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Early Cucamonga Wine 1870's

oldstuff Mar 30, 2010 03:23 PM

I am researching wines from the Cucamonga Region of California from the 1870's, probable a Zinfandel and Mourvedre.

How do these wines differ for what is available now? Are there any records of production and price from that time?

Thank you

  1. o
    oldstuff Apr 11, 2010 11:36 PM

    The question I have would a 1870' zin be the same as a 2000 zin? Or has the processing of the grapes changed. I see now there is now a lot of blending. Was that true for a hundred years ago?

    3 Replies
    1. re: oldstuff
      SteveTimko Apr 12, 2010 07:49 AM

      A lot of the early vineyards were planted by Italians. My understanding of their strategy was to plant a main grape == often zinfandel -- and then plant a mix of other grapes. If it was a hot year some of the other non-zinfandel grapes would do well and you'd feed the rest to the pigs. If it was a cold year, then the other grapes in the mix would do well and you'd leave the hot weather grapes out of the mix. The blend was to give the wine some complexity.
      That explains the Dago Reds you get out of vineyards like Ridge's Geyserville and Lytton Springs.
      Remember, though, that the goal wasn't fine wine like we have today. It was more like judge wine.

      1. re: oldstuff
        zin1953 Apr 15, 2010 06:54 AM

        Karen, while I am not disagreeing with Steve, let me give you a more detailed answer . . .

        The first vineyards in California were, of course, planted by the Spanish missionaries in the 1700s. The grape that dominated these plantings was the Mission grape. The first commercial vineyard was planted by the aptly named Jean-Louis Vignes, originally from the Bordeaux region of France, sometime around 1830 in downtown Los Angeles -- indeed it was located just north of Olvera St. where Union Station now sits.

        Zinfandel first came to the US through a New England Horticultural Society, and was planted in greenhouses to provide eating grapes, not winemaking grapes. It was called Black St. Peter's. It came to California TWO separate ways. First, Black St. Peter's was brought in from New England and planted in the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains in the mid-1840s, where it thrived. Indeed, a wine made from Black St. Peter's won the Gold Medal at the first (or one of the very first) California State Fair.

        Then, there is the legendary story of Ágoston Haraszthy, the "Father of California Viticulture." He was commissioned by California Governor Downey in 1861 to -- in part -- bring grapevine cuttings from Europe suitable for planting in California with the express purpose of encouraging a winemaking industry in the state. As the legend goes, the identification tag on one (group of) cutting(s) was illegible. Haraszthy identified it as coming from his ancestral home in Hungary, and said it was "Zinfandel."

        Zinfandel thrived in Sonoma County, where Haraszthy had built his winery in the 1850s, and it was eventually discovered that Zinfandel and Black St. Peter's were indeed the same cultivar.

        Keep in mind that California was first a part of Spain, then Mexico. When gold was discovered in 1848, people from all over the world poured into California -- the fabled "49ers" -- and it became a state in 1850. The people who eventually went into the wine business in the mid-19th century were, mostly, drawn to California first for the gold, and when that failed, they often went into business doing the same thing they had done before.

        For some Europeans, that meant growing grapes and making wine -- and they did it the same way they did it in the "old country." So, for example, if you were a Frenchman from Bordeaux, you planted your vineyard blocks as a field blend of various grape varieties in a rough approximation of what you want your final wine to be. The same was true for most Italians. You WANTED that mix of grapes in your final wine. (For example, if you wanted your Bordeaux to be 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% each Caberent Franc and Malbec, you planted seven Cabernet Sauvignon vines, two Merlot vines and one Cabernet Franc vine, followed by seven Cabernet Sauvignon, two Merlot, one Malbec; repeat.) But if you were from the Burgundy region, or if you were a German, you planted a single grape variety per block (for example, all Riesling). In other words, you did it the way you did at home and the MIX of grape varieties was important to the final wine -- no pigs.

        Zinfandel rose to be THE dominant grape variety planted in California in the 1800s. Yet most Zinfandels were indeed "Dago Reds," a field blend of various grapes, yet one where Zinfandel dominated. There were early varietal wines produced in California (like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel), but many of the wines were what we would call today "semi-generic" wines with names like Claret, Chianti, Burgundy, and so on. Regardless of the name on the label, most of these red wine blends were predominantly Zinfandel.

        With Prohibition in 1919, the acreage of virtually all wine grapes plummeted. The exception was Zinfandel, which actually increased in acreage during Prohibition. It wasn't until the 1970s that Cabernet Sauvignon finally passed Zinfandel in total acreage planted in the state.

        With the 1970s came more "block planting" -- each separate block planted to a single variety -- and less field blends. This led to higher alcohols because you only picked the ripest grapes each time you went through the vineyard. You harvested block-by-block and blended the wines together in the winery (presuming you wanted to have, say, x% Merlot in your Cabernet), rather than having your wine "made" in the vineyard through a field blend.

