Posts Tagged ‘Don Galleano’

Upland winegrowers alive

November 25, 2011

Zinfandel Cucamonga Denson Vineyard in Upland

Upland, once considered the lemon capital of the world, is not a place ever included when discussing California’s interesting wine regions, nor is it a hot topic among oenophilias (oenophilia describes a disciplined devotion to, or simply enjoyment of wine), however its foothills are home to Brian and Camille Brandt’s award-winning Brandt Family Winery in San Antonio Heights, and a cluster of vintners including Gregg Denson.

For the past decade, Denson’s interest in growing vines and producing wines has transformed from general interest to deep passion. He first became interested in the viticulture history of Rancho Cucamonga upon his daily commutes past the old Thomas Brothers Winery site. “I began to wonder, this is a great old winery building, but where did all the vines go? With the housing boom, I noticed more and more vineyards being replaced by new homes and retail centers. It made me sad to see such a rich part of the cultural history of Rancho vanish before my eyes,” said Denson who serves as Director of Design at Architerra Design Group in Rancho Cucamonga.

“Originally, my idea was keep a little piece of history and grow the signature Zinfandel grapes of the Cucamonga region; not necessarily make wine. But after three years in the ground, and with grapes on the vine, I harvested and crushed my first small vintage in 2004 from a handful of vines, netting only 10 bottles!”

Denson inquired about growing and producing with his fellow co-worker, John Federico, who had worked the DeAmbrogio Ranch many years before as a young man. “He knew a great deal of history about the vineyard, and right before the property was graded over, we drove through the vineyard rows in winter and picked up some of the recently pruned canes. It’s my understanding that some of the vines on that property were over 100 years old. I thought it would be a good legacy to preserve the parent plants of this vineyard.”

Denson began his vineyard with a dozen vine cuttings, selected from various varieties at the historic DeAmbriogio Ranch. “Maybe half rooted in from the original planting and after a couple of years of growth, I took additional cuttings and increased the number of vines. Currently, I have about 30 Zinfandel vines, 4 Red Malaga, 2 Syrah, 2 Thompson Seedless and 1 Mission on our standard residential 8,000 square foot lot in Upland,” said Denson. “Grapevines pretty much drape most of my yard, with the majority of the vines planted in the front yard sharing space with California native plants. The soil is coarse and littered with stones, gravels and sand. The ancient alluvial soils of the Cucamonga Creek are deep and drain quickly.”

Originally located on the southwest corner of Foothill Blvd (Route 66) at Haven Avenue (west of the Rancho Cucamonga Civic Center), the famed DeAmbrogio Ranch served as the valley’s grape packing and shipping center. “Mary and Frank DeAmbrogio were the last of the large grape packers and shippers of our valley,” said local winemaker Don Galleano. “I remember they were sending their prized Cucamonga Zinfandel grapes to the east coast as late as the early 1980’s via refrigerated trucks. DeAmbrogio Zinfandel grapes were the best in the valley,” said Galleano who worked closely on several vintages with respected Australian-born Enologist Daryl Groom at Geyer Peak Winery – in Geyserville – which produced the highest-rated Cucamonga Zinfandel ever, a “92 point score” in Wine Spectator. Galleano continues farming portions of the vineyards once cared for by the DeAmbrogios.

“Upon first view of the small bush-like vines, and the sandy soils, I fell in love with them. They reminded me of the very old Shiraz vines at Kalimna,” said Groom. “The wine was rich, dark and jammy with a distinct character I called, ‘Cucamonga character’ – a sort of earthy and warm character. It was that Cucamonga site which inspired me to plant zinfandel.”
The front yard vineyard at the Denson home has become a special place. “It’s an annual event of getting together with family, friends and neighbors to enjoy food and wine while we harvest and crush the grapes. It’s always fun to see the look on someone’s face who has never stomped grapes by foot before. There’s always some apprehension, followed by a big smile and laughter. What originally started off as a idea to preserve a portion of viticulture history of the Cucamonga Valley, has blossomed into a family tradition that marks the culmination of another growing season. Each year I bottle up a little gift of Denson Reserva Cucamonga Valley Zinfandel for those who attend our family harvest!
Local wine enthusiasts may also appreciate the small vineyard planting located at the Mercury Insurance building in Rancho Cucamonga, designed by Architerra Design Group in Rancho Cucamonga.

Cucamonga grown Zinfandel wines can be purchased at: Liquorama Fine Wines in Upland, Galleano Winery in Mira Loma, and J. Filippi Winery Rancho Cucamonga. Brandt Family wines can be purchased at Pacific Wine Merchants in Upland

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at


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