Archive for August, 2009

A Zinfandel Odyssey

August 22, 2009

“Wine is of the earth’ it’s a connection we need, that we seek out as our lives become more cut off from the natural world. It is part of what’s behind the interest in wine that separates it from other alcoholic beverages. Great vineyards are a reflection of that piece of earth the vines grow in and of the sun and rain that fall upon them.” Paul Draper, Vintner

Greetings wine enthusiasts! If exploring new wines or learning more about old vines is one of your learning passions, today’s featured subject, “A Zinfandel Odyssey” authored by friend of the vine Rhoda Stewart may serve as a perfect starting point!

Written with a poet’s flair, researched with a detective’s intense focus, and presented as an enchanting romance, Stewart has come to know Zinfandel like no one else. She shares philosophy, technology, culture and heritage complemented with her beautifully detailed photography capturing the mysterious red grape in all its seasons.

Stewart’s extensive interviews with the grape’s pioneers and current Zin producers including Paul Draper, Don Galleano, Jon McPherson, Joel Peterson, Kent Rosenblum and others, provide the color and depth to make ”A Zinfandel Odyssey” a most entertaining journey through a unique wine’s spirit. Her passion for everything Zinfandel shines through every turn of this 431 page extended love letter of California’s most distinctive grape. She traveled throughout her adopted state and even into Mexico to search out the origins and unveil the mysteries that have always surrounded Zinfandel.

Wine experts agree that Zinfandel has become one of the most popular red wine varieties among American consumers today. It’s a grape with a most confusing history and lineage however, with origins disputed for decades. Until recently Zinfandel was thought to have originated in southern Italy’s Apulia region, where the genetically related Primitivo (di Goia) variety is widely grown. Further research suggested a possible parent/offspring relationship with the Plavic Mali grape from Croatia. Experts conclude notable differences are evident in both vine and wine characteristics of Italy’s Primitivo and California’s Zinfandel.

Zin is the only red grape that compares to Cabernet Sauvignon in total acreage and volume crushed in winery cellars. It is widely planted throughout our state, in a vast range of climactic zones. It reaches its height in the ancient plantings of Amador County’s Sierra Foothills, in northern Sonoma appellations including Dry Creek, Geyserville and others. Zinfandel from Napa, Lodi, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Temecula and Cucamonga Valley winegrowing regions are all prized.

“Zinfandel symbolizes the Cucamonga Valley. It has played a significant role as the grape of choice of commercial and home winemakers throughout the country. Rhoda is passionate about Zinfandel. She followed from the north to south and into Baja California. People who love wine and history would appreciate her book. It’s a great read,” said Don Galleano of Galleano Winery in Mira Loma. Galleano is a fourth-generation grower and winemaker of Cucamonga Valley Zinfandel.

“A Zinfandel Odyssey is the culmination of several years of research and photography. It is magnificently done, and portrays the expansive California Zinfandel scene of the 1990s in wonderful detail and insight. Especially Zinformative, it’s a must-have for every wine consumer,”
said Kent Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda.

Stewart was born in eastern Saskatchewan, Canada. She earned her B.A. from Waterloo University College, Ontario, Canada, in 1963, and her M.A. from University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1968. By 1974, having completed all course work towards her Ph.D., she moved to San Francisco, where she began work as a photographer.

By the time Stewart had joined the Napa Valley College faculty in 1978, she had photo publications in cat, llama, baby animal, and wild flower calendars. Her contributions to wine journals followed soon after her move to Napa, with photos and articles appearing in journals Napa Valley magazine, Wine Country magazine, Practical Winery & Vineyard, GuestWest, Wine Enthusiast, Wine News, Wine Spectator, Sauveur and others. Her first report on Zinfandel appeared in Practical Winery & Vineyard in 1987.

“Rhoda Stewart is clearly the mistress of the Zin image. Not only does she expose us to California Zinfandel in carefully crafted photographs, but she also creates beautifully detailed written images of the many regions and unique individuals involved in the production of California’s heritage grape and wine. A Zinfandel Odyssey has all that a wine aficionado could request: romance, history, exciting characters, and California winemaking lore and myth combined to create a mix that is satisfying, moving, and informative,” said Joel Peterson of Ravenswood in Sonoma.

Stewart is quite active promoting her favorite subject. “I gave a presentation on Zinfandel for a summer offering in Winemaking at NVC last summer, and focused on what have been the major improvements to making Zinfandel better in the years since Repeal of Prohibition, given that the old vines haven’t changed, yet the wine has,” shared Stewart. “That has been my latest interest, following up on Paul Drapers point that putting Zinfandel in small oak barrels has been one of the most revolutionary practices to date in taking Zinfandel wine from a rough peasant-style wine to a world class offering.”

