The Golden State’s “wine history” actually began in Southern California, then over the years migrated northward as more and more people flowed into the Southland, creating today’s sprawl of housing tracts and strip malls. But winemaking there has not disappeared.
The Southern California region extends from Malibu (north of the city of Los Angeles) to the southern border of California (below the city of San Diego).
Among the seven American Viticultural Areas in the region, the South Coast is the largest with an area totaling 115,200 acres. Cucamonga Valley contains 109,400 acres of land, Ramona Valley has 89,000 acres, Temecula 33,000, San Pasqual Valley 9,000, Saddle Rock-Malibu 2,100 and Malibu-Newton Canyon 850. The region has close to four dozen wineries.
Even though Cucamonga is the second-largest AVA, it’s probably the most threatened by the Southland’s never-ending urban sprawl.
Cucamonga is located in San Bernardino County, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles. Originally known as the Cucamonga-Guasti Wine District, where vineyard planting began in 1838, it has lost most of its winegrape acreage in recent years.
During Prohibition, vineyard acreage in Cucamonga was double that of Napa and Sonoma counties combined. In the 1940s, this east/west-oriented valley region was home to 60 wineries and more than 35,000 acres of vines, as its thick-skinned grapes could survive the long trip east where home winemakers awaited their delivery.
Today, only three of the original family wineries and fewer than 1,000 vineyard acres remain in Cucamonga. The loss of vineyard land continues, and some of the nation’s oldest vines could disappear.
Since the region became an official AVA in 1995, the two major wineries, Galleano and Joseph Filippi, have refocused on producing premium wines. Top varieties include Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, Cinsault, Grenache, Mission, Mourvedre and Zinfandel.
In addition to table wines, the region is known for unique fortified wines, including a highly regarded Triple Cream Sherry made by Rancho de Philo.
The wine industry may not be what it once was in Southern California, but it still exists, and it’s still producing exceptional bottlings.