Raj Parr could have his pick of projects.
The sommelier-turned-winemaker is a certified powerhouse — turning out gorgeous, otherworldly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with Sashi Moorman at Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi. And now, he’s crafting pure, wild wines from gnarled old vines crouched between office parks in the desert outside of L.A.
Why? Because before prohibition, the Cucamonga Valley outside of L.A. was the epicenter of California winemaking. Spanish varieties like Palomino, Mission, and Garnacha Tintorera thrived in the dry, sandy soils. Post-WWII, Sonoma and Napa Valley were the ones to rebound. But historic vines, some over 100 years old, still exist outside the City of Angels.
With encouragement from winemaker and philosophy professor Abe Schoener, who originally roped him into working in the area, and importer José Pastor, Raj created Scythians. The name comes from the nomadic Scythian mercenaries of ancient Greek history.
The production is decidedly different from Domaine de la Côte. In past vintages, Raj has harvested entirely alone, loading grapes into a pickup and driving them to the tiny winery near Boyle Heights. At first, almost everything was done by hand. Pitchforks, makeshift pumps — a down-to-earth, barebones approach that yields unforgettable results.
The plots he sources from have been tended to by local families — farmers — for the last few generations. Thanks to the arid conditions, they’ve never seen a drop of pesticides, fungicides, or chemicals. The gnarled old vines look tiny in comparison to the massive highways and towering office parks that surround them, and they’re constantly at risk of being destroyed; the area is prime real estate and the vines could be bought up and ripped out at any moment.
We’re hoping that doesn’t happen, that enough people taste this unfiltered slice of L.A. heritage and fall in love. It’s hard not to. His Cucamonga Red is a blend of 50% Zinfandel, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Mission, 10% and Grenache from a blend of three plots. It’s wild and aromatic with an herbaceous current. His Scythians white is 100% Palomino, some left on its skins for a week before native yeast fermentation in Sherry botas and old French oak. It’s rich and complex with notes of peaches and cream.
Even if these wines weren’t made in minuscule quantities, even if they weren’t made by a certified legend like Raj, we would tell you to buy them. To not hesitate for one millisecond. To seize this opportunity to taste a slice of California winemaking history before it’s bulldozed into the ether.
But hey, maybe this is the start of a new movement. Maybe you’ll be seeing more Cucamonga Valley wines in the coming years. If they’re anything like the Scythians, that’s a better world for all of us.