 If you are interested in purchasing your own copy of “A Zinfandel Odyssey” the price is $60. plus sales tax. ”I ship to customers, and will gladly sign, and include an inscription of choice, if I am given the request to do so,” said Stewart. The book is hard bound, with a beautiful jacket. For details, please visit Rhoda Stewart can be reached via email at

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at


Rancho Cucamonga Community Gardens Grows

August 18, 2009

Daily Bulletin – July 24th 2009
Community Gardens of Rancho Cucamonga
by Gino L. Filippi

Remember the days when the air was filled with the scent of citrus blossoms, and summer’s end brought valley growers together for the annual grape harvest? Can you recall the delicious taste of homegrown peaches, figs and tomatoes, or have you ever picked grape clusters and enjoyed their off-the-vine sweetness? Well, let’s gather in the garden!

Today we visit with garden enthusiast, educator and philanthropist Dee Matreyek PhD, to learn more about the Community Gardens of Rancho Cucamonga (CGRC) which Matreyek is advancing with a group of passionate volunteers.

“The gardens effort is collaborative non-profit community project that will include four main components: A community garden in which fruits, vegetables and flowers will be grown for private consumption, public sale, and donation to local food pantries; Acreage for seedless table grapes and wine grapes to help renew and preserve viticulture heritage; A farmer’s market that will sell fresh produce to the public and help generate funds to support the project; An educational component providing programs in nutrition, food production and preservation, organic gardening, and healthy lifestyles, plus a produce and flower exchange opportunity,” said Matreyek.

The CGRC site (15 acres) is located under the Edison power lines on the south side of Foothill Blvd, west of Day Creek Blvd, adjacent to the Foothill Crossing retail center where Sears Grand is located. The property is held by Foothill Crossing LLC, once owned by the Charles Leggio family and home to established Zinfandel grapevines.

“There is a growing national awareness of the value of locally grown fruits and vegetables that can enhance the health and well being of the community’s citizens,” said Matreyek. “With the current economic downturn, and the cascade of problems (poverty, homelessness, food insecurity, diet related health concerns, growing senior citizen needs due to diminishing retirement funds, needs for cheaper, alternative green energy solutions, etc.), there is a tremendous need to develop projects that focus on community sustainability.”

The gardens will provide educational opportunities, not only for children, but for everyone within the community. “We will be collaborating with the local school districts to develop curriculum around the subject of food production, horticulture, nutrition, gardening and healthy lifestyles. With the help of the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners many of these programs will also be offered to the public,” said Matreyek. We plan to develop a volunteer program pairing up high school students who need community service hours with those who may need extra help in their garden plots.

Growing food together has the similar value as breaking bread together. We become acquainted with our neighbors, share information, and feel more connected to our larger community. Matreyek points out that there are many additional benefits to developing and growing a community garden including; helping to feed people and save money, promotes healthier lifestyles and communities, helps people learn about civic participation, provides job training, increases access to healthy foods, preserves cultural heritage, provides children with an outdoor place to learn.

Edward J. Dietl of Rancho Cucamonga is supportive because he appreciates being able to grow, share and purchase fresh vine ripened fruits and vegetables in our local area. “Most purchases of produce from our supermarkets were shipped long before it ripens, to promote longevity and texture for shipping. This leaves our produce hard and tasteless and rife with pesticides,” said Dietl who moved his family from western New York in 1972 to a place called Cucamonga. “I had seen so much of our local history turned into condos, fast food restaurants, and strip malls, that I started the Historical Preservation Association of Rancho Cucamonga in an attempt to save some of our history and heritage. I believe the community garden project fits very well in our efforts to teach our citizens the importance we have in the viticulture and production of citrus in our area. Those who may reside in homes with no lots or in condominiums will have the opportunity to enjoy being a part of a community garden. Let’s get the youth out of the mall and into our rich soil.”

There are many things to consider before digging the first hole, and firms are giving in-kind support with their time, expertise, and materials. “Of course, we also are in need of some financial assistance. We are raising money to pay Edison to review our site plans and we will need help with the irrigation infrastructure. We are currently embarking on a membership drive. We welcome all levels of participation and appreciate your consideration of support with the gardens project,” said Matreyek.

With help from volunteers, the CGRC has established collaborative partnerships with local organizations including: Architerra Landscape Design Rancho Cucamonga, Burrtec, The Restorative Justice Center, Cucamonga Valley Viticultural Conservancy, Foothill Crossing LLC, Laird Construction, Brad Buller Land Matters, Hydro-Scape Products Rancho Cucamonga, Northtown Housing Development Corporation, University of California Cooperative Extension – San Bernardino County Master Gardeners, San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, San Bernardino County Department of Agriculture, So California Edison, the City of Rancho Cucamonga, the Cucamonga Valley Water District, Pitassi Architects, Toro Irrigation, Diversified Pacific, San Bernardino County Resource Conservation District, California Table Grape Commission, the Rancho Cucamonga Senior Center, and the Rotary Club of Rancho Cucamonga, local schools districts and churches.

CGRC Membership contributions: $10. Friend of the Garden, $20. Individual, $40. Family, $50. Business or Organization, $100. Founding Member, $500. and above Garden Sponsor

Dee Matreyek can be reached at or call 909-946-6092

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at

Brandt Family Winery – Syrah & more

August 17, 2009

Brandt Family Winery, Upland – San Antonio Heights
Brian and Camille Brandt grow and produce premium, handcrafted wines while raising their five daughters and son.

