72nd Cucamonga Grape Harvest Festival

August 18, 2011

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


Father and son effort has raised more than $115,000 for heart research

June 12, 2011


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 darylgroom@mac.com.

To learn more about Colby and his wine please visit http://www.colbyred.com and on Facebook at Colby Red Wine

Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition 2011

May 28, 2011

Judging 2011 Los Angeles International Wine Competition @ Fairplex Pomona

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.

FUN Decanted

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

2010 in review

January 3, 2011

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:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

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?.

Where did they come from?

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.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


What’s really in the bottle? March 2010


Thomas Vineyards – California’s Oldest Winery May 2010


Rancho Cucamonga – Guasti Wine District August 2009
1 comment


Rancho de Philo Rancho Cucamonga November 2009
1 comment


Crémant Sparkling Wines December 2009

Thomas Vineyards – California’s Oldest Winery

May 8, 2010

Thomas Winery 1969 Flood

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.”


What’s really in the bottle?

March 4, 2010

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 danberger@rocketmail.com or info@vintageexperiences.com.

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at ginoffvine@aol.com

Gino & Rhoda’s 10 memorable bottles

December 31, 2009

Merry Christmas to all! Friend of the vine and wine author Rhoda Stewart of Napa and I thought it timely to present notes on our 10 most memorable wines. We hope you find our findings interesting and enjoyable. Take it away Rhoda!

Memorable wines are rarely the most expensive ones you’ve ever drunk or the most famous. They are more often memorable because of the occasion they were served for and the company you were with for that occasion as well as the food they were served with. These wines are well made, balanced, interesting, and adequately aged. I’m not talking mediocrity here.

My most memorable wines come from California, the EU, and Canada. None of them costs more than about $60; the least expensive cost just under $10. Having spent several years of my life researching, tasting, and writing about Zinfandel from all regions of California as well as northern Baja, a Zinfandel has to rank among my most memorable. But which one??

The wine that ultimately comes to mind is Ridge Vineyards 1991 Pagani Vineyard Zinfandel. I had been attracted to the sheer beauty of this vineyard several years earlier while on a photography sojourn through Sonoma Valley.

When through happy coincidence Paul Draper, Ridge’s winemaker, invited me to join him for lunch with a new Sonoma Valley grower in spring of 1993, and taste a barrel sample of the 1991, I felt a thrill of excitement. I was sure this would be the owner of that magnificent vineyard that I had many photos of. And it was. We met at the Golden Bear Restaurant in Kenwood for lunch, and I had the exquisite pleasure of trying Ridge’s first Pagani Vineyard vintage with a menu designed to complement this Zinfandel.

My second memorable California wine is the 2003 Latcham/Granite Springs Amador country Barbera. On a guided tasting tour of El Dorado County wines with Les Russell, founder of Granite Springs Winery, we stopped in at Latcham Winery, who had bought Granite Springs when Russell was ready to give it up following the death of his wife. As partial as I am to the El Dorado Zinfandels, it was Latcham’s Amador County Barbera that stole the show for me that day.

With a deep garnet purple color, bewitching aromas of black currants, black berries, plums, and rich spices, followed by a succulent flavors and a velvety texture unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, it was a wine to set you dreaming.

So I bought a half-case and in January 2006, took one of the two remaining bottles with me to Victoria, Canada, to celebrate the New Year with a couple of my favorite cousins. When I opened the bottle and poured out the wine before dinner that quiet late afternoon in the seaside village where we all met, conversation stopped. It was a wine to savor in silence. And a wine I still dream of.

Although France is famous for its Bordeaux (Gino’s favorite red blends) and Burgundian wines, it is a Madiran from the French Basque region that I seek out each time I am in a French wine store or restaurant. Introduced to me in a French Basque caf during my first visit to Paris in 1999, I was smitten.

In 2006, I had opportunity to buy a 1995 Cuv e Prestige by Chateau Montus in a Paris wine store for 38 Euros. This wine I shared with my neighbors upon my return. Made primarily from the Tannat grape, Madirans definitely need a few years’ bottle age to soften the rather pronounced tannins and give the luscious dark berry fruit some time to blend in with the dominant tannin structure. But when it’s had that time, Ch teau Montus Cuv e Prestige Madiran is a wine to behold. With each bottle of Madiran, I relive my first visit to Paris.

At the low end of the price scale, but not the low end of enjoyableness, are the Sicilian Nero d’Avolas, a red wine grape of the region. I encountered these wines at a recent VinItaly Tasting in San Francisco. Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2007 is one label currently available at under $10.

