|Don Galleano, 2014|
Not many wine lovers know that Southern California and Los Angeles were the first California wine country. Fewer still believe that remnants of the world of sweet wines and sherries lives on or that one could have 300 acres of organic dry farmed Zinfandel, some of it 80 year old bush vines growing in sand by the freeway.
I marveled at many details in Jon Bonne's 2014 article. He wrote that the dry farmed roots of the José Lopez vines, "push 30 feet or more into the sandy soils, strewn with granite rocks washed from the mountains above."
|Galleano's sherries reflect Old California.|
Its gorgeous, sumptuous Rose of Peru
is a unique tribute to an historical grape.
|Galleano's old vine vineyard|
We talked about water - he was on the local water district board for years and he knew the ins and outs of the allocation system thoroughly.
|Carol Shelton with grapes at the José Lopez Vineyard, planted just before Prohibition|
What was Don like?
He was a cool guy. He was kind of like a mafia don. We used to call him The Don or Donald.
He wore his pants high up on his waist with a belt and his hair was slicked back and he wore a turtleneck a lot of the time. Marlon Brando had nothing on him. He was great.
How did he work to preserve his old vines?
Don was passionate about protecting his vineyard and making sure it got recognized and he was fighting to get it made a historic landmark so it's a big loss. I don't think he had finished that job. So that’s really sad.
He got the winery property landmarked. I registered the vineyard in the Historic Vineyard Society but he didn’t manage to get the government to name the vineyard an historic landmark which would have protected it from future development.
They've already lost a good portion - probably two thirds - of the vineyard to development, because there weren't any freeways when it was planted, right? And they put ten lanes of Route 15 in, and then they put 210 in, which bisects the vineyard. And then there's all this new housing. There’s tremendous pressure to develop the land. The land is actually, I believe, owned by a rich Singapore businessman. I've never met him, I don't even know his name. I think he just leased the property to Donald and it was just a line on his income statement, you know, and he didn't really know what it was - just an asset. It was a much more valuable asset for housing.
|José Lopez Vineyard|
What was his winery like?
The Galleano family has a 12 acre vineyard adjacent to their Mira Loma winery, which is kind of a sprawling place. Actually, every time I go there, I think, “Oh my God, I've just seen Pancho Villa with crossed bandoliers coming out, shooting, because it just looks like something out of old Mexico or something.
Don had great stories. Some of them would change a little bit every time he told them.
I heard that the Jose Lopez vineyard was very old - it was planted in 1918. And then I heard different years in Don's subsequent retellings of the story.
He said that his property right there at the winery in Mira Loma was acquired in a poker game with one of Pancho Villa’s lieutenants - Esteban Cantu. They actually made a freeway exit for him.
Cantu was either one of Galleano's predecessors, and he owned the land around the winery. Then there was a big poker game, and he lost the land to Domenico Galleano.
Don had a lot of colorful stories.
How did he die?
He contracted a virus about five years ago that was one of those weird things that took the doctors a long time to diagnose. He came very close to dying in the hospital, and it weakened his heart. So I think the biggest guess is that he died in his sleep when his heart gave out.
He wasn't one for doing a lot of exercise and for taking care of himself. He smoked cigars. He drank. It was his lifestyle. He wasn't an alcoholic by any means. But he just definitely liked his lifestyle and he wasn't about to change it. And that's kind of what ultimately caused his demise.
Will the old vine plant material be saved?
As for the vineyard, there have been a few people that have taken tissue cuttings and propagated. Cal Poly Pomona and ZAP have some of the plant material.
What, are there any of his wines that inspired you? Like his sherrys? I know you made that Tawny Monga once?
Well his Zin was your basic Dago Red. It was classic as an old school jug style.
But his sherrys were really good. And that's how I got to know him when I worked for Windsor Vineyards, and we wanted to bottle port and sherry.
I came down because he had some of the best stock in the country. So I went to see him once when I was doing a wine competition. So I flew in early and had a big tasting session with him and his winemaker, Jason Bushong (who’s up in Paso now). We tasted through all these different barrels and I'd say, “Okay, I want this one, this one this one, and skip those.” So then they loaded up a tanker and I took it back up north to Windsor.
What he did with those sherries was amazing. He really had the handle on dessert wine.
He also farmed a lot of vineyards around the area. He had a real love for the heritage of the Cucamonga Valley.
So your Tawny Monga - was that inspired by his sweet wines?
It was in a year that was very tough to harvest, because there was a terrible heat wave, and it’s a long story but the truck from the vineyard got a flat tire in the middle of a cell phone dead zone that was between Cucamonga and Temecula.
For the first 10 or so years that I got the fruit, I had to crush in Temecula because of the glassy winged sharpshooter quarantine. So I got to know everybody down there.
The truck got stuck on Highway 15 and the guy had to walk out to get help. By the time we saw the truck, it was past eight o'clock at night. It had left the vineyard between 12 and one in the afternoon in a heat wave. The heat was radiating off the pavement. The fruit was a bit cooked, so we took the press fraction, fortified it and made port out of it. It made a damn good port.
Yes, I had some of that when I came to your place several years ago and I loved it. I just absolutely adored it and I should try to get some more of that.
Make sure you get some from Galleano's place - he's got some really really good stuff. His cream sherry and Angelica are amazing.
Yes I have some Rose of Peru and a Mary Margaret sherry, which were his best.
His legacy was really amazing. It would be a great loss if it wasn't protected.