Brandt Family Winery in San Antonio Heights (Upland)
Brandt Family Winery
by Gino L. Filippi 12/28/07So you think you might have what it takes to operate an authentic working winery? Does the thought of growing grapes, popping corks and sniffing and swirling the nectars of the vine seem a romantic venture? Although I could share some sobering tales with you, I’ll refrain and give a nod to the glass that is half full. Filling it with liquid gold is my neighbor and local vintner Brian Brandt of San Antonio Heights. After a recent visit down the lane, I’m pleased to share the real juice on The Brandt Family Winery (BFW), located at the far northwest corner of the Cucamonga Valley Viticulture Area.
Brian was born in Wiesbaden Germany and has lived in Upland nearly his entire forty-four years of age. He contracted the wine bug approximately 10 years ago. “My first taste of the wine business began in 1998, when my father-in-law Fred Paciocco and I opened the Pacific Wine Merchants, a fine wine and cigar shop in downtown Upland. In 1999, my wife Camille and I moved to our home in San Antonio Heights where we planted approximately 400 vines on one acre of land. I started growing grapes as an experiment,” stated Brian.
About the same time the vines went in, the young Uplander enrolled in a home winemaking and small vineyard management course at UC Riverside. “I began reading every book on winemaking and wine technology that I could get my hands on. I was filling several binders with notes on wine making techniques and practices. In 2000 I made my first home vintage from Zinfandel grapes grown in our own Cucamonga Valley. I produced another Zinfandel in the following year,” shared Brian.A true vintner at heart, Brian is friendly, keen, focused and possesses great passion for the grape. He’s the real deal and as such he’s building a solid reputation for high quality wines on east 25th Street. An attorney by profession, Brian obtained his undergraduate degrees at UC Santa Barbara and proceeded to study law, graduating in 1988 from the University of Santa Clara. “After that I went into practice with my Dad at the law firm of Maroney and Brandt in Upland. I worked with him until his retirement during the year 1996, when I open up my own practice here in Upland,” he shared. BFW was founded in 2002. “We applied for our commercial winery license with the US Department of Treasury’s ATF and that same year we became a licensed and bonded California winery,” said Brian. “I have lived in the Cucamonga Valley nearly my entire life. Growing up as a child, this valley was primarily an agricultural region. I still remember our Dad taking us as kids through the ruins of the old Virginia Dare Winery on Foothill Blvd and playing pretend war games with my brother and friends among the abandoned old structures. Later in high school, I spent many summer afternoons after work hunting jack rabbits in the vineyards.
“Sadly, the era of growing grapes may soon be a thing of the past for the historic Cucamonga Valley. However, like the renovated Virginia Dare Winery, I feel good knowing that we are preserving the tradition of winemaking which will survive long after the last vine is pulled to make a way for new development. What excites me most about vinification is that each and every year is different and each harvest presents completely new sets of challenges to overcome, technically, logistically and to a lesser extent artistically,” said Brian.In 2002, BFW produced their very first commercial wine. “We made a total of 5 different wines including two Rancho Cucamonga grown Zinfandels. We also produced a Sangiovese from De Barard vines and a Grenache from the Hofer Ranch, as well as importing Petite Sirah grapes from the Lodi area. The wines were produced in our garage. All the wines from our first harvest went on to win medals in the competition we entered. Over the past five years we havemade a number of different wines including a Cabernet Sauvignon from Temecula, a Syrah from Paso Robles, and Syrah from Fess Parker’s Rodney’s and Camp Four Vineyards in Santa Barbara,” said Brian. As we toured the property with Olive the family dog leading the way, it began to rain (Socks the cat was no where to be seen!). We found shelter in the newest addition to the winery, a beautiful cellar building located adjacent to the family home. This will be the home to the many new oak wine barrels and modern winemaking equipment which will greatly expand BFW’s production capacity. We talked about the many challenges of a family owned and operated wine business and also what is taking place in the winegrowing regions of France, Italy and California. Brian truly strives for excellence in his product and it shows. “I am constantly on the lookout for high quality grapes from up-and-coming regions. I have traveled extensively, meeting growers in the Santa Barbara - Santa Ynez regions as well as Paso Robles and the Carmel Highlands, searching out vineyards, Brian said.
”We are primarily a small family boutique winery. Camille oversees our marketing, labeling and packaging design work. Ken Freeman is our cellarmaster and much more! There is much heavy labor that goes into crushing, pressing, and finally bottling the wine. Ken resides on site and is very involved in the operation. Of course our five daughters Kyra, Caroline, Julia, Natalie and Giselle are quite helpful and always eager to lend a hand. We have fun and it is often a social event,” said the smiling Brian. Camille and Brian are also proud parents of Eryk, their newborn son, just born on the 5th of December.
After the tour, I was presented with a bottle of BFW 2005 Syrah which I am eager to uncork. Brian was also kind enough to share a bit of legal advice! As I drove home in the rain, it was very clear to me that Brian and Camille are truly living their dream. The future is quite bright for the family and their winery high on the hill.
Brandt Family Winery, 2005 Syrah, Santa Barbara CountyA blend of two vineyards owned by Fess Parker – Rodney’s and Camp Four, this wine will rock your world. Not for beginners or the meek at heart, this wine is bold, tasty and in your face (like the winemaker and his crew). I should know as I was one of the many Upland wine dudes that helped winemaker Brian Brandt crush, press and bottle this amazing juice. If you like 100% handcrafted wines, produced entirely by hardworking locals, this is the wine for you! A full-bodied Syrah with dark cherry, black fruits, smoke and vanilla aromas on the nose. This wine is round and mouth coating with black berry and blue berry fruit flavors complemented by enticing spice, toast and smoke nuances on the palate and through its lingering finish. Enjoy this wine with grilled meat and heavier pasta dishes. $26.99 at Pacific Wine Merchants. Call 909-946-6782 or visit www.pacificwinemerchants.comThis incredible wine earned seven awards for winemaking excellence including the Chairman’s Award, plus 2 Gold medals at the 2007 Riverside International Wine Competition and the West Coast Wine Competition. Wine judges also awarded 5 Silver medals at other competitions including the prestigious Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition at Fairplex. Wine Review by Dana Chandler of Upland 12/6/07
Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com