Cucamonga Valley Wine History
Today, with the help of my friend of the vine, Paul Hofer III of Ontario, I share with you a bit of local history on the Cucamonga Valley, and the Pride of Cucamonga label. I hope you find these grape facts interesting.
The great Cucamonga Valley (aka: The Cucamonga-Guasti Wine District), where vineyard planting began in 1838, was once considered the largest wine-growing region in the United States. This area includes the communities of Rancho Cucamonga (Alta Loma, Cucamonga, Etiwanda, Grapeland, Rochester), Ontario (Guasti), Fontana, Mira Loma (Wineville), Rialto, 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 Company (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 more than 20,000 acres, more than in Sonoma and twice as many as Napa County when Prohibition arrived.
Wartime Prohibition was enacted in 1919, followed by the Volstead National Prohibition Act and the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, which forbade the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." It was legal however to make 200 gallons of wine in each home.
Thousands of citizens became "home winemakers," of course. Cucamonga Valley-grown red grapes (primarily Zinfandel) became the choice of many, as their thick skin and high natural sugar levels proved ideal for the needs of East Coast home winemakers. Plus, Cucamonga Valley grapes shipped well on the rail cars.
Prices shot up, because of the increased demand and a shortage of refrigerated railroad freight cars in which to ship them across the land.
Thomas Finney, professor of English, Emeritus, 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 the important role it played.
"Curiously enough, Cucamonga old vines Zinfandel now enjoys 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 (CPVA), which included approximately 12 local growers.
"The group farmed over 4,000 acres here in the valley and they worked together in an attempt to help control their own destiny," said Paul Hofer III, whose family has been farming in the Cucamonga Valley since 1882. The CPVA winery was located on the East side of Haven Avenue, north of the railroad tracks.
"There was a rail spur on the property and the winery shipped (barrels/tanks) bulk wine and custom bottled wines via both railcar and ships," shared Hofer.
One of the most popular wine labels in the highly populated eastern cities (including New York, New Jersey and Chicago) was Pride of Cucamonga.
"The original Pride of Cucamonga wine label was utilized in the time period immediately after Prohibition ended, probably 1936 or thereabouts," said Hofer. "There was very high demand for Cucamonga-grown wines, especially on the East Coast. Cucamonga was a name that people recognized. It was a sought-after brand."
Unfortunately, Prohibition left a legacy of distorting the role of wine in American life and ruining a fledgling world-class industry. It took decades of hard-working vintners to overcome the damage.
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 hosted more than 55 wineries and approximately 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 (AVA) by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a result of a petition filed on behalf of Gino L. Filippi, conveying long-deserved recognition to the vintners of our historic wine-growing region.
Unfortunately, the storied Cucamonga Valley has lost most of its once vast vineyard acreage to development and the urban expansion of nearby Los Angeles and Orange counties. Today, only four of the area's original wine-growing families (Biane, Filippi, Galleano and Hofer) remain, and less than 1,000 vineyard acres are in cultivation. The loss of the vineyard land continues and many of our nation's oldest vines have disappeared.
The Pride of Cucamonga label was also utilized at the J. Filippi Winery in the 1950s to mid-`70s. The label was revived for 2002 Zinfandel, and 2004 Syrah releases. Today, the 2005 Hofer Ranch Syrah, and 2005 Grenache Noir proudly feature the Pride of Cucamonga brand.
Off the Vine thanks Paul Hofer III of Ontario for sharing a bit of his family's vast wine history and label. Gino L. Filippi can be reached at Ginoffvine@aol.com