Just over the hill from Napa Valley is another wine country, but no, it’s not Sonoma Valley it’s the Suisun Valley wine country. This little known appellation has been producing quality grapes for decades although it quite literally has been in the shadow of Napa.
Located right off of Interstate 80 near Fairfield, the appellation offers a taste of rustic wine country that’s mere minutes from the high-profile indulgences of nearby Napa and Sonoma. Christine and I are friends with George and Gina Richmond who are part of the small winery Mangles Vineyards that runs its tasting room with three other wineries at the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative. After a lunch of decent pub fare at the Rockville Inn bar and restaurant, we stopped by the co-op for our first taste of Suisun valley vintages.
Mangles’ Verdelho was quite impressive as well as their Petite Sirah. Granted, I’m friends with the winemaking team so I do have a bias but I thought all of Mangles‘ wines were solid and pleasant tasting. Their Petite Sirah was especially enjoyable. Petite can often be overloaded with tannins and dark fruit flavors but Mangles’ wine had a wonderful balance and paired great with a dinner of braised sausages. One impressive characteristic of Suisun Valley is the variety of grapes grown in the area. Many “up and coming” appellations have hinged their hopes on one particular type of grape, while Suisun Valley
offers an abundance of good grapes. During our tasting trip we tried the standard varietals such as Cab, Pinot and Zinfandel but also enjoyed a mix of less common wines such as Torrantes, Veridigue and several tantalizing blends. I’ll be honest, some wines were terrible. There was a Zinfandel at the co-op that was undrinkable and at another winery later in the day Christine and I both tried a Viognier that left us shaking our heads and wondering, “What did they do to that poor wine?” But on the whole, we were impressed by the quality of winemaking.
The day of our visit was overcast and foggy. The roads and most of the tasting rooms we visited were quite as if most folks had decided to bundle up inside and watch the NFL playoffs, but as the 49ers weren’t in the playoffs this year (Next year for sure, right Alex Smith? Right?) Christine and I were excited about a day of wine tasting. Our next stop after the co-op was Wooden Valley winery and vineyards, the oldest winery in Suisun Valley. Run by the Lanza family for almost a century, this vintage winery has a rustic tasting room with an old world Italian feel. I found their Primitivo to be especially enjoyable. Primitivo is the Italian cousin of Zinfandel, so grown here in the United States it’s Zinfandel, but no matter what it was called — the wine had excelllent fruit characteristics that were followed by a smooth, dry finish.
Our next stop turned out to be my favorite, Ledgewood Creek Winery. This winery, owned by the Frisbie family, had the most complete and satisfying tasting lineup of our tasting tour. We loved the winery’s open and modern tasting room that afforded wonderful views of the estate vines that surround the winery. At one point during our visit, everyone in the tasting room stopped to marvel at flocks of thousands of small, black birds rise from the vines shrouded in mist and take to the air, like a living cloud.
Ledgewood does excellent Rhone style wines. Their Rhone blends, known as GSM for Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, are exceptional. But they also do other varietals, and Christine and I especially enjoyed a side-by-side tasting of their ’07 and ’08 “Three-Clone” Chardonnays that had excellent structure and wonderful aromas.
If you’re interested in visiting Suisun Valley, check out the Suisun Valley Vintners & Growers Association for some basics on the region and its wine. The great part about the area is that you can do a quick tour of some wineries along a loop route that will take off of Interstate 80 and back in about two hours of total driving time.
The other great part is that the wine at almost every winery we visited is quite affordable. Most bottles cost around $13 to $22 and the wineries offer case and club membership discounts. Suisun Valley may be in the shadow of Napa Valley, but it would be worth your time as a wine lover to try visiting the valley next door.