Cucamonga Valley is an AVA in the San Bernardino and Riverside counties in the eastern sprawl of the city of Los Angeles. Once home to one of the largest areas under vine in California, Cucamonga Valley is now the site of just a handful of vineyards producing old-vine Zinfandel in the middle of suburbia.
The AVA covers the southern foothills of the imposing San Gabriel Mountain range and extends down to the Santa Ana River, which flows through the north-western corner of Riverside County. The terrain is fairly flat, and small vineyards can be found nestled among the houses, factories and airports.
Soils in the hot, desert-like valley are rocky and sandy, allowing for excellent drainage. The lack of water in the soils and the heat of the region mean that the grapes produced by the vines are smaller than normal, with thicker skins and more-concentrated flavors. This leads to a typical Cucamonga Valley wine style that is big and bold with firm, ripe tannins.
The valley was once an agricultural mecca, and at the beginning of Prohibition in 1920 had more acreage under vine than both Sonoma and Napa counties. Vines were first planted in Cucamonga in the 1830s, and the discovery of the region as a premium site for viticulture is largely credited to an Italian immigrant named Secondo Guasti from the wine-growing region of Piedmont. Recognising the potential of the soils and the climate, he pioneered grape growing here, and a settlement in the valley was named Wineville in reference to the vast extent of the vineyards, although this was later changed to Mira Loma after a notorious crime shook the area.
Grape growing continued throughout Prohibition and Cucamonga Zinfandel grapes were shipped all across the state for home winemaking, which was permitted under national law during this time. (Prohibition finally ended in 1933.) Even until the 1950s, the larger Los Angeles area was one of the largest agricultural areas in the United States.
The development of industry and the urban sprawl that has crept eastward from Los Angeles in the past 50 years have been devastating for Cucamonga Valley wineries. Less than 1000 acres (405ha) of vineyards remain, and these are under threat from the ongoing demand for land for development. A few hardy souls remain in the area producing rich, age-worthy wines made from Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Syrah and fortified wines made in the Sherry style.