One of my greatest gifts in the wine business was to have the Suisun Valley Vintners and Grape Growers Association come to my doorstep, in September of 2003. We were told that the group had some government funds for the next seven years, and they wanted help to get Suisun onto the wine maps.
Finding any written history of the area took a great deal of time, because very little of it existed. Also, I even had to ask, “Where are you?” in all innocence. When I looked at a map, though, I had one of the “Aha!” moments. What an easy story to tell. I you look at your left hand, imagine that it’s Napa Valley. Now imagine that the very lower right hand corner is Suisun Valley, with all else being Napa. That one little chunk is separated by a small mountain range that sliced off the connection of anyone in Napa Valley laying claim to that piece. Years passed, the wine industry in Napa was well marketed, and tiny Suisun Valley was left to its own bucolic devices… All the while, the grape growing farmers kept their noses to the grindstone.
What did it for me was being taken to a vineyard that sat on the county lines. The same contiguous vineyard had this circumstance:
- On the Napa side, the grapes sold for $3,000 a ton.
- On the Suisun side, the grapes sold for $300 a ton.
Champion of the underdog that I am, I knew that I could improve this situation by simply pointing out the geography and the injustice suffered by this grape grower. Imagine having to argue price every single year that the contract for grapes come up? Well, I couldn’t, so I got to work.
As I went along and learned who was buying those grapes, I realized that Suisun Valley was offering its “neighbors” (yeah, that was who was buying their grapes), a spice rack. Being in Suisun meant that they didn’t have to grow Cabernet to prove their pedigree. They were growing some pretty eclectic varieties, and it was these varieties that winemakers were using to spice up their wines… The Aha moment was the “spice rack” element. That moment came in 2006…
Wine Blog (for full article):
Growers in Suisun Valley are breaking away from historical sustainable demands, due to diminished pricing at this new commodity level. That’s creating non sustainable operations, and thus reconfiguring small on quality, in order to customized their ultra premium ‘spice rack’ demand.
As Suisun Valley growers wonder if this entrepreneurial spirit and far-to-the-left strategy will work, they may be losing precious moments in their ability for future success. A few early adopters, like the Frisbie family of Ledgewood Creek Winery, Roger King, Ron Lanza of Wooden Valley Winery, and Stephen Tenbrink are proving to be fearless leaders. Some growers have already begun to pull up familiar vines, and are planting in this new approach. Others have pulled out vines and have left town.
And there is is… “spice rack…”
Fast forward to April 28, 2015. I received the following Email from our friend Roger King – who was in the beginning and still is to this date – the president with the Suisun Valley Vintners and Grape Growers:
Years ago you grabbed the “Spice Box for the North Coast” or something to that effect. It was good strategy and good communication, and it has proven very correct.
In working on a new Associate Membership Appreciation BBQ (for our such members who only get the annual meeting and dinner as access, invite attached), started to talking with Chad Clark the Allied Grape Growers north coast director. We realized 42% (250tn of 600tn) of all the North Coast Alternative Variety (Odd Ball) grapes they contract are in Suisun Valley. A great point of differentiation and proven diversification for the AVA, now we have folks who can do wonderful things with good fruit. Hopefully more will and then more will plant even more diverse things. Will be doing a tasting of what he collects from accounts plus what I know, just for fun and experience of the members.
Good call my old friend, it is gratifying to see a project of future be realized when you get there.
I call it like I see it. It’s wonderful to have soomeone acknowledge that I nailed it. Thanks, Roger King of Suisun Valley Vintners and Grape Growers Associaiton!