by Samantha Sincock
For vintners, wine making is an art form that is passed down from generation to generation. It is a California tradition, and in Rancho Cucamonga, vineyards were a prominent feature for more than 150 years.
The Sycamore Inn cherishes and honors this historical tradition through its vast collection of wines, and the great care taken in selection. It is the history of the grapes that makes wine so special to the community. Cucamonga began its wine traditions in 1838 when the first grapes were planted. Then, local farmer and prominent pioneer John Reign decided to change from sheep to agriculture and planted 125,000 grape vines. His choice was an excellent match with the latitude and ample sun. The grapes grew to a prize-winning size and taste, perfect for making wine. By 1917, Secundo Guasti had the largest vineyard in the world, spanning more than 50,000 grape-growing acres. Hundreds of individuals came to the area to take part in the “gold mine” in farming, and, by the early 1920s, Cucamonga produced more wine than any other region in California.
Today, few vines remain. Many of the wines housed at the Sycamore come from the Joseph Filippi Winery, which is one of the last original Cucamonga vineyards. Sycamore Inn co-owner Linda Keagle feels that much of the Inn’s celebrated history comes from the vino. “Many of the wines we house haven’t changed from the days when vineyards and orange groves filled every corner of this land. The Filippi Winery has been in business with this building for many years, and we are very happy to continue that tradition.” Sadly, only history books tell the tales of old. “There was once this wonderful vineyard off Haven Avenue that was famous for Zinfandel, but when the owner passed away, the family had to sell it for housing lots,” remembers Linda. “Cucamonga became a sprawl of affordable housing in the late ‘70s, and when the developers rushed in they destroyed a lot of the city’s history.”
It is the Sycamore Inn’s strong traditions of the old valley that keeps most of the customers coming back. Co-owner Chuck Keagle takes care in keeping the wine list filled with current well known wines. More than 40 wines by the glass are available. “Chuck loves his wine and travels far to try different types to ensure our customers have the best to choose from,” says Linda. “We hold traditional wine tastings regularly, and it brings many new faces to the restaurant. It is through places like the Inn that people can reconnect with the older times and make new traditions of their own.”
Also see the companion story, “Preserving forgotten times.”