By Deirdre Bourdet
Few people in the Bay Area (including me) know that there is a third
wine country region budding in the North Bay, one that still has the
open, unpretentious friendliness of a predominantly agricultural area.
Visiting Fairfield/Suisun Valley
and Green Valley in Solano County is like–I’m
told–visiting Napa and Sonoma thirty or forty years ago. You find
earnest, honest people eager to introduce visitors to their region’s
beauty and strengths, with a contagious enthusiasm and humility of
pricing. Most wineries do not charge a tasting fee at all, and those
that do refund it with the purchase of a bottle… none of which seem to
cost more than $30.
Where is this nirvana, you ask? Surprisingly, just off Highway 80 near Fairfield, a place many people would rank among the finest examples of soulless suburban sprawl. Just a few minutes further from the exit ramps, however, lie acres and acres of beautiful vineyards, rolling hills, and forested mountains. Few roads and even fewer cars carve through the countryside, making it easy to find the pioneering wineries and taste their wares. Most will happily lead you on a private tour and tasting with a few minutes advance notice, on any day you like.
Perhaps the best way to get a sense of the appellation’s character, though, is to visit the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative
, where five wineries combine forces to offer you a proprietor-led tasting experience of more than three dozen wines from the region. The various owners and winemakers of these five wineries (Sunset Cellars
, Mangels Vineyards
, King Andrews Vineyards
, and Winterhawk
) take turns manning the tasting bar, and pour a selection of about twenty wines each day. With so many options, you are sure to find something to interest you. Sauvignon blanc, albarino, pinot noir, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite sirah, zinfandel… they’re all here, and all just a bit different than the California appellation wines you’re used to. Have you ever had a dry Tempranillo, Syrah, and Viognier blend rosé? I hadn’t until I tried Mangels’, which was refreshingly different, ripe, but full of strawberry flowers and the promise of spring.
If you get hungry, or need to pad your stomach to get through all the wines, step out to the parking lot to grab some Alabama style smoky meat from B&J Barbecue and Catering. If meat’s not your thing, jet a bit further down the road in your car to The Rockville Grill
for some spectacular blackened catfish in an old-school, no-frills, roadside diner setting. Or, if it’s Saturday afternoon, swing by Winterhawk’s winery crush pad for their weekly concert and block party, where five dollars buys you admission to the live concert, a tasting flight AND a full glass of your favorite selection, as well as complimentary pizzas made in the winery’s Italian wood-fired ovens by an entirely volunteer staff. YES.
Suisun Valley has a lot to offer those willing to get off the highway. Check it out soon, before it all changes.