red is a wine for sheer delicious enjoyment. While it’s a great wine with food, it tastes best in the company of good friends and family, savored with an appreciation of the gifts each moment brings,” said Daryl.
Colby Red is sold and generously supported by Walgreens nationwide and online at colbyred.com. Priced at about $12.99, the custom blend consists of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, shiraz, merlot and petite sirah.
When he isn’t jetting about to and from Australia and Northern California, Daryl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Colby and his wine please visit colbyred.com and on Facebook at Colby Red Wine
Last week I trekked west to the 72nd Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition (LAIWC) at Fairplex where I discovered confident connoisseurs from around the globe gathered in the Millard Sheets Center for the Arts sniffing, swirling and tasting (not swallowing) over 3,000 wines from the world’s finest producers.
Considered by industry experts be the country’s premier wine judging, the LAIWC featured 64 skilled winemakers/enologists, wine retailers, sommeliers, educators, restaurateurs, and wine journalists.
With tasty Graber olives, neutral flavor crackers (for cleansing the palate) and water at their side, judges were busy discussing and recording findings of color/clarity, nose/bouquet, palate/flavor. Acidity, sugar, alcohol, tannin, balance and finish were a cluster of the terms overheard as they evaluated the red, white, sparkling, dessert, late harvest, blush/rose, organics, fruit, non-alcoholic and sake wines. Whew!
In just two days over 12,000 (1.5 ounce) tastes were poured by skilled LAIWC staff and students. Also included were spirits and extra virgin olive oils. Best of Class, gold, silver or bronze medals were awarded to the winners.
The LAIWC is committed to educating the public about wine, featuring industry experts with extensive knowledge about grape growing, selection, and tasting. “Wine and food pairings continue to play a most important role for consumers.
By providing a new point system, we are helping adults make informed decisions on what wines to buy and try. Combined with the fact that we offer public tastings and educational seminars during our annual L.A. County Fair, we are a valuable resource to wine enthusiasts and beginners alike,” said Dale Coleman, vice president sales, marketing and creative programming. Local students assisted the 16 judging panels.
“We find that the judges enjoy having the college students involved and it is certainly wonderful that they have a chance to meet all these people who are so important in the wine business,” said Margie Ferree Jones, associate professor of the Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona.
The event allowed me to catch up with many friends of the vine including judges Dan Berger of Santa Rosa, Rene Chazottes of Newport Beach, Gary Eberle of Paso Robles, Chuck Keagle of Upland, Daryl Groom of Healdsberg, Marc Lurton of Bordeaux, and Jon C. McPherson of Temecula.
The spirited Daryl Groom is owner/enologist of Groom Wines Australia. His highly acclaimed Australian winery concentrates on shiraz, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel.
He is also involved in several other projects including production of Colby Red, a flavorful California cuvee ($10) inspired by, and named after his 13 year old son Colby who underwent two successful (back to back) heart surgeries at 8 and 9 years of age. The wine is marketed nationally in partnership with Walgreens which to date has raised over $100K for heart research. View http://www.colbyred.com or facebook.com/colbyredwine.
Groom’s DXG brand is a limited-release range of quality wines from premium appellations. His 30 years previous vintage experience includes winemaking and operational management at Penfolds, Geyser Peak Winery, and Beam Wine Estates.
“Groomy” as he is affectionately called by insiders, is one of the world’s “flying winemakers.”
With one harvest down-under, and the other in Northern California, he’s truly on the go year around.
“It’s fun to contrast harvests in both the southern and northern hemispheres each year. When things go well it’s okay,” said Groom, who has been making wines for over 30 years and judged at the LAIWC for 15 years.
“We tasted a flight of 10 viogniers today that were strong and quite delightful. I enjoy seeing the shift in viognier from years ago when they were heavily oaked and chardonnay-like to now they are more elegant and interesting.”
“This varietal shows much better without the influence of oak aging absolutely. It has a lovely honey-suckle and rose petal sort of fruit nuance. It should always be oakless.”
This Aussie offers a keen word on L.A.
“This judging is the best competition without a doubt in the country. It is professionally run, great judges and entries of wines, and it operates smoothly. I think the thing that I like best is the caliber of the judges. You sit at a table with several professionals that not only know about wine, but have so much diversity. For a wine to earn a gold medal here – it’s a damn good bottle of wine! No worries, Gino,” said Groom who participates in 5 to 8 competitions annually.
