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