About two years ago, Cathi and Claude Bibeau sat in their backyard contemplating what to do with “Satan’s Berm” – a part of their backyard that sloped upward to their wall. Nothing would grow on it and it was a giant eyesore. Then Cathi got the idea to terrace it and turn it into a vineyard. It is now the major focal point of a complete landscape redesign that has cut their water bill by one third to one half (depending on the time of year). They have joined a wine-making co-op, which provides them with cases of bottles every year. Now, as they sit in their backyard, they can drink wine made from grapes they grew themselves – and watch the next harvest grow.
To bring this vision to life, they consulted George Walker, leader of the Cucamonga Valley Vinters Co-op and owner of the business My Hope Vineyard. George’s mission is to repopulate the Southern California with grape vines and continue our long heritage of grape growing and wine making. He helped Cathi and Claude tame “Satan’s Berm” with terraces and plant it with vines. Later this year, Cathi will adopt three of George’s heritage vines – 90 year old vines that you can still find in abandoned vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga. They will be transplanted to her front yard – guaranteed to make her house different from every other on the street.
When we think “drought tolerant,” grapes tend not to be the first plant that comes to mind, but it turns out that this area has produced grapes without much watering for over two hundred years. Before Napa – and way before Temecula – there was the Inland Empire, at one time boasting 30,000 acres of continuous grape vines. One reason grapes were popular is that they do not need to be watered after the first couple of years of planting. A mature grape vine can send its roots down one hundred feet to tap groundwater, which makes them ideal for our area, which has a great deal of groundwater, but very little rain.
How far back does grape production go?
The “Mother Vineyard,” as it is called, was planted at the San Gabriel Mission. Grape production spread east over the century, and continued in this area throughout the prohibition because the wineries were licensed to make sacramental wine.
The festival atmosphere at George Walker’s house is undeniable. Members of his co-op have gathered here in mid-May to bottle this year’s harvest, and they will each take home several mixed cases of Cucamonga old vines Zinfandel, Cucamonga Co-Op Petite Sirah, Temecula Chardonnay, and a more youthful Northern San Diego County Zinfandel. A giant jump house is full of kids, laughing and screaming throughout the day. But it’s hard to tell who is having more fun – the kids in the jump house, or the adults, who are clustered under pop-up tents bottling and drinking their wine at the same time.
The process sounds a bit like a chemistry experiment – the ph and acid balance of the wine is especially important. Wine from the crushed grapes has been aging in steel canisters for eight months. Sitting in with the wine during this time were oak corkscrews that give it the taste of wine that has been aging in oak barrels – all that really matters is contact with the oak, and the corkscrew design gives it as much contact as possible. A small plastic hose draws the wine from the barrel into a bottling machine that allows these wine enthusiasts to fill three bottles at a time. They won’t be ready to drink for at least another six months. The young wine has a lot of acidity, and the aging process mellows the taste and deepens the flavor. That doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying wine from previous harvests, though, and the amazing thing is that the wide variety of grapes available to the Co-Op was grown in the Santa Ana watershed – most from Rancho Cucamonga – and some from as far south as Temecula and San Diego.
To learn more about turning your yard into a vineyard, visit www.myhomevineyard.com