French enologist Marc Lurton returned to Pomona from one of the world’s most famous winemaking areas – Bordeaux, where there are more than 5,000 ch teaux producing wine, over 20 are owned/operated by the Lurton family.
Lurton judges at several International competitions and travels the world marketing his Ch teaux Reynier vintages. Lurton also worked several years at J. Filippi Winery where he served as Director of Winemaking and directed the popular blends of Deux Mondes.
“We started early yesterday with sauvignon (blanc), and Meritage blends of Bordeaux varietals, then to merlot and zinfandel. My panel tasted over 50 merlots and I can tell you I had to adjust my palate to the American taste,” said Lurton. “I have seen that my judgment was a bit too strict as I was expecting merlot with more flavor and body and the merlot here are much more round and light. The merlot of Bordeaux are more full-bodied.”
“What I enjoy most about this tasting is the professional abilities here. It is very interesting to me to taste with winemakers, distributors, journalists, sommeliers, and it is very organized,” said Lurton.
“We have many wines to critic each day – there are over 100 wines for our panel and you must be at the top to do this and everyone is at the top. We agree and work very well together as no one insists to push a wine forward. It is always it very good ambiance here.”
Winemaster Jon C. McPherson is the director of winemaking at South Coast Winery, Resort and Spa in Temecula. He was most impressed by the quality of the petite sirah and the sparkling wines brought before his panel.
“All the sparklers were brilliant. Exceptional domestics, Cavas from Spain, Proseccos from Italy and the French Champagnes all were great,” said McPherson who also works with Lurton on ultra-premium blends.
The 2011 medal winners will be crowned and announced June 25 at the first-ever FUN Decanted public tasting. This unique event will focus on educating guests about wines while still providing a fun and memorable experience full of delicious foods, music and beverages.
Set in the breezy Wine & Spirits Marketplace at Fairplex, the evening offers guests a casual romp through the world by way of glass or stein. Tickets are $50. per adult and proceeds benefit the educational programs of The Learning Centers at Fairplex.
For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.fairplex.com/wos/wine_competition/AwardsCelebration
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 2 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 16 posts. There was 1 picture uploaded, taking a total of 54kb.
The busiest day of the year was March 4th with 21 views. The most popular post that day was What’s really in the bottle?.
The top referring sites in 2010 were linkedin.com, wine.appellationamerica.com, facebook.com, tips-tools-tutorials.com, and en.wordpress.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for thomas winery rancho cucamonga, oldest winery in california, guasti, thomas vineyards, and chateau reynier.
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
What’s really in the bottle? March 2010
Rancho Cucamonga – Guasti Wine District August 2009
Rancho de Philo Rancho Cucamonga November 2009
Crémant Sparkling Wines December 2009
More than a half century ago, our beautiful Cucamonga Valley was home to more than 50 wineries, most of them family owned and operated, each producing unique wines that reflected subtle differences in soil, sun and vintners’ craft.
Most have been plowed under and left to memory, but a few of the historic vintage structures have stood the test of time, including the Thomas Vineyards Winery at the intersection of Vineyard/Carnelian at Foothill Boulevard along historic Route 66, in Rancho Cucamonga.
The original Cucamonga Rancho dates back to 1839 when the Mexico’s acting Governor Juan Batista Alvarado of Alta California granted approximately 12,000 acres of land to Don Tiburcio Tapia of Los Angeles. A small vineyard was planted and a winery was built from adobe. In 1859, John Rains would set out 125,000 grapevines replacing sheep and cattle ranching.
H. H. and Ida E. Thomas purchased the winery in 1920, and in 1967 my family bought the business and property from brothers Clifford and Webb Thomas. Identified as California historic Landmark No. 490, the winery serves as a reminder of a lost era when the Cucamonga Valley was the heart of California winemaking. Despite the legacy of “California’s Oldest,” history has not been kind to the winery.
Over the past 170 years, proprietors have overcome challenges, including floods, recessions, Prohibition, and ownership struggles. So much of our winery history reads like great fiction, but it is history.
Reno J. Morra of Alta Loma remembers the natural beauty of the property. “The winery was filled with antiques, equipment and historical items. The grounds were like a museum and park together. There were orange groves, tall sycamore, walnut and avocado trees, rose gardens, craftsman house and the old Tapia Homestead east of the winery building and distillery tower,” said Reno with a twinkle in his eyes. “The vineyard extended to Hellman Avenue. The small wooden office building of the Lucas Land Company was in the vineyard.”
