By: Marianna Gatto, ISDA Contributing Editor
Long before Napa became California’s wine center, Secondo Guasti, an immigrant from Piedmont, Italy, established himself as the state’s wine king.
Guasti’s vineyard and town, located approximately 40 miles east of Los Angeles, was synonymous with Southern California wine, and served as a catalyst for Italian chain migration.
In search of a better life, Secondo Guasti immigrated to Panama at age 21.
After stints in Mexico, San Francisco and Arizona, Guasti arrived in Los Angeles in 1883 with $1 in his pocket.
He found work as a cook at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles, which was owned by an Italian pioneer family, married a proprietor’s daughter, and established a modest winery.
Seeking land on which to grow grapes, Guasti explored the sparsely inhabited town of Cucamonga and was convinced that its sandy soil was ideal for grape cultivation.
Despite being mocked by farmers in the area, in 1901, Guasti pooled the resources of his investors, also Italian immigrants, and purchased 2,000 acres of land in Cucamonga at 75 cents an acre.
The Italian Vineyard Company was born.
Guasti recruited entire families to work at the winery, which expanded to 5,000 contiguous acres, boasted an annual production of 3.5 million gallons, and was considered the largest vineyard in the world.