Posts Tagged ‘zinfandel’

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


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

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 or

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at