On the 25th morning of January 1969, after several days of torrential rain and rapid snow melt, the sand banks of Cucamonga Creek broke at San Bernardino Road. The winery, the Ka-Pu-Kai bowling alley located across the street received the roaring flood waters.
“The day after, I parked near Hellman and walked to the winery. The boulders were big and there was so much debris that the road was not drivable,” said Reno. “We found artifacts, broken wine barrels and bottles spread far south of the winery. Many of us shoveled out 4 feet of mud and debris from the winery through the cold winter nights. Your uncle Bill Nix placed big space heaters at the base of the walls to dry the adobe bricks. After days of cleanup repairs, we set up a temporary sales counter in the parking lot. People came to buy wine and help us. The winery was flooded again one month later, on February 25th.”
Litigation against the county and state followed. I too remember the flood’s destruction. Giant casks had crashed through the massive cellar walls, the tractors and antique cars were buried in mud and rocks, demolishing a 1902 Cadillac, 1925 Stutz Fire Engine and others. It was upsetting. I remember seeing my Dad cry for the first time, trying to explain what had happened to the treasured winery the family had been so proud to have purchased just two years prior.
Local author Don Clucas of Upland said, “During the 1969 flood, we were living in Orange County. We moved to Cucamonga in 1971, and I immediately set about researching the history of our new community. One of the first historical places I went to see was the old Thomas Winery.”
With help from family and friends and after great expense, the winery was rebuilt and business resumed. “One of the things which caught my eye right away was a mark on the window of the old office door,” said Clucas. “This was the high-water mark of the flooding in the building. It was amazing to me how high the water had actually come. Fortunately, the structure still remains to remind us of a valuable part of that history.”
Thomas Vineyards’ popular Old Rancho, Thomas Brothers and Thomas Vineyards wines were produced at the Filippi Fontana winery and by other northern California vintners including Sebastiani in Sonoma. “The cabernet sauvignon and pinot chardonnay sold for approx. 2.75 per (4/5 quart) bottle,” said Reno. “Popular sellers were Cold Duck (sparkling Burgundy), Jubilee Concord, Mead honey, sauterne, rose’, specialty fruit wines and grape juice.”
“I think about those days that I liked so much. It was the group of dedicated people that worked so well together,” said Reno. “Regular customers would come from as far away as Santa Barbara and Los Angeles naturally to buy our wines. There would be people waiting for us to open the doors at 8 a.m. and we were busy until closing at 6 p.m.”
The property was sold again in the mid-‘80s to a retail developer and the winery closed. There have been a few restaurants since come and go. Today, the Thomas Winery Plaza is owned by Legg Mason Real Estate Investors of Los Angeles who recently completed an extensive revitalization of the center including upgrades to exterior facades, new landscaping, historic winery and vineyard artifact relocation and construction of a new Fresh & Easy building.
“The plan for revitalization of the plaza was to open up the site to be more visible from Foothill Boulevard and encourage more traffic to visit the Thomas Winery,” said May Nakajima, Assistant Planner at the City of Rancho Cucamonga. Longtime tenants include Antonino’s Italian Restaurant, Souplantation and Coffee Klatch. The Wine Tailor, producer custom wines opened in 2004.
“The City’s role was to process the application and ensure that the project would not be detrimental to the historic winery buildings,” said Nakajima. “This was a high-profile project. There was much scrutiny in what was being proposed at the “California’s Oldest Winery” site. After many months of meetings, committee reviews, Planning Commission meetings, and even a City Council review, we are confident that the Thomas Winery Plaza is still a unique and special center.”
March 2, 2010
Counterfeit wines? Bogus barrels? The subject has been a dark tale in the world of winemaking and wine marketing for decades if not longer.
It seems that every few years we learn that authorities are investigating new reports that vintners and wine merchants in prestigious regions are involved in a large-scale fraud where vintage wines are being blended with low-quality grape varieties.
A few stories of such grape debate have surfaced over the past in California. Some have reached headlines, and on occasion the guilty vintners were ordered to pay fines and serve jail time. All for selling a few tons of grapes you ask?
The ugly truth popped up again when the BBC reported (Feb. 17) that a dozen “French winemakers and traders have been found guilty of a massive scam to sell more than 3.5 million gallons of French Pinot Noir to a leading US buyer.” Sacrebleu!
