What is in this article?:
- Six decades of grape growing for Los Alamos, Calif., farmer Joe Carrari produces compelling history.
- Carrari was awash in an acre foot of wine and going broke when he created Dago Red California coastal red wine.
- Dago Red was far ahead of Two Buck Chuck and has a gold medal to prove it.
- Bulking wine not for faint-of-heart growers.
Joe Carrari spends his time at Rancho Alamo, a 3,600-acre ranch at Los Alamos. He leases out 400 acres for vegetable production and the rest is foothills where cattle are grazed.
Why Dago Red?
Why Dago Red? “I am Italian. My father immigrated to California from Italy during the Depression. What else would I call it,” roars Carrari.
Dago is from Diego, which was Christopher Columbus’s son’s name. Diego Columbus was the first viceroy to the West Indies, but the local natives could not pronounce his name. They called him Dago.
History aside, the name did not sit well with fellow Italians on the East Coast. He even got in trouble with the Italian Anti-Defamation League. “This fellow called me from Washington, D.C., to complain about the use of Dago on my wine. I responded to him in Italian. He did not understand a word I said. I told him to call me back when he learned to speak Italian and hung up,” howls Carrari.
He later altered the label, putting a photo of the gold medal over the word Dago on the label in deference to his fellow Italians.
Dago Red sold so well Carrari came up with spin-offs from that using white wine grapes from his vineyard.
“It took me 10 years to get rid of all that wine, but in the end I made a $1 million profit after all my expenses,” he said.
Dago Red was not the only time he turned a sour wine deal into a bouquet of money. A prominent North Coast winery contracted for grapes at 22 sugar. The weather turned hot, and the grapes started ripening quickly. He called the winery, but the winery was not ready to accept them. He was told to wait a few days to pick. He waited and when the grapes arrived at the winery, the loads were downgraded for being too high in sugar.
Carrari was angry and left the grapes on the truck and hauled them back to the coast for custom crushing. It was a 250-mile round trip.
“The trucker was really good about it and did not charge me for the back haul. I had worked with him over the years at other vineyards,” Carrari explains.
He eventually sold the wine bulk to Beringer for $3 per gallon. “I made more money that way than had I had them crushed at the winery where they were going to dock me,” he laughs.
These are just two of the tales Carrari likes to spin from more than 60 years of growing grapes and marketing wine not only in California, but throughout the U.S. “I shipped a lot of bulk wine to wineries in other states to get started,” he said.
He learned his viticultural prowess from his father, who was adept at nudging 4 to 5 tons per acre from head-pruned, dryland farm Zinfandel vines. The average rainfall at Rancho Cucamonga is 17 inches per year, just 6 inches more than in Fresno, Calif. Dryland farming wine grapes on less than 2 acre feet of water will make you resourceful for life.
From the 1890s into the mid-1950s, the Cucamonga-Guasti-Ontario Wine District was considered California's largest wine-growing and wine-producing district. Much of the valley's grape and wine property was owned by Secundo Guasti, who founded the Italian Vineyard Company in 1883 and built it into a gigantic wine enterprise prior to Prohibition. Guasti farmed the largest contiguous block of wine grapes at the time, 6,000 acres, and Carrari’s father managed some of those vineyards.