Yesterday, I published a story entitled, Tiny Suisun Valley and Behemoth E.J. Gallo.
It came from my heart, having worked for seven years helping to promote Suisun Valley. The viticultural area has been built on the backs on small family wine companies. Knowing that Gallo, the world’s largest wine company, is moving into that bucolic valley caused me great concern for their small farmer way of life.
Why? Because another huge company moved into the back yard of some friends in Alexander Valley, and the balance of solitude for my friends was changed forever. It wasn’t in a positive way. The family had to move, because of the noise factor and the lights that were left on all night long. What the family had known – the family home and gardens that raised three children – was gone forever more. The family – in many ways – hasn’t ever recovered, and it’s years and years later.
Was history going to repeat itself? That was my greatest concern. I wrote on Facebook:
For me, It’s a sad day for Suisun Valley. Say it ain’t so, Gallo…
My mentor and friend Roger King, who was my client contact during those years of working with Suisun Valley, reached out to me. He was and still is the president of the Suisun Valley Vintners and Grape Growers Association. He has a different perspective, and actually gave me the hope I needed for Suisun. On Facebook, he wrote:
Jo, it is too early to prejudge a 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).
He called me, also, but I wasn’t here. I told him in a later email that I was under deadline and if he wanted to just give bullet points for me, in all fairness, that I’m very happy to publish his positive thoughts he went beyond bullet points, giving me the narrative below.
Here is Roger King, speaking for the Suisun Valley Vintners and Grape Growers Association:
Hope you are not too sad, this could well set the stage for the next leg up. Plus Gallo is not the evil empire, they are just better at running a winery business than anyone else.
It is change and represents a completely different set of strategic investments from the Wagner Family deal. Wagner is a 5-million gallon winery packaging and distribution center, with (now planted) vineyards around it. Gallo is a plain and simple vineyard deal, 400 acres of land with water that can be counted upon.
Dean Frisbee [owner of Ledgewood Creek Winery] had no where to go, and he sure tried others. Bunny [his wife] passed away several months ago, and Dean is in his 80s. His son James, whom he built the winery for as a career, has decided that he doesn’t want the winery. It was under contract two times to another Napa wine company, but that didn’t work out. Then a company named Gallo, looking for good vineyard sites, found what they it was looking for.
Frankly the deal was a win/win for both of them!!!
The next leg up might well be a new winery at same site. Gallo has no plans to demolish the building, they are just not going to make wine or taste it there. It’s possible that there might well be a lease of the building to a new entity to start a winery, or even a custom crush studio. There are several people talking about that right now – 8 months or so out, if happens. I cannot believe in my wildest business dreams they would tear down a multi million dollar building to gain another acre of grapes. To lease out the facility makes money sense, and they’ll still have all their vineyards.
We will see short term impacts (plus and minus) to the emerging consumer tasting/wine country side, which will be turned around by a series of boutiques that will likely emerge. I know of two in planning right now, with tasting rooms and event facilities.
I am not inclined to pursue the commodity market; but growers here that do, will find a new buyer that will bring stability, if not high prices. Better farming practices will likely emerge, and AG will have a major new land owner who has no interest in subdivisions (as was once a consideration).
It’s all part of a maturation process you started with us 10 years ago. It now is causing change to escalate, as we now have a presence. Hard to be selective, when 10 years ago the presence looked more like KB Homes than an E&J Gallo Winery.
Roger made me laugh out loud, and has given hope back to me.