Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Suisun Valley, The Elusive Appellation

Blue Victorian Winery flanking primitivo grapes
Fairfield - gateway to jelly beans, beer...and wine? Indeed. Just off Interstate 80 at Fairfield is a compact wine region yet to be discovered by motorists speeding through town. If they pause at all, it's likely to check out the Jelly Belly plant or the Budweiser factory along the south side of the freeway. On the opposite side of the interstate, however, is the heart of the Suisun Valley wine appellation. It isn't new. It's been officially designated as an American Viticultural Area since 1982, though wine grapes have been grown and processed in the area since long before then.

Still, as Northern California wine regions go, Suisun Valley has yet to be discovered. Earlier this week, as my granddaughter took her licensing exam before the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology in Fairfield, I killed time by wandering about the country roads north of Interstate 80, hoping to find a few wineries open. I did, but just a few. Monday, even a Monday that was a holiday for some people, isn't the best day to taste wine in Suisun Valley, I discovered. Several places I would have liked to visit, especially the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative and Winterhawk Winery, were closed. Make a note: The Co-op, 4495 Suisun Valley Road, where the wines of five local wineries are poured, including Winterhawk, is open only noon-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

More frustrating was that by the time I visited four wineries I still didn't have a confident reading on the varietal or style of wine that ultimately will give Suisun Valley its identity. In the past, I've tasted some craftily made merlot, petite sirah and even pinot noir coming out of the area, but Monday I didn't find much to excite me. Oh, Wooden Valley Winery & Vineyards continues to excell with cabernet sauvignon and merlot, Ledgewood Creek Winery & Vineyards produces a pretty and refreshing grenache rose and a complex and solid merlot, and Blue Victorian Winery had a respectably fruity syrah, but where were the exciting petite sirahs that henceforth had generated the most buzz about the valley's potential? Maybe they aren't poured on Mondays.

This weekend, incidentally, should be a good time for wine enthusiasts to discover Suisun Valley. The valley's Fun Family Farm Days, a harvest festival with pumpkin patches, barrel tasting, winery tours, produce stands, hay rides and the like, will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. About 10 wineries are to be open and pouring tastes. For more information, go here. Please let me know of standout varietals or blends you find.

Our granddaughter, meanwhile, who graduated from high school in May, passed her exam and now is a licensed cosmetologist, ready to help finance her way through college. We celebrated at the Fairfield branch of Fresh Choice, without wine.


  1. Amazing... Cosmetology financed my way through life, too. Combining art, hard work, and study... She's going to be a wonder. Thanks for sharing this story for a lot of the loves of my life, Mike.

  2. Mike

    Next time you get by please call. There are close to 8 Petite Sirah bottlings, some from the likes of Olabisi, Forlorn Hope, Scholium Project & Pretense which are tasted outside the valley, but the Coop does have three individual Petite Sirah, Vezer has one, Wooden Valley has it in barrel.

    I will do some coordination and work this out for you with a little notice.

    Glad you did venture up Suisun Valley Road while burning a little time. And this weekend will have everyone open

    Roger King

  3. I'm sorry that after visiting the Suisun Valley you opted to eat lunch at Fresh Choice!! We have so many other fantastic options! Please try again..

  4. It's unfortunate that you didn't get to try some of the Suisun Valley Petite Sirahs, as this grape does wonderfully in our valley. I'm also experimenting with some lesser known varieties, Montepulciano in particular, that do real well in our locale. There's certainly alot more to taste on a weekend than there is on a Monday, so your timing was unfortunate.
    Jeff Miller
    Artisan Family of Wines