The History of Rancho Cucamonga

California’s wine industry spread from Los Angeles and continued to flourish, making it the most prominent wine-producing state. Southern California has a rich history of wine production, but it was not until vineyards started overcrowding in Los Angeles that it eventually spread out. One town that stands out in California’s wine history is Rancho Cucamonga. While vineyards were destroyed in Los Angeles due to the mysterious disease and eventually prohibition, they persisted in Rancho Cucamonga, which most people think was the epicenter or origin of wine production.

The crowding of vineyards in Los Angeles saw them spill over into neighboring valleys and towns. Rancho Cucamonga became one of California’s vineyards. Rancho Cucamonga’s rise started in 1839 when Tiburcio Tapia, a wealthy Los Angeles merchant, took charge. The land is located at the base of the San Gabriel mountains. Until 1839, there were insignificant wine production activities in Rancho Cucamonga. However, with Tapia taking charge, he reshaped its wine industry.

Los Angeles had experienced difficult times at the end of the 19th century due to Pierce’s disease decimating vineyards. By the turn of a century, their vineyard cultivation and wine production had taken a turn. At the beginning of the 20th century, modern wineries were constructed in Los Angeles. The new era, however, faced an expansion challenge. Real estate prices and fear of prohibition had risen. Planting vineyards in Los Angeles’s adjoining San Bernadino County solved the problem. Rancho Cucamonga lies at the west end of San Bernadino.
Interestingly, Rancho Cucamonga residents majorly reared livestock. If you are unaware, Rancho refers to a residential area for ranch workers. The Kukamonga tribe inhabited the place. “Cucamonga” is derived from Kukamonga, meaning deep sandy soils. Rancho Cucamonga was where ranch workers resided, located in the deep sandy soils at the base of the San Gabriels mountains. Going back to Tapia, he also wanted to rear cattle at Rancho Cucamonga but found another use for it which was planting vineyards.

green plant on brown tree trunk during daytime

The Unlikely Story of White Zinfandel

At the start of the 1840s, Tapia introduced wine production in Rancho Cucamonga.

He employed a longtime friend and winemaking associate, Jean Louis Sainsevain, to restore the neglected vineyard and add to it.

Tapia established Cucamonga Vineyard Company to take care of the wine business. Grape production increased, and rancho Cucamonga became the largest vineyard in the state until prohibition. Tapia died in 1859, and “his daughter and her husband, Maria and Leon Victor Prudhomme, sold the 13,000-plus acres to John and Maria Merced Rains.” Rains was later murdered in 1862, and Racho Cucamonga fell to foreclosure.

Isaias Hellman

Isaias Hellman transformed Rancho Cucamonga into a new dimension. Hellman purchased the vineyard in 1870, naming it Cucamonga Vineyard. Hellman acquired the property after it fell for foreclosure due to the murder of Rains. Hellman, a banker from Los Angeles, brought in investors that built a new winery whose wines were revered. Also, he sold part of the property. Cucamonga vineyard continued producing wine until 1917 when most of its vines had been torn and exhausted. In 1920, the vineyard was bought by Hugh and Ida Thomas.

Rancho Cucamonga

Figure 2: San Gabriel Mountain Range, Southern California by Ron Reiring

Modern-day Rancho Cucamonga

Many components bearing Los Angeles wine history have been destroyed or forgotten. Rancho Cucamonga’s case is, however, different. Rancho Cucamonga is sensitive to its history and has embraced it by cultivating small vineyards. Even with urbanization, residents tend to these small vineyards as part of their landscaping schemes. It is incredible for a town to cherish its history. Rancho Cucamonga often holds Grape Harvest Festival to commemorate the town’s wine history. There still exist old wineries, more than 100 years old. For instance, Tapia’s first winery, the oldest in Rancho Cucamonga, still exists, although repurposed for commercial use. Wine and history enthusiasts can visit to see and rediscover its heritage.

bunch of green fruits

This Day in Wine History

May 15, 1769: Father Junipero Serra set on his expedition north from the Baja peninsula in Mexico. The expedition’s mission was to establish Spanish control in previously explored lands. In addition, the task was considered ‘sacred’ since it was set to establish missions and convert natives. As a result, they settled in California and introduced wine cultivation. Father Serra, also known as the father of California wine, set the state’s course to becoming the biggest producer in the US.

January 24, 1848: Gold nuggets were discovered in Sutter’s Mill in Sacramento Valley on this day. The discovery shaped much of California and America’s history in the second half of the 19th century. California had a few residents, but with the gold rush, its population increased tremendously. Interestingly, while most people came looking for gold, they found another treasure, grapes. Most of them turned to vineyard cultivation, which represents the rising wine production in California in the second half of the 19th century. Besides, the wine industry flourished due to increased consumption from miners. The industry was, however, affected by Pierce’s disease and prohibition.

January 25, 1969: On this day, the historic Thomas Winery in Rancho Cucamonga was destroyed. After several days of torrential rain and rapidly melting snow, the banks of Cucamonga broke, and the roaring waters washed over the winery across the street. The debris on the San Bernadino Road was massive that it was undrivable. The damage to the winery was significant. Giant casks, bottles, and broken barrels were spread far south of the winery. Artifacts and precious antiques were destroyed. Besides, part of Tapia’s original homestead got washed out. Unfortunately, the destruction did not stop at that since a second flood, on February 25, came and continued the destruction.

References

  1. Stuart Douglass Byles, Los Angeles Wine: A History from the Mission Era to the Present (Charleston, Sc: American Palate, 2014).
  2. Byles, 81
  3. David Allen, “‘Tangled Vines’ Explores Wine, the Pride of Cucamonga,” Daily Bulletin, November 24, 2015, https://www.dailybulletin.com/2015/11/24/tangled-vines-explores-wine-the-pride-of-cucamonga/.
  4. Thomas Pinney, The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles (Berkeley, California: Heyday; San Francisco, California, 2017).
  5. History.Com Editors, “California Gold Rush,” HISTORY (A&E Television Networks, August 21, 2018), https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/gold-rush-of-1849.
  6. Norwich University Online, “Historical Impact of the California Gold Rush,” Norwich University Online,
  7. December 31, 1999, https://online.norwich.edu/academic-programs/resources/historical-impact-of-the-california-gold-rush.

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