A true vintner at heart, Brandt contracted the wine bug about 10 years ago. He is keen, focused and possesses great passion for the grape.

“My first taste of the wine business began in 1998, when my father-in-law Fred Paciocco and I started Pacific Wine Merchants in downtown Upland,” said a smiling Brandt. “In 1999, Camille and I planted approximately 400 vines on one acre at our home. I started growing grapes as an experiment.” About the same time the vines went in, the young Uplander enrolled in home winemaking and small vineyard management courses at UC Riverside. He read every book he could find about winemaking and wine technology, and filled binders with his notes on vinification techniques.

An attorney by profession, Brandt fermented his first juice from Zinfandel grapes grown in the Cucamonga Valley. All of the wines from that first harvest went on to win wine competitions.

Brandt Family Winery started producing its first commercial wines in 2002.

“We made five different wines in our garage that year, including two Rancho Cucamonga grown Zinfandels,” Brandt recalled. “We also produced a Sangiovese, a Grenache from the Hofer Ranch in Ontario, as well as importing Petite Sirah grapes from the Lodi area.” The wines are produced, aged and bottled on site in a beautiful new cellar building adjacent to the family’s home.

That’s where many new oak wine barrels and modern winemaking equipment are proudly on display. Annual production is 500 cases (6,000 bottles).

Brandt understands that fine winemaking begins in the vineyard. Over the past five years BFW has released several varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon from Temecula Valley vines, Syrah from Paso Robles, and Syrah from Fess Parker’s Rodney’s and Camp Four vineyards in Santa Barbara.

“I am constantly on the lookout for the highest quality grapes possible, especially from up-and-coming regions,” he said.

Visit or call Pacific Wine Merchants at 909-946-6782 for upcoming releases. Ask about Brandt Family Winery Grenache Noir and new Syrah releases.

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at

Rancho Cucamonga – Guasti Wine District

August 17, 2009

Cucamonga-Guasti Wine District by Gino L. Filippi April 2009

Cucamonga-Guasti wine historian Reno J. Morra can recall when the scenery in our valley was nothing short of majestic – reminiscent of Italy’s Piedmont region that his parents and other countrymen and women left behind. They immigrated to towns named Cucamonga, Etiwanda, Fontana, Grapeland, Guasti and Mira Loma filled with hope and desire for a better life in a new wine country, and a desire for their children to become Americans.

“My parents arrived in Guasti in 1934, and they lived and worked there for 17 years. My father as a foreman for Mr. Guasti’s Italian Vineyard Company, my mother helped with bottling,” said Reno of Alta Loma. “Before I was drafted, I worked summers for the winery’s machinist Vic Danzo, building and repairing cellar and vineyard equipment. We enjoyed life in Guasti very much.”

Cucamonga Valley (CV) viticulture history is as complex as the old head-trained Mission, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel grapevines that dominated the landscape for more than 150 years. From the cool rocky foothill terraces, to the warm sandy valley floor, Cucamonga’s terroir provided natural springs, ideal drainage and growing conditions for Old World varieties.

“If the founding vintners of the CV could have looked into a crystal ball to see the future of winemaking, they probably would have noted with irony the fact that they had become victims of their own success,” wrote Rob Leicester Wagner in “Sleeping Giant,” the 2004 illustrated history of the Inland Empire.

The valley’s first plantings were made in 1838 at the Cucamonga Rancho by land grantee Tiburcio Tapia. In 1859, John Rains began large vine plantings, starting a revolution by introducing 175,000 vine bearing grapes to his 320 acres, replacing cattle and sheep.

Much of CV’s vintage prosperity is owed to Secondo Guasti (1859-1927), who founded the Italian Vineyard Co. (IVC) in 1883, and built it into a gigantic wine enterprise. In 1917, Guasti was advertising IVC’s vineyard – 5,000 contiguous vine to vine acres – as the “Largest in the World.”

“The first time I laid eyes on my wife, I knew I would never behold a more beautiful sight until I stood on the crest of the Cucamonga Valley,” Guasti once said. “Surely, I thought, this is heaven’s doorstep.” The valley was not much more than a patch of desert, but he observed that the winter floods raging down the mountainside flowed only as far as the valley floor. There would be enough moisture to sustain vines.
The Sainsevain brothers – Pierre and Jean Louis were instrumental in Southern California winemaking well before the arrival of Secondo Guasti and other Italian and French vintners who developed the Inland Valley wine industry at the start of the 20th century.
Jean Louis became winery superintendent on the holdings of the original Rancho Cucamonga, whose grapes were planted in 1839 near today’s Foothill Boulevard and Vineyard Avenue. Pierre imported grape cuttings from France and planted a number of new varieties.
“A very superior article of wine grown in San Bernardino County is now on the market and is attracting considerable attention … from consumers of the juices of the grape,” praised the San Francisco Times in 1869 about the brothers’ wines. “It is known as Cocomun- go, or California Madeira wine, and is pronounced by competent judges to be as fine an article as manufactured in the world.”