The wine in question was sold as a 2007 vintage Pinot Noir for E. & J. Gallo’s Red Bicyclette label. Pinot Noir is regarded as one of the world’s noblest of wine varieties and is considered the hottest wine variety in the marketplace today. It is responsible for the outstanding reds of Burgundy’s C te d’Or.
French customs had found in 2008 that in over three years, approximately 13.5 million liters (3.6 million gallons), of mislabeled wine had been sold to Gallo, the largest family-owned U.S. winery. The producers and traders were both accused of mislabeling as a more expensive grape variety.
“The ordinary wines from the region sell at some 45 euros, or $62, per 100 liters against 97 euros for Pinot Noir – well known abroad for its use in Burgundy wines and prized by American drinkers who favor single-grape wines over blended wines like Bordeaux,” reported the New York Times.
Claude Courset of the Ducasse wine traders was given a six-month suspended prison sentence and has to pay a fine of 45,000 euros. Five other people were sentenced to fines of between 3,000 and 6,000 euros and the remaining six for less. The Sieur d’Arques trading firm of Limoux was ordered to pay 180,000 euros in penalties.
The prosecutor had asked for a tough prison sentence. The judge said: “The scale of the fraud caused severe damage for the wines of the Languedoc for which the United States is an important outlet.”
A lawyer for Sieur d’Arques, Jean-Marie Bourland, told Agence France-Presse: “There is no prejudice. Not a single American consumer complained.”
A lawyer for three other defendants argued his clients had delivered a wine that had Pinot Noir characteristics. Gallo said it was no longer selling any of the wine.
Pinot typically produces its best results in cooler, often fog-prone regions including Oregon’s Willamette Valley and several premium California regions including Chalone, Mount Harlan, Los Carneros, Russian River Valley, Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, Santa Lucia Highlands, and Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County. Pinot Noir also serves as a base for excellent traditional method sparkling wines.
Upon reading the news, I first thought this is the perfect pinot puzzler for Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the incompetent police inspector of the French S ret . Kidding aside, the issue begs the question: What’s really in the bottle that you just purchased?
“Once upon a time you could figure it came exclusively from fresh grapes romantically harvested by cheery field hands, who would sing their way to the winery,” shared wine author and competition chairman Dan Berger of Sonoma County.
“Sorry to burst the bubble, but in the last couple of decades, what passes for some wines may well not be all from fresh grapes. And some of the processes, while entirely legal, sound nefarious. For instance, in an unheralded ruling, the state of California (which produces roughly 90 percent of America’s wine) began to permit water to be added to grape juice before fermentation.”
According to Berger, who publishes his weekly wine newsletter “Vintage Experiences,” the state may have been sweet-talked into this ruling by some wineries that alleged it was needed to add water to facilitate the completion of fermentation.
“The argument was that grapes occasionally get picked so late that sugars are high, so fermentations can’t complete to make a totally dry wine. Water added to the tank helps a fermentation to dryness, so went the argument. But many growers saw this as nothing more than a nasty ploy to pay less for grapes and still make the same amount of wine,” said Berger.
“They said that by allowing grapes to stay on the vine until their sugars were very high, the grapes lost water weight. Since grape growers are paid based on the weight of the fruit they sell, they argued some wineries were turning water into wine.”
I can remember when I was young, watching the winery workers add water to the tons of Zinfandel grapes as they were being moved onto the destemmer by conveyor. Wow I thought!
Winemakers utilize other techniques or “tricks of the trade” as Berger states, for influencing wines “to make them fit a profile that has been determined by market research to be what the consumer wants.” Agreed. Among these are the use of oak barrels for flavoring wine, as well as oak chips, oak staves, shavings, etc.
“Again, these are legal methods, but they contribute to produce wine in a way that robs it of the flavors of the grape and the soil that were once the soul of fine wine,” said Berger.
Wine consumers may assume that the above-mentioned techniques are used in the cellars to improve “only” lower-priced wines. “But a savvy Sonoma County winemaker recently said he was shocked to learn how many very expensive wines are manipulated in some of the above ways. No wonder some people want to see a list of ingredients on all wine labels,” said Berger. Misleading wine labeling?
Sounds like a job for Chief Inspector Clouseau.
Enjoy a glass of wine tonight!
Off the Vine “Thanks” to Dan Berger for his assistance. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at email@example.com