        Some vineyards are, today, deliberately planted as a field blend, as one school of thought is that you actually WANT a variation in ripeness of the various constituent varieties in the final wine. It isn't that this grape is super-ripe, and that one is still green and completely tart -- let's not stretch this too far -- but rather some grapes will indeed have less sugar and more acidity, others may have more sugar, and combined, the wine will have more balance and structure than if every grape variety is harvested separately at "optimum maturity."

        Food for thought, at least.


        1. re: zin1953
          araknd Apr 15, 2010 08:57 AM

          Just wanted to thank you for such a great read. I have been a "student" of California wines for quite some time, and still enjoyed your encapsulated history of the industry and Zin.

          "If you are lucky, you learn something new every day."

      2. SteveTimko Apr 9, 2010 03:56 PM

        Oddly enough, there's census bureau data on wine production that I posted here before. This is from the 1870 census, but it doesn't give wine by grape. I believe it's by gallons.
        COUNTY Wine
        Los Angeles 531,710
        Sonoma 308,496
        El Dorado 118,831
        Calaveras 99,860
        Santa Clara 85,150
        Yuba 76,743
        Sacramento 74,797
        Placer 61,209
        Solano 54,780
        Amador 54,165
        Tuolumne 51,590
        San Bernardino 48,730
        Napa 46,745
        Tehama 33,000
        Butte 27,919
        San Joaquin 21,165
        Shasta 19,287
        Sutter 14,630
        Santa Cruz 14,550
        Merced 10,815
        Contra Costa 10,330
        Yolo 10,250
        Nevada 10,183
        Santa Barbara 6,275
        Tulare 5,430
        Monterey 5,200
        Stanislaus 5,140
        Alameda 2,785
        San Diego 1,000
        Marin 800
        Klamath 580
        Siskiyou 525
        Mendocino 500
        San Mateo 500
        Sierra 400
        Mariposa 395
        Colusa 170
        Lake 16
        Humboldt 5
        Alpine 0
        Del Norte 0
        Fresno 0
        Inyo 0
        Kern 0
        Lassen 0
        Mono 0
        Plumas 0
        San Francisco 0
        San Luis Obispo 0
        Trinity 0

        1. z
          zin1953 Apr 9, 2010 06:17 AM

          Cucamonga is indeed known TODAY for its Zinfandels above all else, and Zin has thrived there for a considerable time, but Craig is quite right to bring up Angelica. Back in the 1970s, I had an Angelica from Cucamonga that was made sometime in the 1870s -- truly excellent, a very memorable wine.

          2 Replies
          1. re: zin1953
            craig_g Apr 9, 2010 11:15 AM

            Was that one of the "Private Stock of Isaias W. Hellman" 1875s? I've seen a few of them; they were bottled in 1921, I believe.

            1. re: craig_g
              zin1953 Apr 10, 2010 03:04 PM

              IIRC, yes -- it was obtained through the Heublien Wine Auction.

          2. Midlife Apr 8, 2010 01:06 PM

            Sorry if your research has taken you beyond the suggestions below, but here are a few thoughts.

            You probably found this link if you searched under Guasti (as suggested). This winery has been there since 1922 so they probably have as much info as anyone. There may also be info at the public libraries in the area. http://www.josephfilippiwinery.com/

            And.............. Cal Poly Pomona has some related classes in their hospitality and restaurant management department. Not sure if they have a true enology department. They also have a library on SoCal wine history that might be worth looking into: http://www.csupomona.edu/~library/specialcollections/wine/

            I'd also try calling San Antonio Winery, in LA. It's likely they bought grapes from the Guasti/Rancho Cucamonga area at some point in their long history...... and may have documentation on it.

            I used to drive through that area regularly, in the early '60's, and there was mile after mile of vineyards back then.

            Oh.............. one more idea. UC Riverside has been the base for the University's Agricultural Experimentation Station for many, many years. I don't know if anything they might have would be of help, but it may be worth a try:
            http://www.ucr.edu/research/centers/a... When I went to school there they were experimenting with grapefruit and oranges. They had developed climate-focused fruit with different skin thicknesses for different climates. I saw grapefruit with skins from 1/16" to 2". Really cool stuff. Never saw any grapes, but hey!!!!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Midlife
              araknd Apr 8, 2010 03:14 PM

              I second all the suggestions by Midlife. My wife's family is from the area and my brother-in-law still lives in Rancho Cucamonga. My wife and I have been to Joseph Filippi many times and their winery is full of historical pictures, so I would think that they have a lot of documentation also.

            2. c
              craig_g Apr 2, 2010 08:42 AM

              Angelica wine from the region pops up for sale occasionally. This was a fortified wine, often held for decades in cask before bottling, and I believe made from the Mission grape. I've seen some bottles that were believed to be one quart rather than the standard 4/5.

              1. JAB Mar 30, 2010 04:25 PM

                Search on Guasti if you haven't done so already.

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