Being a Canadian, I have followed the evolution of Canadian wines since the mid-1980s from rather awful slightly sweet wines of the 1960s and 1970s, which were made mostly from over-cropped vinifera hybrids, to exquisite world-class wines since the 1980s, thanks to the establishment of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), a protocol for quality assurance of Canadian wines.

One of my most memorable Canadian wines is VQA Chardonnay from Hidden Bench, an artisan winery on the Beamsville Bench of the Niagara region. Hidden Bench wines made by its French-speaking Quebec-born winemaker are all estate grown, and are bottled under the Hidden Bench label only in the best years. It produces three tiers of Chardonnays, and at the end of my first visit to this lovely little winery, I chose the mid-tier for $40 (CDN) to take home with me. When I poured it for some friends with Canadian connections back here in Napa a few months later, they joined me in declaring it a Chardonnay to make a Canadian heart proud.

In an interview with Kermit Lynch, owner of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Berkeley, he emphasized this point: “I think a lot of people, not in France, not in Italy, but in California and maybe the rest of the U.S. think that price is a score; that a $300 bottle of wine is better than a $100 a bottle,” Lynch said. “That’s completely false. Price is no reflection of quality. You can get such good wines for cheap.”

Gino’s favorites include:

Chateau Ausone 2005 is my all-time favorite. This is one of only two Bordeaux estates, along with Chateau Cheval Blanc to be ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classe in Saint- milion appellation. I toured Ch Ausone in 2006 for tasting evaluation of 2005 Bordeaux wines with California journalists and retailers. Thanks to my French winemaking friend Marc Lurton, I was introduced to winemaker Alain Vauthier. The Vauthier family is the owner of the estate which is located close to the town of Saint-Emilion.

Only three families have been the owners of the current prestigious estate of Ausone in St milion: The Lescours family from the 13th to the 16th centuries, Jacques de Lescure and his heirs in the 17th century, the Chatonnet-Cantenat family from the end of the 17th century and the Dubois-Challon-Vauthier family who are of the same descent.

With an anticipated maturity of 2030-2080, we tasted this Robert Parker 100 point-rated (Cabernet Franc / Merlot) Bordeaux in spring 2006 from the barrel. Definitely a highly sought after bottle today. Marc describes 2005 as “the vintage of the Century”, where the best of Bordeaux produced truly “great” wines.

Chateau Cheval Blanc, which dates back to the 1830s, is located on the right bank of the Gironde River. Although Saint- milion is mainly Merlot country, Cheval Blanc normally contains a high percentage of Cabernet Franc. Marc’s brother Pierre Lurton is the general manager of this estate and was our host and shared with us a few bottles including 1968, 1986, 1990 and 2000. The 2005 was from the barrel and my second most memorable. Experts claim that the 1947 Cheval Blanc was the greatest of all wines produced.

Marc’s brother also serves as general manager of Chateau d’Yquem. The Sauternes of Chateau d’Yquem are characterized by their complexity, concentration, sweetness and longevity. In a good vintage year, the wine will only begin to show its true qualities after a decade or two.

“The best d’Yquem is a 1920. The wine was brown and explosive on the nose. The taste was incredibly complex and good. My brother Pierre told me the 1845 is always excellent. I’d like to see that,” said Lurton. The 1997 was my favorite tasted.

My fourth favorite is from Chateau Reynier of Marc Lurton. Marc’s 2005 Heritage Cuvee – blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot offers excellent color with good acidity and incredible structure. All for under $20 retail.

I would be in error if I did not include the reds of Shafer Vineyards in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District. The signature wine, Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon is one of California’s best. I was introduced to Shafer by Roger Jaska of Upland. Roger is a collector, consumer and enthusiastic friend of red wines. He shared his 1998, 1999 and 2002 with me and I was most grateful for the experience. He was also the inspiration for our winery to begin aging premium red wines in fine oak barrels. Do you have more Shafer bottles around the cellar, Rog?

Rhoda Stewart can be reached at rhodairis@prodigy.net Gino L. Filippi can be reached at ginoffvine@aol.com

Crémant Sparkling Wines

December 13, 2009

Differences between champagne and crémant explored – December 2009

With the holidays upon us, I thought it fitting to share with you a story of effervescent flair from my friend of the vine and author Rhoda Stewart in Napa. Enjoy!