“Obviously the region’s early wine pioneers fully understood its terroir. Selections of French Rhone varietals including Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignane, Cinsault and the white grape Monbadon were planted widely. Zinfandel was one of the main cultivars owing to its popularity in California at that time,” said Jon McPherson Winemaster at South Coast Winery in nearby Temecula Valley wine region.

Traditional head-training was selected, not a wire trellis, but rather trained to a vertical trunk, with or without a wood stake support. Etiwanda table grape growers included George F. Johnston who was instrumental in developing the Thompson Seedless grape with partner William Thompson. Johnston perfected “girdling” – the removing of a strip of trunk down to the wood of the vine at bloom to increase berry size and set more heavily. Girdling within two to three weeks of ripening can also speed up ripening.
Nearly all area vineyards were planted on a square grid.

CV’s oldest vines are low yielding and not irrigated, yet still produce incredible fruit. By 1919, CV vines spanned over 20,000 acres, more than in Sonoma and twice as many as Napa County as wartime Prohibition was enacted. The Volstead National Prohibition Act and the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1920), forbade the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”
Since each “head of household” was permitted to make 200 gallons, CV grown red grapes, primarily Zinfandel, was the choice for home winemakers. Zin’s thick skin and high natural sugar levels proved ideal and the wood-boxed clusters shipped well.
The alcohol ban ended in December 1933 and left a legacy of distorting the role of wine in American life, ruining a fledgling world-class industry. It took decades for hard-working vintners to overcome the damage. When repealed, only 140 wineries remained in operation statewide.
Rains, Guasti and a few others were instrumental in establishing productive vineyards beyond the confines of Los Angeles, but it was a new crop of immigrants and their offspring that brought post-Prohibition winemaking to a fine art. Like California, CV boomed with startup family operations including Accomazzo, Aggazzotti, Campanella, Cherpin, DiCarlo, Ellena, A. Filippi, J. Filippi, Galleano, Guidera, Liabeuf, Masi, Opici and Romolo.

Hundreds of post-Prohibition wineries statewide deserve credit for helping revive California’s wine industry. Even the mighty Gallo family once operated a large modern CV winery. The Vaché/Biane family operation had been a part if the Inland Empire landscape long before Prohibition, but had been eclipsed by Guasti. Philo Biane and family would grow their Brookside Vineyard Company in Guasti into one of the state’s largest. The Bianes also expanded to Temecula, making the first large plantings from 1967 to ’71 for many wineries, including Callaway, Cilurzo, Mount Palomar (Poole).
Reno’s summertime flight in the ‘40s over the vast vineyards and citrus groves in an authentic U.S. Air Force training plane is noteworthy.  “As we flew above, thousands of acres of lush green vines filled the valley floor. It was the most beautiful sight my eyes had ever seen in my life. We followed the foothills from east to west and circled around south of the airport. My only wish was for others to have seen the view. If only I had a camera.”
By 1939, CV 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 ‘40s our east/west oriented valley region hosted more than 60 wineries and approx. 40,000 acres of vines. By the ‘60s, California was generally known for its large productions of sweeter fortified port-style and hearty red wines sold in gallon jugs, and CV was no different.

Educated winemakers soon emerged and directed a renaissance with a focus on new technologies and quality. “The advent of technology and science-backed winemaking practices eroded away the old-school approaches that were so prevalent from the ‘40s to the ‘60s,” said McPherson.

In 1968, CV accounted for 98 percent of the 47.5 million bottles 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, only 2,000 acres were farmed, with 5 bonded wineries in operation.

I remember visiting with Champagne Master Primo Scorsatto. He stated that in the ‘50s and ‘60s, CV led the country in domestic sparkling wine production. Scorsatto worked at the Vai Brothers Winery on 8th Street – also the former home of Padre Winery, Cucamonga Vineyard Company, and the Pierre Biane Winery today.
Thousands of men and women nurtured the vines for more than a century. Family growers included Belletrutti, Bruno, Carrari, Cherbak, DeAmbrogio, DeBerard, DeVito, Johnston, Lopez, Mandala, Merrille, Modica, Sanchez and Vernola. As the quality of California wines improved, the state received international attention. Unfortunately, CV would be overshadowed by the vintners in the north. Consumer tastes matured and favored less sweet wines.

Ever-increasing land values resulted in vineyard owners either having to plant varieties more in demand, or selling their vineyards. CV was officially approved as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a result of a petition written and filed by Gino L. Filippi on behalf of area growers and vintners. This law enables producers to utilize “Cucamonga Valley” on wine labels containing not less than 75% of the volume of the wine derived from grapes grown here.
In the past 15 years, local vintners have made significant investment in vineyard revitalization and new plantings, namely Biane-Tibbetts (Rancho de Philo), Filippi, Galleano and Paul Hofer, III – whose family has farmed the CV since 1882 at Hofer Ranch Ontario. Newcomers include the Brandt Family Winery and The Wine Tailor, plus a cluster of home winemakers, Dana Chandler of Upland, Ron Mittino of Claremont, Chris Capalbo and George Walker of Rancho Cucamonga.

