The Sommelier Update is an educational blog on wine, beer, spirits and food. It started in conjunction with the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiast club, but has rapidly gained an international following from those interested in learning, enjoying and having fun with food and wine. Weekly articles on advice, service, pairing ideas, recipes, education and consultation, from a Certified Sommelier and wine educator.
Rancho de Philo Winery
Mission Grapes at Rancho de Philo
When one of the three remaining wineries in the Cucamonga
Valley opens its’ doors only one week out of the year, the only thing to do is
rush over, and check it out. In last week’s blog, I shared some of the history
of the Cucamonga Valley, and the three remaining wineries. Of those three, the
only one I hadn’t visited was Rancho De Philo. They make only one wine: an
award winning Triple Cream Sherry. I had the pleasure of visiting their winery,
and was pleased with this new “find”.
Rancho de Philo doesn’t have a website, so finding out when
they are open to the public can be a bit difficult, unless you get on their
mailing list (which I now am). From what I can determine, they open on the
second Saturday in November, and remain open for about 7 to 9 days, or until
their inventory of wine runs out. They only bottle a little over 300 cases per
year, and as the word gets out, the inventory will be depleted even faster.
Rancho de Philo is located in Alta Loma, just northwest of
Chaffey College, at 10050 Wilson Avenue. Their hours are from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
I drove there on Sunday, and found a sign on the road, indicating “Sherry Sale”
which pointed me to the driveway of a 6.5 acre piece of land, surrounded by
expensive homes, overlooking the valley below. A vineyard in this area seems
out of place, but given the history of the area, it is not so far-fetched.
As I pulled up, I was greeted by a young boy, who encouraged
me to sign their guestbook and get on their mailing list. There was a small
umbrella set up in front, with almonds, cookies, crackers and small tasting
glasses. It was here, that I met the owners, Janine Biane Tibbetts and later,
her husband Alan. Janine was pouring three different bottlings of their Triple
Cream Sherry: 2013, 2012, and 2011. Their Sherry is created by using the Spanish
solera system, a fractional blending system.
Solera systems consist of a pyramid of barrels (in the case
of Rancho de Philo it is 15) stacked in a racking system, where the top layer
of barrels will contain the youngest wine (the latest vintage), and the bottom
level will be a blend of the wines above, and is where the latest bottling is
drawn off. As wine is drawn off, the barrels are filled from the level above,
blending all the different years, for a consistent product. All the time, the
wine continues to oxidize, creating a nutty, raisiny flavor, and turning the
wine to a wonderful amber color. Rancho de Philo uses neutral American Oak
barrels (used barrels from whiskey distilleries) in their Solera system. But
there is a difference between Spanish Sherry and Rancho de Philo Sherry.
Traditional Spanish wines are made with Palomino or PX grapes, but Rancho de Philo
uses 100% Mission grapes (Southern California’s original grape, brought in by
the Spanish Missionaries). Make no mistake, this Sherry is a dessert wine.
Since it is a fortified wine, the alcohol level is around 18%, and the residual
sugar comes in above 13%.
I had a brief opportunity to talk with Janine, and learn a
little about the history of the property, which was started by her father,
Philo Biane. But, the winemaking history of her family goes back much further. She
told me that her grandmother’s family, the Vachés, arrived from France and
settled in San Juan Bautista in 1832, where they planted grapes and built a
winery. They later had a winery in downtown Los Angeles, called Vaché et Cie. In
the late 1800s they planted a vineyard and opened a winery near Redlands in the
San Timoteo Valley. There was a brook adjacent to the winery so they named it
Brookside Winery. The Vaché and Biane families met, and eventually produced a
son, Philo Biane (Janine’s father). Rancho de Philo was founded by vintner and
wine industry pioneer Philo Biane in 1973, after he retired as the President of
Brookside Vineyard, which was sold to Beatrice Foods. He made his first Sherry
bottling in 1974, from the grapes on the property. Unfortunately, those grape
vines had to be replaced around the time of Philo’s death, in 1999, when they
were attacked by Pierce’s Disease. They were able to salvage cuttings from the remaining
30+ vines, and replant. So, the current vines are only about 10 to 14 years
old, but do come from the original Mission grape rootstock.
Janine told me they no longer ferment the wine on the
property, as too many of the neighbors complained about the fruit flies. So,
she ships her wine to Galleano Winery for fermentation, then brings it back up
for aging in the solera. Her family has a longtime relationship with the
Galleano family, so much so, that the three friends, on the label of the award
winning Galleano "Three Friends" Port, are her family members.
Rancho De Philo was recently named the top microwinery in
California, for its’ style of wine, and their Triple Cream Sherry continues to
reap awards at local, national, and international competitions.
Don’t miss out. Buy it now, and enjoy for the holidays and
beyond. And, don’t worry about that open bottle. Since this is and aged, and
oxidized wine, it will hold just fine, sitting on your kitchen counter, waiting
for you to enjoy.