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Getting to the Heart and Soul of Suisun Valley

I’m working on a project right now that’s captured my imagination with new concepts about all the old facts I’ve learned regarding Suisun Valley. We’ve been working with the growers and producers for a six year cycle.

As this year’s plan came together, we all knew was that the last year of their grant money is coming to an end; and the going out year had to be very different from all the other tasks in previous years. These tasks were primarily to get the name Suisun Valley on the map, and onto the radar screen. They had been in some sort of Rip Van Winkle time warp, and Jose and I were called in to help them illuminate their valley in the wine media and beyond.

Imagine:

  • American Viticultural Area (AVA) for over 25 years
  • One of the oldest AVAs, since they began in 1982
  • Neighbor to Napa on it’s southeastern most tip
  • Part of the North Coast AVA…

But, who knew?

I certainly didn’t, and very few others did, too, as I began to spread the word. Now, there’s much more visibility. You may not know this AVA (because who reads everything?), but others surely do. And, it’s enough for it to be growing in a more vibrant winemaking and grape growing way from six years ago.

As I leave from being their storyteller, I wanted to leave something of substance… So does the board of directors of SVVGA also want a brave new world.

“How do I do that, when I’ve come to know the story so well,” I thought… And then, I realized I only knew the big picture story… their day-to-day lives; but, I didn’t know the minute details. And, I also had questions; like:

  • Where did Suisun Valley get it’s name?
  • What are the details of all these individual grape growers, since I’ve only been writing about them as a group?

That’s when I realized I may be writing my most fascinating pieces. Had I only been studying the heart of the valley, but now I would have an amazing opportunity to discover their soul?

Wanting to immediately get started, I launched a story with one I had begun earlier. Maurry Koch is a grower/producer. His wine brand is Koch Wines. Jose and I had helped him launch is Website. I had already written his story, so half my work was done.

Exploring the Potential for Great Suisun Valley Cabernet at Koch Wine

Roger and I were also talking about an R&D story I was working on, “Third Generation Grape Grower Fred Abruzzini Has it All.” With this one, I had gotten to the bottom on the Abruzzini family coming into Suisun Valley, and am very excited about this story. Roger loves it, too, and asked me to begin a chronological thought process. He wanted me to dig back to the Mangels Winery, because that’s the tipping point that people in Suisun talk about, and recognize it as something of great merit.

Meanwhile… my mind could only think of getting to the bottom of where Suisun Valley got its name. I had heard that it had Native American roots, and my curiosity was going bonkers.

So, I went that way. What an amazing ride, and I wrote:

How Suisun Valley Got Its Name

BRIEFLY: Well worth the discovery of Chief Solano, formerly Suisunes Chief Sem-Yeto was baptized by missionaries as “Solano.”

The first grape growing and winery in Suisun Valley ~ 1906 ~ Mangels winery (called Solano Winery) had grown to produce 500,000 gallons of wine a year, in Green Valley, Solano County (1893 to early 1950s). A half a million gallons of wine… Right up there with the Beaulieu, Beringer, Wente, the Concannon, Inglenook,  Korbel, Martini, and Tulare’s of the world.

It’s just astounding to me, and I don’t think that it’s that I’m learning all of these facts. What’s blowing me away is that this story has been laying dormant since 1943, from the publications that I have as resources… And, the fact that it’s an internationally told story for the very first time is amazing to me to have this opportunity. I have what some people like to think of as a “scoop,” when in fact…

Writing The Earliest History of Grape Growing in Suisun Valley has me really off and running, and the rest will be history… as the saying goes, as I get to tie in the time between Chief Solano, the 1940s to six years ago, to when I first began the stories. I never thought about skipping backwards to tell the present… But what better place than on their Website, written in such detail as I’m going to be telling.

It’s so wonderful. I never thought I’d grow up to be a historian.

Suisunes Chief Sem Yeto was baptized by missionaries as “Solano.”
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8 Responses to “Getting to the Heart and Soul of Suisun Valley”

  1. Lorrie S. LeBeaux says:

    Jo,

    I was pleased to be provided with a sample of Red Cote Rose` from Artisan Family of Wines which is crafted inthe Suisun Valley. I liked it alot! The review can be found on http://www.ebacchus.com.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for sharing in the joy, Lorrie!

  3. Derek says:

    Interesting — thanks Jo. I’ve been getting my Charbono grapes from Suisun for a few years now and they have turned out excellent. I think Suisun is very underrated and gets a bad rap due to its Solano County address. Hopefully Suisun’s reputation will continue to improve.

  4. Matt Lamborn says:

    Jo -

    Have you found some of the historical growers (Mangels, etc.) on historical maps? Some of the maps used to find historical growers in Napa Co. (1876, 1895, 1915) are rich in texture and handsomely hand-drawn. They make the history come alive.

    Here’s an example of a Solano County map from 1909:
    http://www.gomerschool.com/0assets_master/maps/1909/6741infoDetail_900px.jpg

    Just a thought. I think Suisun Valley produces some excellent (yet under-appreciated!!) wines. The maps add a degree of authenticity and intrigue that catch people’s attention, and could be a real asset for Suisun Valley AVA!

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    Derek,

    What a a fabulous endorsement. I know you’re going to make the growers very pleased to hear what you think about the grapes coming from their AVA.

    Thank!

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Matt,

    Cool… Love the idea. I’ll make it over to the Gomer School to see if it’s possible to look at copies… Can’t even imagine handling the originals (too Delicate, as were some old newspapers that I had access to).

  7. Jason says:

    Very cool article. Suisun Valley deserves more exposure. Suisun Valley Wine is just as good as any other wine. Nice history piece. I would write more about what Suisun Valley Wine has to offer the consumer.

    Talk about the area, the people that work in the winery, and how the winery has maintained brand appeal since its conception. Build value into the brand like you’re trying to sell the Suisun Valley Winery to another company.

    If you were the buyer, what would entire you about the winery? What makes the wine special? Describe what separates Suisun Valley wine from all other. How is the winery able to compete against the powerhouses in Napa, Jackson, and all other competitors?

    Begin the piece with describing the history of the winery, the area, and then move into the wine itself. Talk about the workers, the valley and what the wine offers to a wine taster and to wine lovers across the country, as well as across the world.

    If you need any pointers, leave a comment on the http://suisunblog.com or the website I linked up to you – http://Suisun.org. I may not know as much as the commentors on this wine blog, but i do know how to increase interest and to write stimulating articles. Good luck!

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Jason. They do deserve more time in the spotlight.

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