Highly skilled and respected enologists have demonstrated that premium quality wines can be achieved consistently from CV, including Etienne Cowper and Jon McPherson in Temecula, Daryl Groom of Australia, Marc Lurton of Bordeaux, Carol Shelton in Healdsburg and Steve Felton in Paso Robles.

4th generation grower/winemaker Don Galleano assists vintners statewide sourcing CV fruit for their productions, including Callaway, Carol Shelton, Firestone, Norman Vineyards and South Coast. The Galleano Winery in Mira Loma is Riverside County’s oldest winery, and in 1993 it was designated as a County Historical Landmark and a State of California Point of Historical Interest. In 2003 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Places.

Two most impressive vintage collaborations involved overseas winemakers Groom of Australia and Lurton of France. Both brought new attitudes, approach, and reputations for fine winemaking.

Geyser Peak Winery’s Cucamonga Valley DeAmbrogio Ranch Zinfandel was farmed by Galleano Winery and produced by Groom at Geyser Peak. The vintages remain the highest ever rated Zins from CV.

“Upon first view of the small bush-like vines, and the sandy soils, I fell in love with them. The wine was rich, dark and jammy with a distinct character I called, ‘Cucamonga character’ – a sort of earthy and warm character. I think our first release earned a 92 point score from Wine Spectator. It was that Cucamonga site which inspired me to plant zinfandel,” said Groom who grew up in Adelaide Australia and is perhaps best known for his many years at Geyser Peak – a world-class producer.

“I knew that with Don’s vast experience and intimate knowledge of the Cucamonga vineyards and the passion we both shared with the true value of the grapes, we could make it happen. It was very gratifying. The wine we made was truly great.

“It was an awesome experience for a native Australian to be able to get the time I did working with grapes from one of the USA’s most historic grape growing regions. And not any grapes, these were planted by pioneers at the turn of the 19th century,” said Groom, who resides in Healdsburg.

The DeAmbrogio Ranch was located along Haven Avenue, west of the RC Civic Center. The vines are gone other than those few that were grown from cuttings by caring historians at Cal Poly Pomona University.

Bordeaux Enologist Marc Lurton and Gino L. Filippi created the Deux Mondes “Two Worlds” Reserve label at J. Filippi. The 2003 vintage – a unique Bordeaux-style blend from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, with Syrah and Petite Sirah, all grown in Etiwanda and aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrels. The 2004 was the first ultra-premium blend of Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot with CV Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel.

“During the 10 years I worked at the Filippi Winery I have seen the high potential of the valley. CV Cabernet is never going to be as good as Napa Valley, but can we create blends that no one else can match,” said Lurton of Deux Mondes. “We proved a premium wine from the valley was possible.”

“The valley guards many layers of complexity that can be greatly and harmoniously achieved by considering the different characteristics of the grapes associated with its terroir,” said Enologist Christian Perez of Chile, a former Filippi and Rancho de Philo cellar assistant.

The value of CV goes beyond the quality of its vines, as the region is also home to a tradition of unique fortified wines, including the world-class Triple Cream Sherry crafted by Janine Biane-Tibbetts at Rancho de Philo in Alta Loma.

CV’s viticulture heritage has been embraced by the City of Rancho Cucamonga, City of Ontario, City of Fontana, Cal Poly Pomona University, Chaffey College, San Bernardino County Museum, The Cooper Regional History Museum, the Cucamonga Valley Viticultural Conservancy and others. “The City of Rancho Cucamonga never lost heart for its agriculture heritage,” said former Rancho Cucamonga City Planner Brad Buller. “But it takes more than city hall. It takes heart; it takes vision; it takes somebody like Gino and Joey to be a catalyst for the community.”
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.
“I think Daryl Groom hit on one of the main reasons that the Cucamonga Valley Viticultural Conservancy was created. He has stated what all of us who live here have seen. Namely, that so much of this great and historic wine region has been lost to development. It is through the CVVC that we can educate the residents of the Cucamonga Valley in order to preserve what remains of the original vines and culture,” said Dr. Mark E. Comunale, President CVVC.

©2009 Gino L. Filippi – Off the Vine

Gino can be reached at

Oak wine barrel influence

August 17, 2009

Off the vine: The role barrels play in aging of wine
By Gino L. Filippi

It has been written that if grapegrowing and fermentation are analogous to the birth of a wine, barrel-aging can be likened to its formal education. Wine is not made by formula, but by following preferences of taste and flavor.

Today we examine more closely oak barrels and their influence on finer wine production. Exactly who constructed the first barrel is not known, but the history of barrel-making is interwoven with the history of wine.

The practice of storing and transporting wine in wooden casks made its appearance in Europe in first century B.C. in the territories of the Celts and the Illyrians. In 92 A.D., in an early example of protectionism, the emperor Domitien decided to destroy the Gallic vineyards which had become a major force in wine production. Around the same time Pline the Elder noted the appearance, in the regions near the Alps, of an exceptional vessel specially conceived to hold wine: the wooden barrel. It was used in the colder countries, while elsewhere wine was stored in earthenware vases.