During a December 2007 holiday in Paris, I came across champagne tasting in a wine store near Centre Pompidou. Welcomed in by the portly manager, I directly began my rounds.

Before visiting many stations, I encountered a crémant sparkling wine. Curious to know how did crémant differ from champagne, I undertook some research.

The word champagne is reserved exclusively for sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, and is considered the classic example of sparkling wines.

The term “crémant” refers to sparkling wines made in regions other than the Champagne region, but in accordance with Méthode Champenoise. (That is, the wine goes through the fermentation process twice: following primary fermentation and bottling, winemakers add a dosage of sugar and yeast, enabling the wine to go through a second fermentation in the bottle. The carbon dioxide produced from this second fermentation is trapped in the bottle. When the consumer opens the bottle, the carbon dioxide bubbles are released, causing the wine to sparkle.)

Crémant wines are produced with slightly less carbon dioxide and lower bottle pressure (typically 2-3 atmospheres instead of 5-6) than wines from the Champagne region. This lower effervescence is achieved by adding smaller dosage to the bottles for the second fermentation. The lighter effervesce creates the creamy texture to the wines, hence the name crémant, meaning “creamy.” The crémant designation was originally used for sparkling wines from the Champagne region made by méthode champenoise but with this lower effervescence.

In 1975, Crémant de Loire was given formal recognition as an Appellation Origine de Contr le (AOC), and was followed by Crémant de Bourgogne (1975) and Crémant d’Alsace (1976).

In the late 1980s, lobbying by champagne producers led to the term méthode champenoise being forbidden within the European Union as a designation for the traditional method, the term being replaced by methode traditionelle.

Crémant wines have to fulfill strict production criteria. The grapes must be harvested by hand with yields not exceeding a set amount for their appellation. The wines must be aged on the lees for a minimum of one year.

The Loire Valley is France’s largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region. The majority of these crémant de Loire are a blend of the chardonnay, chenin blanc, and cabernet franc. Crémant de Loire Ros is purely cabernet franc, the color derived from a 12-hour maceration before the must is taken off the skins. This wine spends 18 months on its lees (expired yeast cells) before disgorgement.

One of my favorites is the Langlois Crémant de Loire ros made wholly from cabernet franc, the red grape of the region. This lovely sparkling rosé sec has a beautiful salmon rose color, plentiful tiny bubbles, and a delicate flavor and aroma of fruit and a light spicy mineral character.

In Burgundy, Crémant de Bourgogne must be composed of at least 30 percent pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot blanc or pinot gris.

Crémant d’Alsace is made primarily from pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, or chardonnay. Alsace cr mant is typically a sparkling white wine, delicate and light. But there are also fragrant, full-bodied, richly flavored ros d’Alsace made from pinot noir.

California crémant wine by Schramsberg (Napa Valley) deserves special mention. Schramsberg made California’s first cr mant in 1972 with the flora grape, a cross of s millon and gew rztraminer, as its core component. Select lots of chardonnay are added to provide zest and length to the palate. Schramsberg demi-sec cr mant is aged on the lees for about two years prior to disgorgement.

Crémant wines provide a classic yet (usually) a less expensive sparkling wine experience compared to full-pressure champagnes and sparkling wines. The cr mant ros s have won me over!

Crémant wines are available locally:

Liquorama Fine Wines & Spirits at 901 West Foothill Blvd., Upland.

Telephone (909) 985-3131 http://www.liquorama.net

Pierre Sparr Cr mant d’ Alsace Rose $19.99, Schramsberg Mendocino Demi-Sec Cr mant 2005 $29.99, G.H. Mumm de Cr mant Brut Chardonnay NV $64.99.

Total Wine at 8201 Day Creek Boulevard, Rancho Cucamonga.

Telephone (909) 463-5670 http://www.totalwine.com

From Burgundy: Louis Bouillot Brut 11.99, Louis Bouillot Rose 12.99, Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blanc 15.99, Louis Bouillot Vintage 2006 17.99, Louis Bouillot Perle d’Or Vintage 2001 18.99, Luquet Crémant de Bourgogne 19.99. From Alsace: Arthur Metz Brut 14.99, Rose 14.99, Cuvee Special 14.99, Blanc de Noir 14.99

Off the Vine thanks Rhoda Stewart for her assistance. More memoirs of a winemaker coming from Rhoda! She can be reached at rhodairis@prodigy.net.

