Pouring the Gold at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition 2014
Located on Historic Route 66 near Victoria Gardens (Foothill Blvd at Day Creek Blvd, west of Sears Grand) in Rancho Cucamonga, R66CG is a 15 acre collaborative nonprofit community garden project founded in 2011 by Matreyek.
On a bright sunny morning earlier this month, I visited the Root 66 Community Garden and Vineyard (R66CG) where I found Dee Matreyek, Ph.D., Director, and local vintner Mario DiCarlo setting posts and planting grapevines with their families.
DiCarlo is proprietor of Aggazzotti – DiCarlo Vineyard Co., and is moving forward with his first large new planting (3,000 vines). He is dedicated to the grape. It’s part of his DNA. His family started growing grapes in the sandy, well-draining soils of Cucamonga in the early 1900’s. His grandfather from his mother’s side was Dr. Carlo Aggazzotti of Aggazzotti Winery and CMA Winery. His great-grandfather from his father’s family was Nicola DiCarlo of DiCarlo Winery and EtiVista Winery.
“I have been tending 20 acres of existing old vine ranches in the region for the past 4 years and selling the fruit,” said DiCarlo. “Old vine care and preservation is my passion, although they will soon be extinct in the area. We are planting headtrained Zinfandel, Grenache, Mission and Palomino vines – all from cuttings originating in local vineyards with over 75 years of age.”
DiCarlo is growing for his two young boys, Renzo and Nicola. “This is an opportunity for them to learn methods and traditions to carry on the Cucamonga / Etiwanda legacy as 5th generation vintners. We will be donating a percentage of our sales to help support the Root 66 Garden,” said DiCarlo.
On any given weekend in the nearby Temecula Valley, stretch limos full of lively bachelorette parties and busses brimming with winery tasting room goers motor down Rancho California Road, the main drag of the region marketed as “Southern California’s Wine Country,” looking for fun and an authentic rural experience.
Tourism for the Temecula Valley represents $650 million a year, with wines and vines claiming a good portion of that business as perhaps 500,000 people visit the area’s 40-plus wineries. For some, this is not enough. Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone has crafted a Wine Country Community Plan that would pave the way to expand to over 100 wineries in the next few years. For others, this is too much. Residents complain about the noise coming from the jazz concerts and weddings, while environmentalists wonder where the water will flow from for new wineries, hotels, and spas. Purists worry about the quality of the wine suffering, stunting the development of a notable “Temecula terroir.”
Temecula Valley is at a crossroads. This, to me, was the perfect time to launch a research study. I am an anthropologist, a specialist in human behavior. Since 2010, I have been doing interviews of officials and winemakers, tourists and viticulturalists, and picking grapes with migrant farm workers. Last year, the National Science Foundation funded my research and that of my graduate students for the next three years. I feel strongly that what we see today can only be understood in the context of southern California’s long and illustrious wine history.
Recently, I conducted archival research in Cal Poly Pomona’s wine archives, and I was able to interview members of three pioneering winegrowing families in the historic Ontario – Rancho Cucamonga area: Gino L. Filippi, Donald Galleano, and Paul Hofer III. Learning vintage history from the history-makers themselves was as instructive as it was thrilling.
Today, I share the real juice on Zinfandel – considered “California’s own” not just because of the secrecy of its origin, but also the robust red wines it can produce. Recently, I toured the 200acre Lopez Ranch with Don Galleano, owner of Galleano Winery in Mira Loma, who has farmed the small old “headtrained” Zin vines for nearly two decades.
Located in the foothills of Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana along Interstate 15, LR was planted in 1922 for table grapes, pre-seedless. Grape harvest began two weeks ago, and although it has been an unseasonably mild growing season, it is deceptive. “We avoided much of the traditional August heat, but the grapes are mature and ready now. It’s been a dry year – the crop is light, the quality is exceptional,” Galleano said.
Prominent Sonoma County winemaker Carol Shelton’s love affair with LR began in 2000. “I had wanted to work with these grapes many years before, but the winery where I worked didn’t see the value. So, I had to wait until I had my own winery to be able to produce wine with these gems,” said Shelton. Her “Monga Zin” is highly rated and earned the first 90-plus point score (91) from Wine Spectator for any wine from Cucamonga. “The flavor profile is so unique. Maybe I’m biased by the proximity to the Mojave, but I get a whiff of desert sage, lots of exotic Asian/Middle Eastern spices like cumin, coriander, saffron, star anise,” Shelton said.
“The fruit is all red, like dried cranberry, pomegranate and strawberry.” Shelton is impressed with the history and visuals of LR. “There is no drip irrigation on the vines, so the only water they obtain is from the rain, which can be as low as six or eight inches annually. That is what makes the crop yield in the half-ton per acre range – approximately 20 percent of the tonnage in more normal regions. “This is Old Vine Zin in the best definition – extremely low yields, pygmy vines struggling to stay alive, concentrated, focused and intensely spicy fruit.
Truly a historic area for Zinfandel that even many people in the wine industry don’t know about,” she said. “Let’s hope we can keep the LR vines in the ground and not lose them to a shopping center or housing tract, where so many others have gone. They are truly irreplaceable.”
— Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com