Why are white oak barrels used so extensively today? Because white oak is indispensable to the conservation and aging of fine wine, carbon dioxide and volatile ethers that cloak the aroma of the wine evaporate through the wood. Evaporation occurs because the barrel is similar to a filter, allowing water and alcohol to diffuse through the wood. Thus, the remaining wine becomes slightly more concentrated in flavor and character. A real transformation of the wine occurs. Slow oxidation, allowed by the porosity of the wood, helps the wine lose its astringency and harshness, giving way to softness and suppleness instead. Generally speaking, red wines take on a warmer color and lose their purple-blueness.

Around the 1950s, American winegrowers discovered French barrels. Afterwards, all wine-producing countries looked to improving the quality of their wine by keeping it in French oak.

Today, white oak barrels of French, American, Hungarian and other origins are commonly used throughout wineries worldwide. Each wood type offers a different flavor profile to the wine (more on this issue in a future article).

Utilizing wood to age wine is complicated as it must communicate a good taste, without allowing oozing; it must be resistant, but have a certain suppleness to allow the working (bending) of the wood while communicating some of its tannins. It is white oak that best fulfills these conditions.

Chestnut wood has all the necessary qualities but is too rich in tannin, bringing much harshness to the wine. It is also too porous and the evaporation is twice that of oak.

There are 400 identified botanical species of oak. The predominant species:
– Quercus robur or q. pedunculata. Other designations for this oak include English oak, robur oak and pedunculate oak. The Forest of Tronais is typically robur, but there are hybrids. The wood is of excellent quality; tender and fine-grained. This species prefers hills or even mountains and accounts for 14 percent of the total surface area in forestry.

– Quercus sessiliflora or q. petraea, also commonly known as sessile oak. The wood is also excellent quality, especially for the main trunk (the stave-wood.) This represents 19 percent of the total surface area in forestry. The local terrain and climate also determine the characteristics of the wood. All of the following regions in France provide oak for barrels, although three regions are best known: Argonne, Allier & Tronais (considered as the same forest), Bourgogne (Burgundy), Cantal, Cher, Nivre Creuse, Corrze, Gers, Haute Vienne, Indre, Limousin, Loir-et-Cher, (Nevers), Prigord, Puy de Dme, Rhne et Vosges.

What barrel for what wine?
The grape variety must be taken into account, and the nature of the vintage. When in contact with the wood, wine undergoes many changes. The choice of wine for aging must be taken into account because it is not the barrel that will determine the final quality of the wine. The aroma of the wine develops first and becomes more complex upon contact with the wood.

The wood yields many of its inherent substances to the wine, or substances that are formed during the heating of the barrels when manufactured. There then follows a range of transformations and slow, controlled oxidation thanks to the porosity of the wood. Then, in moderate quantities, the wood yields its extractable and aromatic components.

Louis Pasteur, at the request of Napoleon III in 1863, was the first to study the phenomenon of oxidation-reduction. He had been instructed to find the reasons for wine spoilage. He found that wine, even when carefully protected from contact with air, would absorb oxygen and this can happen through the staves but in particular during racking. He gave the example of a barrel in the Clos de Vougeot which would produce a younger tasting wine than other barrels because it had been painted. His conclusion was that excessive contact with the air allowed vinegar-producing bacteria to flourish. On the other hand he found that very slight amounts of oxygen helped maturation of the wine even during several years after bottling due to dissolved oxygen in the wine.

The structure of the wood has more impact than its geographical origin. The coarse grain gives a coarser and more “rustic” character with a touch of bitterness at the end of the taste analysis; the evolution of the phenolic compounds in a wine during the first few months of ageing is accompanied by a progressive reduction of the free anthocyanidins and virtual stacking of tannins to create larger, complex, heavy structures.
“A wine which is rich in these large tannin strings will respond well to the new oak at the beginning of maturation. A well-matured wine must focus on its own intrinsic characteristics.

Fine grain gives woodiness faster than coarse-grained wood. The fine grain is often preferable after some months of aging, then one notices that the coarse grain is preferable for the same geographical origin, the lowest appreciation is caused by excess woodiness which is accompanied by slight bitterness and dryness in the finish.

Fine grain is more appreciated for white wines. In red wines, the natural polyphenol composition means the effect of the grain has less importance.
New wines need a tannin support – useful for the first finings – this is why new casks are normally used.

“Bordeaux” barrels have a capacity of 225 liters min. (60 gal), “Burgundy” barrels 228 litres (60.8 gal), a “Mâconnais” 212 litres (56.5 gal).

Each different region has its barrel shapes and capacities which constitute a brand of origin and authenticity. When the metric system was adopted in France, there were efforts to apply the reform to barrel-making, giving fixed, uniform shapes and dimensions.

“La Chauffe” (heating): the barrel must be put back over the burner to reheat it. This second heating allows evaporation of the moisture used in wetting, but most importantly, to seal the fibers of the wood to avoid movement and breakage of the staves. Winemakers demand different degrees of toasting (the caramelization of the wood rather than charring) depending on their aims and experience.