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at ginoffvine@aol.com

Rancho de Philo Rancho Cucamonga

November 5, 2009

Time for Philo’s Triple Cream “Solera” Sherry
In just two weeks, the old solid wood cellar doors at Rancho de Philo Winery in Alta Loma will be opened to the public for limited sales and tasting of Triple Cream Sherry wine. Bottle and case sales begin November 14th and will end on the 22nd – just in time for holidays.

Proprietors Janine Biane Tibbetts and husband Alan produce their prized sweet sherry on Wilson Avenue in the foothills of Rancho Cucamonga. It is here at their boutique winery that the multi-gold-medal winning dessert wine is created via the Spanish “solera” barrel aging process. It is considered “the finest” California cream sherry by industry experts and connoisseurs alike.

“In all my travels (as educator, winemaker and International judge) I have found some of the best fortified wines in the USA come from the Cucamonga area. They are the closest wines in style and quality to their European heritage. Very high quality wines,” said Australian born winemaker Daryl Groom of Healdsburg in Northern California wine country.

Side note: Groom 2007 Barossa Valley Shiraz just received ’93 Points’ rating by Wine Spectator’s Insider tasting panel.

Rancho de Philo was founded by vintner and wine industry pioneer Philo Biane (Janine’s father) in 1973, after he retired as President/CEO of Brookside Vineyard Co. in Guasti-Ontario. He studied and toured European winemaking countries, visiting several Spanish “bodegas”. “He learned the secrets of making truly outstanding aged sherry, and decided this was a product worthy of ‘retirement’.

Upon his return to Guasti, he started his first solera and the process of producing sherry in the true Spanish style…setting it aside and letting it sleep while waiting that illusive time of retirement,” said Janine.

The traditional “solera” system of fractional blending from a pyramid of oak barrels, results in the finest in aged sherry. The bottom series of barrels is where the oldest finished wine is drawn for annual bottling and replaced with wine from above barrels “criaderas”, of the similar (newer vintage) wine.

“In 1975 Philo made his first small sherry bottling for family and friends only. In 1977 he asked his daughter, Janine to join him and learn the process. Philo passed in 1999 and Janine and Alan became proud proprietors of Rancho de Philo.

“Over the years we have slowly expanded to fifteen soleras. Each year, we carefully draw off a small amount from the lowest level of the soleras to be used in the blend of wine ranging from 12 to more than 45 years of age. The result is a beautiful, complex wine of deep amber color with hints of golden raisins, butterscotch, and almonds,” said Janine.

“Our Triple Cream Sherry is produced from the Mission grape variety which was first brought to California by the missionary fathers in the 1700’s. It has proved its value for 300 years and continues to do so. In Spain, the traditional grape used for sherry is either the Palomino or Pedro Ximinez.”

“Given the sugar content of this wine (13.5%) and alcohol (18.5%), it definitely goes best with desserts. Our preference is to sip it with pies or tarts or custards. It is wonderful with anything made with apples or pears or nuts or mild cheeses,” said Janine. “In preparing these desserts, flavor is enhanced by using a little of the wine. Poach the fruit in the wine before making a pie or tart. Sprinkle a little more over the fruit before baking. Pairs well with fresh fruit and cheese too.”

Sautéing chicken or pork? “Use a little wine instead of (or with) the oil or butter. The very best is to use this wine when cooking onions. No matter how you are going to use the onions, the dish will take on a new dimension. Serving a cream soup? A teaspoon (or so) stirred into it just before serving lends a subtlety to it that is wonderful,” said Janine.

The 2008 blend has earned the following awards;

> 4-star Gold 2009 Orange County Wine Competition
> Gold, Sweepstakes 2009 Monterey International Wine Competition
> Gold, Best of Class 2009 L.A. International Wine and Spirits Competition
> Gold 2009 Dallas Morning News International Wine Competition
> Gold 2009 San Francisco International Wine Competition
> Gold 2009 Pacific Rim International Wine Competition

The 2009 blend will be available at $24.95 per bottle, 2008 blend $34.95, and 2007 blend $39.95. We have a very few bottles of the 2006 blend available for $75.

Rancho de Philo Winery is located at 10050 Wilson Avenue (west of Haven Avenue and Chaffey College) in Alta Loma. Open November 14th through the 22nd, from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Telephone 909-987-4208

Maine Lobster Wine?

October 4, 2009

Did you know August is Maine Lobster Month?

Neither did I, but thanks to an invite from friends of the vine, Barbra and Mark Comunale of Claremont, I find myself on the shore of beautiful Hancock Pond (one of over 3,000 ponds and lakes statewide) surrounded by tall pines, oaks and ash trees, doing my part to help promote Maine’s iconic shellfish, “lob-stah” as the Mainers say!

