An Inland Vintner Keeps Southern California's Wine Traditions Alive

Don Galleano outside his family winery in Mira Loma I Photo by Ed Fuentes

While grape juice from the autumn harvest is stored in barrels around the state during California Wine Month, some have been surprised to know how the Los Angeles region and ambitious immigrants have a place in the wine industry.

That legacy isn't discarded like an empty wine bottle left over from a weekend tastings.

The original trail of California's premium wine industry is kept alive from a descendant of the Italian-Americans who passed through Los Angeles and followed the vineyards inland at the turn of the century.

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Next year will mark the 85th anniversary for the Galleano family's operations in Mira Loma, the Cucamonga Valley winery that is a remnant of an industry that has seen prohibition, business and residential development, the growing profile of northern wineries, and even the change of a town's name caused by a horrendous crime.

Thumbnail image for Grapes in WinevilleWine-making in the Cucamonga Valley area dates back to 1855, when settlers first planted vineyards in what was a dry western edge of San Bernardino County.

The valley grew as the quality of grapes evolved at the hands of experienced cultivators, like Secundo Guasti, who saw promise in the desert, says Don Galleano.

Don is the current patriarch of Galleano Winery, and while sitting in a worn comfortable chair in a ranch house filled with family momentos, steps away from the small tasting room, is glad to cultivate the region's history.

He goes on to say that during visits inland, Guasti noticed how the winter rains flowed into the valley and disappeared in the sandy desert soil, harvesting water, and making for good conditions for grape vines.

"The Italians moved out here to this area specifically because of Secundo Guasti," adds Galleano. "He was from the region of Piedmont. A lot of immigrants came from that Northern Italian region."

The Historic Winery in what was once Wineville

Guasti, as noted before, arrived in Los Angeles in 1878, via Mexico, and ran a boarding house and restaurant at the Avila Adobe, and later Guasti the Italian Vineyard Company to sell shares that would finance the purchase of land in what would become San Bernardino County.

"It became the world's largest vineyards with 5,000 continuous acres of vines, from where the Ontario airport is now, stretching out to what is Rialto," says Galleano.

One of those immigrants that followed Guasti was Don's grandfather, Domenico Galleano, who himself arrived in the U.S. in 1913, also fleeing economic depression from the Piedmont.

"My grandfather moved out here in the ranch in 1927, purchased from Esteban Cantu and his wife Ana," says Galleano.

The land that once had ranches are now known more for an airport, distribution centers, and wind tunnel conditions that can topple big rigs trucks.

Those severe winds also bring sand in from the desert, mixing with soil running off from the mountains during rainstorms.

"That's the reason why its one of the few places that has a climate and soil associated with the parts of Southern Italy, France, Spain, and Greece," says the Galleano Patriarch. "You can grow some pretty good wine and table grapes because we are growing this crop in the desert."

His Cantu-Galleano Ranch complex nests in Mira Loma near the southeastern edge of Cucamonga Valley's American Viticultural Area, off the over century-old Wineville road that runs along the 15 Freeway up past the 10 Freeway.

The inland wine region is in what became San Bernardino County, and you can spot the profitable acreage in the southwest corner that was hung on to when Riverside County was carved out and founded in 1893.

The area was once on the map as Wineville, so named in 1908 due to the national reputation as an agricultural center. Like all wine producing regions, it suffered during the prohibition years between 1920 and 1933, and growers limited to producing a 200 gallons a year for home use, and survived by growing grapes for direct consumption, or shipping them for wine production outside the U.S., allowing

During Prohibition, the identity of the area lost its name. Five miles outside the wine producing valley, a farm house at the Northcott ranch became the notorious site of kidnapping and murders that the national press called the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. (That is the same incident portrayed in the 2008 Clint Eastwood helmed film "Changeling").

Wineville became Mira Loma in November of 1930. It was marked by the post office changing the name Sept. 30, 1930, says Kevin Hallaran, archivist for the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. He adds that for a small town, "That is about as official as it gets."

By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Domenico Galleano made enough with the importing of crop to plant more vineyards and remodel buildings that could expand the storage of wine.

Since then, it has been passed on through the family. Don himself plans to keep the winery in the family.

The 15 inches of rain this past winter will produce a good vintage, he says, standing outside the winery's tasting room, looking across the dirt driveway to a picnic area on the grounds. With a slight smile, he shares a secret about Napa. They purchase the grapes grown on his land.

"Everything we produced here, last year and this year, is locally grown from 275 acres of local fruit," he says. "And we will sell some if that fruit to the south and the north."

While sprawl and land value is still chipping away chunks of acreage, others are preserving the region's wine history. The public art project "Vintner's Walk" is located at the corner of Foothill and Rochester, next to a Denny's restaurant, in Masi Plaza, a development named after a winery that stood there, says Danette Cook Adamson, the Special Collections Librarian at Cal Poly Pomona. She oversees the Southern California wine collection that archives the wine history of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside County. Adamson also points out tiled murals celebrating local wine history in a shopping center, next to a grocery store, at the corner of Etiwanda and Foothill.

Still, it is one of the last few wineries that can say more than public art projects dotting the valley.

"I consider it important that the Galleano Winery continue," says Adamson. "It is one of our surviving legacy wineries of the once great Cucamonga wine region. The only remaining wineries now are Galleano, Rancho de Philo, and Filippi."

The winery and ranch is listed as the Cantu/Galleano Ranch on the California and National Register of Historic Places, allowing Galleano a way to preserve that history. "As a landmark, it's the place that can live on for another few generations," says the rancher, standing like a robust grape vine, slightly weathered, but not going anywhere soon.

Galleano Winery is located at 4321 Wineville Ave in Mira Loma, CA. Wine tasting is available daily.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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