Toasting may be light, medium or heavy. Certain winemakers request for the barrelheads only to be charred.

There is one issue that all winemakers unanimously agree, a sound cellar and barrel maintenance/sterilization program (more on this subject coming soon) is essential in maintaining a bacteria free environment.

Enjoy a glass of wine tonight!

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at

Palate pleasing food and wine

August 14, 2009

Palate pleasing Food & Wine pairings

Have you ever wondered why one wine complements certain foods far more than another? Or how does one delicate change in the kitchen transform the pairing from simply appetizing to delightfully palate pleasing? It’s time to experiment!

We’ve all heard suggestions that certain types of wines should be served with specific foods. Because taste is a most subjective experience, we each have our own unique preferences. To help understand how a wine influences the flavor of food we need to examine the basic elements of taste, which include: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and protein.

“Sweet and protein reduce wine aromas which make wine textures (acidity, bitterness, stringency and tannins) appear stronger. Sour and salt make wine textures milder (richer, smoother, sweeter) and accentuate aromas. Sweetness in foods will increase the perception of bitterness and astringency in wine – making it seem less sweet (drier), less fruity and stronger,” shared Dr. Margie Ferree Jones, Associate Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management Cal Poly University Pomona.

In addition, spicy seasonings will exaggerate the tannins and bitterness in a wine, but adding something salty or sour (vinegars, lime, lemon, dry wine reductions) to the food will counteract this effect. A bitter taste is commonly found in some green vegetables and herbs.”

Here’s a few pairing suggestions from my friend of the vine, Chef-Instructor Ernie Briones at The Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona.

Chef Briones’ grilled pizzas paired well with chilled Sauvignon Blanc. I enjoyed the first pizza “Margareta” featuring vine-ripened red tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil. The second was the veggie pizza with ratatouille (eggplant, zucchini, red and yellow bell peppers, yellow squash) with garlic and hint of fennel. The white wine’s acidity and crispness helped compliment the ratatouille. It was refreshing and brought brightness of flavors to the pizza Margareta.

A slightly sweet Riesling was a tasty pour with both pizzas as well, as the wine’s fruitiness and acidity worked well with the smokiness of the grilled dough. Why grill pizza dough? “To add another dimension of flavor. I felt the smokiness of the grill would be a good counterpoint to the acidity in the white wines. Grilling adds flavor without additional fat,” said Chef Briones.

Pairing a wine with roasted veggies is interesting. Because asparagus posses unique and distinctive flavors, it can be an odd wine pairing. “I chose to roast the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh garlic, rosemary and basil versus steaming. Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars and helps off-set the unfavorable hints of vegetal that asparagus offers when pairing with wine,” shared Chef Briones. The Sauvignon Blanc worked well.

Another pleasant surprise was Pinot Noir with the asparagus. Generally a “wine foe” due to asparagus often displays metallic-like off flavor when pairing with wine.

Delicately textured and flavored foods require delicate wines, just as weighty, powerful foods are generally better matched with powerful wines. “To achieve a good match it is ideal to consider the basic components of food and wine, and ‘balance’ them so that one does not overpower the other. It is important to consider food flavors and textures.”

“Protein dominant foods, low in salt, also pair well with crisp and fruity style wines. Bitter foods, such as endive, arugula or smoked meats, can combine with the bitterness inherent in oak/tannins, making non oaked, crisp, light intensity wines an ideal match too,” said Jones.

Understanding taste is important in pairing wines with foods because you may want to complement or contrast the taste of the wine with the taste of the food in your pairings.

The tip of the tongue detects sweetness, while the inner sides of the tongue detect sourness and/or acidity. The outer sides of the tongue detect saltiness. The back of the tongue detects bitterness and/or alcohol.

A knockout combination is the pairing of sweet cream sherry with soft bleu cheese from Maytag Farms Iowa. The sweet/salt balance was perfect. “It is creamy, not too salty or sharp, with a hint of spice from the aging. Very well balanced and perfect when served at room temperature,” shared Chef Briones.

My favorite pairing was dark chocolate with the Petite Verdot. With the almonds or without, it did not make a difference. Chef Briones commented that he also liked this pairing because the fruitiness of the wine helped to balance the slight bitterness in the dark chocolate.

Margie suggested trying the Rancho de Philo sherry with Keebler’s Pecan Sandies shortbread cookies. Discover your own preferences!

The Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona
The Collins College of Hospitality Management is one of the “Top Three” hospitality programs in the country. Contributions from the hospitality industry built the 41,000 square foot, $10.2 million facility.

For more information on The Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch call 909-869-4700 or email

Wine Lovers’ Page for Food and Wine Matching
Check out the oldest, largest and most popular independent wine-appreciation site on the internet is dedicated to the premise that fine wine is a feast for all the senses – including the mind. And that you don’t have to be a snob to appreciate wine’s pleasures.

