American viticultural history dates back to the Spanish padres. The Mission Period pre-California (1568-1662) was the earliest winemaking in the continental US, and is credited to the Spaniards of Santa Elena, South Carolina (Spain) around 1568. My final exam for enology was to write about a grape variety of my choosing, bring it to class to share, while presenting my report.

Fascinated by what the missionaries did (for better or worse), I chose the Mission cultivar. This research report was written in the early 1990s.
We all have to thank Wine Spectator’s Lynn Alley for bringing us up to date with the follow about the Mission variety. Featured in Wine Spectator’s February 2007, as reported by Lynn, it’s an obscure Spanish variety called Listan Prieto.

This link brings you to Lynn’s article with full details: Researchers Uncover Identity of Historic California Grape Spanish researchers solve mysteries surrounding the Mission variety and viticulture throughout the Americas.

When I chose this cultivar, I knew I’d be the only one with this variety. It’s not mainstream, not even thought of anymore in the US… That’s my “mission” in life; i.e., live outside the box. (Here’s the link to my final. My professor/winemaker (Valley of the Moon) Pat Henderson asked to use it in his future enology teachings for historical perspective. Mission Grape ~ The Cultivar)

Mission is a vitis vinifera; and, in the late 1800s, when other European vitis vinifera were introduced to the US, more history was made. From then until now, a lot of who’s who history has been made in the US, not just in California… Each state had its own historical facts, perspectives, and opinion of self worth (all justifiable).

So, in 2007, to get really excited about a Californian AVA celebrating 25 years of existence is probably a ludicrous concept for many… But remember, I’m outside the box, so I’m allowed to go nuts over the most simple of things. And, celebrating Suisun Valley’s Silver Anniversary is right up there with my Hip-Hip-Hurray Today parade!

What I learned this past December 27 was that there’s a whole bunch (industry pun) of people just as excited about this as I am. Imagine if you threw a party, and you’d be thankful if 50 people showed up; however, over 200 people fill the Vintage Caffe (to capacity) ~ for the first time in that restaurant’s history. There’s a really successful celebration!

Big picture… A Silver Anniversary is a milestone, regardless of all else going on around it. Suisun Valley is a relatively small AVA in California. Just four years ago I sat with Roger King, president of the Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association with a membership of about 30 companies at the time. We were meeting at Vintage Caffe to talk about whether or not their story was worth telling as a PR agency.

He had a fire burning inside that couldn’t be denied. He knew he was on the cusp of something really magical, and it was pretty infectious. I then met the board of directors. They were a grass-roots, down-home group that was looking for help on getting their story into the hands of the wine media. It was a good fit.

Fortunately, two major things happened right away:

  1. Roger King said to me, “I only want to see the name of Suisun Valley in Wine Business Monthly.” I sent a release to editor Cyril Penn, who put it right up on the Web (making me look really good, but honestly, it was they who were cream rising to the top).
  2. Jim Laube was also discovering Ted Osborne of Olabisi Wines. Ted was using fruit from Suisun Valley, and Jim was giving Ted high scores.

Just four years later, the association members and their guests filled the restaurant to absolute capacity… They’ve mushroomed into an elated group of growers and producers, united in the joy that only a Silver Anniversary can bring.

While it may not seem to be worth a headline, because it seems to be in infancy stages, consider this, American Viticultural Area standards were established 25 years ago. That’s a real milestone as we all move forward with AVAs.

Suisun Valley is one of the wine industry’s early subscriber AVA leaders. And, do they know how to party! It will never happen like this again, because we’d all have to be brought out on stretchers! It was a seven course dinner, with each course having two accompanying wines, except for the last two (Imported Cheese & Grapes, Pears with King Andrew Syrah; then, Dolci Chocolate Decadence Dessert with Wooden Valley Zinfandel Port).

Dinner was executed this way in order to have an example of each of the wines currently being produced using Suisun Valley fruit. As each wine was poured for each course, the winemaker who crafted it gave his and her winemaking philosophy:

  • Mankas Hill Rose: Joe Rosso
  • Tenbrink Vineyards Pinot Noir: Steve Tenbrink
  • Winter Hawk Chardonnay: Don Johnson
  • Vezér La Salette Estate Wine: Frank Vezér
  • Bask Viognier: Kristie Terry and Brian Babcock
  • Sunset Zinfandel: Doug Sparks
  • Olabisi Syrah: Ted Osborne
  • Forlorn Hope Petite Sirah: Matt Rorick
  • Koch Cabernet Sauvignon: Rick Lanza
  • Ledgewood Creek GSM: James Frisbee
  • King Andrew Syrah: Roger King
  • Wooden Valley Zinfandel Port: Rick Lanza

I barely made it though this exercise in taste and enjoyment. As this valley continues to grow, I can’t imagine ever again doing any more than what was done at this Anniversary celebration… You’d have to imagine what it would be like sitting down to taste every single wine from Napa Valley at just one dinner.

This valley is in a rapid growth spurt. Ken Lanza shared with me, “Can you imagine if zoning changes happen, how our growth is going to evolve, and the quality of people and resources that that’s going to be bringing into our valley for new neighbors?” I said, “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.” And, I saw his light bulb go on, as he nodded in agreement.