Suisun Valley is a beautiful little AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the North Coast region of California. Within the valley, growth is guardedly taking place and interest is well on the rise.

This always happens as word begins to get out about any hidden jewel, and that’s really what Suisun is for me:  one of the most charming wine regions in California.  I’ve been very fortunate to be the one entrusted to get the word out on this area; and I do that every chance I can get, most especially within the wine writing community.

[L toR: Ben Weinberg, Tim Heaton, and Larry Langbehn, pictured above.]

Recently, I accompanied wine writer Ben Weinberg (Rocky Mountain News, Sommelier Journal, along with his business partner Tim Heaton (Wine Strategies), and my partner Jose Diaz. We toured Suisun Valley for Ben and Tim’s own search and discovery. As their travel guide, I was also able to expand my continually growing knowledge base of Suisun. This blog posting is about our visit to Ledgewood Creek Winery & Vineyards.

[L to R: James, Tom, Bunny, and Dean Frisbie, pictured above.]

Ledgewood is owned and operated by the Dean Frisbie Family. The Frisbies aren’t recent newcomers to Suisun. They were ahead of the curve when they moved into the valley in 1985. The family patriarch Dean Frisbie bought a pear orchard, in what was then the little known Suisun Valley. Although the story of this valley is new to many of us, this region has a rich history of farming; not just wine grapes, but many fruits, vegetables, and nuts were successfully grown in this valley that abuts Napa back then, and still does to this day.

At first, with a reverence for the past, Dean Frisbie decided to honor the pioneering Peabody family and their long-standing farming history by naming their orchard Peabody Ranch. By 1989, however, vineyards had replaced the pear orchard. The original Peabody Ranch was soon incorporated into what’s now Ledgewood Creek Winery & Vineyards.

With Ledgewood Creek running along the property’s northern edge and with Abernathy Road bordering its eastern edge, the original Peabody Ranch vineyard proved so successful that the overall holdings grew to include over 350 acres planted with winegrapes. In the early part of 2001, a decision was made to start producing some wine that would be available for sale. The vineyards and winery remain family-owned and operated with patriarch Dean Frisbie as general manager, son James sharing his time between wine sales and vineyard marketing, and son Tom working with the web-site and working at the winery full-time.

With the decision to make wine, Dean Frisbie then found the best winemaker available, in order to craft world-class wine. That consulting winemaker is Larry Langbehn. It’s worth noting that a few years ago I was telling the story of Suisun Valley to one of the preeminent wine magazine publishers in California. At the time, he knew nothing of the AVA. I was trying to get his attention, but I seemed to be spinning my wheels.  With no knowledge of Suisun, he was going to be a hard sell, until Larry Langbehn’s name was brought up. This publisher was very familiar with Larry, whose history includes working at Freemark Abbey for about 11 years. This man I was pitching did an immediate 180 on the spot. Larry Langbehn has a stellar winemaking career.  As it’s turns out, Dean Frisbie entrusted winemaking decisions to one of the best in the business, while creating an excellent working relationship for everyone at Ledgewood.

The Ledgewood Creek wines are spectacular. Coming from an “emerging in recognition” AVA, this means that the wines are also extremely well priced as great value wines. The saying, “A lot of wine for the money” applies to all of the Ledgewood Creek wines.

As Ben Weinberg tasted the Ledgewood wines, I too enjoyed them.  We first tasted their 2006 Ledgewood Creek Sauvignon Blanc ($14.00). I loved it because it’s got a lot of the “meow factor” going on. This – for me – always keeps a Sauvignon Blanc true to character. The 2006 Viognier ($16.00) and their 2007 Three Clone Chardonnay ($18.00) followed. Each wine was really well crafted. Malolactic fermentation and hints of toast accompanied the Chardonnay, but not in an overpowering or overwhelming way. They were all very enjoyable wines.

[Pictured above is James Frisbie, who added market insight about his family’s wines during this visit: where they’re placed in the US, how they’re doing for sales, and what the family is doing for strategy. In this posting, I’m not writing about this other brand that the Frisbies make and sell, except to say, they’re not to be missed at a $10 price point. It’s their PicniQue brand.]

Next we moved into Ledgewood’s red wines, beginning with their 2006 GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre at $18.00). This is where a great switcheroo happened. All this time, Ben had been interviewing Larry and James Frisbie. As Ben tasted this GSM wine, he said to Larry, “Now, tell me about this wine.” In complete mischievous turn-about-fair-play, Larry said to Ben, “No, you tell me about this wine.” Ben’s got his own sommelier credentials, so he was definitely able to hold his own.  This was fascinating, as I’ve never seen a winemaker take himself out of the equation and give it all back to a writer. Totally charming from were I was sitting. Ben’s descriptions were stellar and informative, too.

We went on to taste their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.00), then their 2005 Syrah ($16.00) – Ledgewood’s benchmark wine, when we moved onto their Merlot. I have to say that I’m one of those that fits into the category of “it had better be great Merlot, or I’m not going to even want to think about it.” I’m just not a Merlot fan, unless it’s spectacularly crafted.  When I tasted their 2006 Merlot ($20.00), I realized it’s one of those Merlots that make you understand why Merlot can be a great wine, not just an understudy of Cabernet. This one is well worth the price – is honestly a bargain – and turned out to be one of my favorite wines of that tasting. I never saw that one coming.

A day trip to Suisun Valley is going to be a throw back in time I’m told, by those who were here long before I arrived. It’s akin to visiting Napa in the 1980s. It’s slow paced; a visual experience in a small region that enjoys a handful of wineries. And, if you’re an efficiency expert, make sure in the summertime to stop by the fruit and vegtable stands, because you can get some of your grocery shopping done in the process.