Carol Shelton’s “Monga” Zin

Lopez Ranch Zinfandel by Steve AmaonA taste that’s spicy, intense and historic.

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

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