Don’t fret about matching the right food with the exact wine to complement – this tasty decision isn’t really as tough as all that. It may help to keep in mind the simple reality that humans have been matching wine with food for more than 5,000 years, and most wines will pair nicely with most dishes. It’s easy to go right, and hard to go wrong, as only a few combinations don’t work well. offers objective consumer-oriented tips on wines of good value, and make you a part of our international online community of wine lovers who enjoy intelligent talk about good things to eat and drink. Whether you’re new to the world of wine, an expert wine taster or a wine professional, you’ll find something of interest.

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at

Home winemaking passion

August 13, 2009

Buon giorno amanti di vino!

The psychology of wine appreciation often begins and ends on the palate. Viticulture (science of growing grapes) and enology (science of making wine), which includes fermentation, fining, aging, blending and bottling, are typically reserved for commercial enterprises. Few oenophiles possess the required knowledge, focus and depth of passion to embrace the process with as much fervor as they do for the uncorked bottle. However, Ron Mittino of Claremont is a home winemaker who fully understands that vinification encompasses much more than investment of time, dollars and equipment. It fosters an appreciation for an artisan’s approach to a time honored tradition.

“Winemaking is a celebration of tradition, with gratitude for our ancestors. Their love, care, hard work and habits made us who we are,” said Mittino, whose first memories are helping his Great Uncle Quirino Cinciripini and fellow vintner Alfonso Vagnozzi make wine in the fifties.

“My dad, Pete, sold wine grapes in Detroit each fall, mostly from the vines of Cucamonga. He took me to vineyards, packing sheds and basements filled with barrels of homemade wine, all of which evidenced the beauty of grapes,” said Mittino. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s Alfonso and I made wine a few times from local Zinfandel and Mission. The grapes came from Nino Galleano, John Facciani or Remo Paul. Our wine was always a bit rough. Good with garlic or anchovies.”

Mittino purchased grapes from Bob DeBerard’s ranch at 6th Street and Archibald – a mix of Zinfandel, Sangiovese and a dark skinned Spanish varietal which was added for its deep purple hue. “The wine was excellent until we mixed in an older vintage to top off the barrel. The finished wine was okay, but not great.”

“In 2006 we again harvested from DeBerard’s vineyard. I remember part of the vineyard had been replanted, but then it was sold to be developed,” said Mittino. “Of course the land is still undeveloped, and that beautiful vineyard has been allowed to die. We fermented Zinfandel grapes exclusively that year and the wine actually won a Silver Medal at the 2007 L.A. County Fair Home Winemaking Competition. That was incredibly exciting. My mom, Maria, who upon hearing that we won a Silver Medal said, “If you had listened to me and done it right you would have won a gold medal!”

For the past two years Mittino and Company have procured Napa Valley Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from Rutherford. “My parents lived in St. Helena for quite a while and the friend of a friend heard about us and wanted to support home winemakers. Last year’s vintage is a blend of the two grapes and once again we entered it into the competition.”

The “Rutherford Bench”, Napa Valley’s most prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon growing area, is approximately 6 square miles, beginning just south of Cakebread Cellars and Beaulieu Vineyards #2, along Highway 29.

Rutherford’s “dust” is as unique as the wine produced. The crème de la crème of Rutherford wine comes from a narrow strip of land between the western mountains and the valley floor. The vines produce grapes with unmatched flavor and intensity.

Just a few days ago Mittino returned from Napa where he examined the full vines, with heavy ripening clusters. “It appears as though there will be a lessened demand this harvest, hence an excellent chance for us to obtain extra Rutherford grapes,” said Mittino. “The vineyards are incredibly beautiful this time of year. We are again hoping for a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, probably arriving the third weekend in September.”

Over the past couple years, Mittino and friends of the vine Don Gardner, Johnny Hendon and Mike Reese have processed approximately 3,000 lbs of grapes, yielding enough finished wine for one full barrel (approx 55 gallons / 300 bottles) for each for the three families and relatives.
They have stomped and crushed with their feet, an old hand crusher, Mittino’s Uncle Quirino’s old motorized crusher from the ‘50s, and a rented crusher/de-stemmer. “We also have the antique wine press that my uncle and Alfonso used. It passed from my uncle, to Alfonso, to Carlo Fusco, a barber in downtown Upland (who did Alfonso’s hair for years), and back to me. It’s a very cool piece,” said Mittino.

“I think winemaking is a wonderful bridge builder – between people themselves and between people and the bounty of the land. It makes for a great celebration of life. Winemaking is very social and connecting. Our winemaking adventure has brought together many people of all ages and our extended family as well. Don Gardner, Johnny Hendon, Mike Reese and I have been the principals. We don’t work alone. There is something magical about it for all generations that transcend age. My cousin Don dipped his granddaughter’s feet into the must (fresh crushed juice, skins and seeds) last year and she loved it. My kids and their friends love to help and it seems that all ages get a kick out of one stage or another.”

It’s not just work for the families involved. “We eat and play as well. Last year’s bocce tournament was almost won by one of our mom’s and her daughter, having whipped most of the men in the family,” said Mittino. “We smile and laugh quite a bit, especially when we do something right.”

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at