New Englanders enjoy large amounts of shellfish including mussels, crabs, clams, oysters, scallops and shrimps. I’m here however, for the lobsters and wine! There are over 35 wineries located throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Lobster has been harvested along the Maine coast for generations, but it was not always the highly-esteemed seafood that it is today.

Tough economic times for Maine’s lobster industry have recently been in the news while Maine lobstermen are working diligently trying to create greater awareness for their tasty shellfish. Lobster is a healthy protein and lower in calories and fat than skinless chicken breast and also provides beneficial vitamins and minerals that promote healthy bones and maintain healthy nerve cells.

New England native Ed Cooper of Boston, is a 40-year resident of Hancock Pond, which is located in southwestern Maine in the Sebago Lakes Region about 10 miles from Bridgton, Me.

Cooper shared some of the difficulties facing the lobster industry. “Just last week, Maine lobstermen were earning $2.50 to $3 per pound for soft shells and $4.25 to $5 per pound for hard shells. These are very low prices,” said Cooper whose father and grandfather were cod fishermen from Ireland’s Eye, Newfoundland in Trinity Bay, fishing on the Grand Banks and Labrador.

Lobsters thrive along the about 3,500 miles of rugged Maine coast because of its environment of cold, clean water and rocky bottom. “It’s an ideal habitat for lobsters,” said Cooper. “Maine is well-known for its delicious soft-shell lobsters. About once a year, mature lobsters shed their tough, old shell for a new, larger shell that hardens over time. These soft-shell lobsters yield a flavorful and sweeter meat in a shell that can often be cracked by hand. Hard-shell lobsters are completely full of lobster meat but can be difficult to open without a hammer.”

Until recently, Barbra Comunale lived in New England for over 40 years. In Barbra’s family lobster and steamer clams have always been a summertime treat. Lobster is easy to cook and soft-shells can easily be opened with two metal tools called a lobster cracker (like a nutcracker) and a pick. You need a large plate and many paper towels because lobsters can contain much water inside the shell. Some people even use plastic “lobster bibs.”Once you remove the lobster meat you dip it in melted or “drawn” butter for a sweet, salty and buttery taste sensation.

“When our family is travelling closer to the Maine coast we like to order lobster at one of the `Eat-in-the-rough’ (think picnic tables and paper plates overlooking a pristine fishing community) with lobster restaurants like Cod-End-Marine in Tenant’s Harbor,” said Barbra.

Of course, people are frequently searching for the “perfect” wine to accompany lobster and our group was no different. Here’s our catch of whites (there was no pinot in the house!). We agreed they all paired well when chilled:

Hardys Southeastern Australia, 2008 Chardonnay, 3 liter box (4 bottles), $19.95

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Southeastern Australia, 2005 Chardonnay, $9.99 bottle.

Chateau Bonnet Andre Lurton Entre-Deux-Mers (Bordeaux), 2008 Sauvignon Blanc 50 percent, Semillon 40 percent, Muscadelle 10 percent, $12 bottle.

Big Claw White California, 2008 blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, $12 bottle

South Coast Winery Temecula Valley, 2008 Muscat, $14 bottle (at the winery).

Maine lobster is a major contributor to the state’s economy. “In 2006, the catch exceeded 72 million pounds and generated close to $300 million in ex-vessel or dock value. There are over 5,700 lobster harvesters, and the trade supports businesses including processors, dealers, marine outfitters, boat makers, retailers and restaurants,” said Cooper. “Lobstering is a vital fishing industry supporting hundreds of small, coastal villages and communities.”

“Unfortunately this has not been a profitable summer for lobstermen so far. Perhaps because of the poor economy in general, recently people have not been going out to eat and ordering lobster,” said Barbra. “Also, Maine has received record amounts of rain this summer. The bad weather is keeping people from going out. Meanwhile, lobstermen are catching a normal amount of lobsters and trying to make a living. It is a case of more supply than demand.

“If you would like to help our Maine lobstermen, and enjoy a delicious treat, please visit a few of my favorite Web sites,” said Barbra.

http://www.lobsterday.com, www.mainelobsterfestival.com, www.lobsterfrommaine.com

By the way, the record speed in lobster boat racing is over 50 mph!

A lobster roll is a buttered and grilled flat-sided hot dog roll filled with lobster!

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com