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Suisun Valley,Vineyards,Viticulture,Wine

Tiny Suisun Valley and Behemoth E.J. Gallo

UPDATE FROM ROGER KING on Facebook:

Roger King ~ Jo, it is too early to prejudge sad day, we will see where this all goes and prepare for the next leg up. The underlying reality is Suisun Valley has water and that is a great thing going forward (and why they bought).

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Years ago Suisun Valley received marketing funding from both the city of Fairfield and the Solano Irrigation District. At the time, most people – if you said “Suisun” – would have word associated with Vidal Sassoon, including me… Until we got the call from Roger King, that is.

Roger, the president of the Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association, had funding available to help get them become more recognized and gain respect they deserved. I write “respect,” because they were pretty much off the charts, and clumped into Central Valley grape growing. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Suisun Valley is a Napa Valley neighbor. Just as Sonoma is to Napa’s west, Suisun is to their southeast, within the same latitude. It’s almost like they’re part of Napa, with one little tiny chunk being in their southeast quadrant. Because one has to cross down into the Valley, when Napa was being defined, the cartographer just stopped at the foot of the hill in their valley.

Roger presented the following problem to us:

See these grapes right here, on the Napa County side. These grapes get $3,000 a ton. Now, see these grapes that just cross the county line? These get $300 a ton, if we’re lucky.

It’s the same vineyard, same land owner, same varietal clone, same terroir, same everything, same viticulturist, just a different headset. The people who buy these grapes hold our feet to a different standard, telling us that we’re in the Central Valley, so that’s all we can get for prices.

Surely something had to change, and so Diaz Communications was hired to help change the image for Suisun Valley. We worked hard. I told them initially that if they wanted to get writers’ attention, they’d be doing it with their wines. There were only a few wineries at the time, so it was going to put a huge burden on the wine companies that existed to tell that quality and flavor story. Remember, almost everyone in the valley was a grape grower, not a winemaker. But, within the year, Roger King’s grapes got a 91 score with Ted Olabisi’s wine in Wine Spectator, and the light bulbs went on. That one high score told them what they needed to know. They had been growing great grapes, and in the hands of an astute winemaker, it was a golden opportunity for everyone. Before we knew it, the stories were rolling in, and people were slowing beginning to recognize Suisun for what it was/is; not as beauty products, but as a viable wine grape growing region, with some first class wine grapes and wines being offered.

More and more wine grape growers became curious about what their grapes would taste like, if they made their own wines, too. Why rely on what a buyer tells you about quality, when you can find that out for yourself? And, they became enlightened. They opened the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op tasting room, and people came. They changed their name from the Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association to the Suisun Valley Vintners and Grape Growers Association, and took their marketing funding as far it it could go. But, they also put into effect continued success, by establishing, before the funding ran out, wine events that continue to bring people into their small, bucolic valley. These events have always been gauged by what they believed they could handle, without having people turn from their valley because of unplanned overcrowding. And, so they’ve been very successful.

In June of 2013, Caymus Vineyards announced that they would be moving into Suisun Valley. From the Fairfield Daily Republic, written by :

FAIRFIELD — Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards has targeted a 178-acre site along Cordelia Road south of Fairfield for what would be Suisun Valley’s biggest winery. The proposed winery and distillery is to have the capacity to produce 5 million gallons of wine a year and 500,000 gallons of spirits. It is to offer tours, retails sales and tasting and have space for promotional events. This would be the only Suisun Valley winery on the southern side of Interstate 80. The location at 2658 Cordelia Road is flush against the Suisun Valley appellation southern boundary, just inside of it.

This is a big step for Suisun. Now… the Gallo Family has purchased one of the most charming wineries in Suisun, Ledgewood Creek Winery… We’ll see how long this link exists. The jury is going to be out for a while about the outcome of Legdewood Creek and its employees. For something so small, to have the largest wine company in the world move into the neighborhood, how will it fare?

From a comment in the Fairfield Daily Republic, this addresses immediate public concern.

V. Smith, April 26, 2014 – 9:01 am

What a shame on two counts – the loss of a family-owned business in the beautiful Suisun Valley AND the replacement of it by a maker of notoriously poor-quality wine. Very disheartening to hear this news.

Unlike a wine company like Kendall-Jackson’s Jackson Family Wines, for instance, which buys a winery and then allows the winemaker(s) to stay on board – saving jobs and keeping the integrity of a wine product in tact, Gallo is simply buying the land to continue growing grapes. What the grapes will end up in is Gallo’s decision. Also, according to Roger King, the president of the Suisun Valley Vintners and Grape Growers Association, as expressed in the Daily Republic:

“They’re buying vineyard land with guaranteed water,” King said. “The reality is Solano County is on a closed-loop system with (Lake) Berryessa.”

Ah, water rights in a time of a great drought. Suisun Valley offers so much, and those water rights in a closed-loop water system with Lake Berryessa makes all the sense in the world, if you want to guarantee you own it.

I’m going to miss the Frisbee family of Ledgewood Creek. They had wonderful history… Many people are going to miss them in Suisun Valley. If only they had been replaced by a warm and fuzzy situation, this would have been on a happier note for me… having some history with the valley, too. This isn’t a company that joins any advocacy groups, which work toward the benefits that help everyone. (Having history with this opinion just expressed, it’s not simply conjecture. And so, I’m not sure about this purchase for my established Suisun Valley friendships.)

 

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2 Responses to “Tiny Suisun Valley and Behemoth E.J. Gallo”

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