Step off the beaten path traveled by so many and venture on to Fairfield’s back roads, into the rustic, tranquil and always breathtaking Suisun Valley.
Long considered one of Northern California’s hidden treasures, Suisun Valley and nearby Green Valley are next-door neighbors to the world-famous Napa Valley – but you will not find the crowds and traffic jams in this peaceful region. In this wine country, there is more traffic from wild turkeys, squirrels, peacocks and the occasional cyclist than cars. Family owned farms dot the area, where locals grow a variety of fruits and vegetables alongside acres of grapevines. Well over a dozen wineries grow more than two-dozen wine grape varietals in the Suisun soil. The Petite Sirah in particular is exceptional, and has inspired local winemakers to nickname the region the “Petite Sirah Capital of the World.” The rolling hills and blue skies provide a beautiful backdrop as locals and visitors alike travel the valley “loop” visiting these family-owned tasting rooms.
“The beauty and serenity of this valley is breathtaking,” said Vicki McKeown, general manager of Green Valley’s G V Cellars, known for its second floor tasting room overlooking its vineyard and valley. “Suisun and Green Valley have the privilege of good soils, good weather and growers that have a passion to harvest the best grapes this area can produce. “
Those wine makers can often be found in their own tasting rooms, where they are known for treating visitors like members of their own family. Whether you stop by for a tasting in the afternoon or attend a summer evening event at one of the wineries, you’ll be treated like an old friend. Weekend events in the valley have become a big draw in recent years. Wooden Valley Winery’s Food Truck Fridays – on the fourth Friday of the month from May to October – often brings close to one thousand visitors to the valley. Vezer Family Vineyard’s VezerStock summer concerts can also draw in several hundred people or more. Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company’s cooking classes are always mouth watering and the annual events hosted by the Suisun Valley Vintners and Growers Association – Passport Sunday, the Harvest Celebration and AVA Anniversary – attract just as many locals as they do visitors to the region.
That same camaraderie and welcoming spirit extends to other winemakers as well. Suisun Valley is not known for its competitive nature. Growers see themselves as part of a very special community, one that is small but also thriving. Word is spreading that Suisun Valley is a place to see – and farm. Grape growing has surged in Suisun Valley in recent years. It’s an especially exciting time for the wine makers who have been farming in Suisun Valley all these years, because people outside the region are finally beginning to discover what they have known all along.
“We are coming of age here in Suisun Valley,” said Ron Lanza, whose family has been growing grapes and crafting Wooden Valley Winery wine since the 1940s. “There is a tremendous amount of attention coming to our valley. There is a lot of excitement and there are more vineyards going in, even in the background that the public doesn’t see. They may not understand exactly who is purchasing the grapes – some of them are smaller companies, others are larger – but all of that attention is leading to more planting and that is really exciting for us. It’s giving us more of a wine country feel.”
Laura Livadas, the general manager at Vezer Family Vineyard, worked at Napa Valley wineries for 10 years before jumping over the county line to Vezer in the fall of 2014. She has already seen a defining shift in just that short time frame. “People want the hidden gems,” she said. “They want something that’s a little more remote. They’re finding that there are other places to go outside of Napa and Sonoma, beautiful places with fantastic wines.”
More and more often these days, she added, Vezer’s Mankas Gardens tasting room and the Blue Victorian winery are encountering visitors who taste in all three regions – Napa, Sonoma and Suisun. And those visits to Suisun Valley are leaving an imprint on travelers. Cellarpass, a Napa-based company, awarded Vezer with a 2015 Destination Award for Best Hidden Gem.
“Things like that really speaks volumes and it speaks volumes of the valley itself,” Cooke said. “We are working as a team and the energy is increasing because of that and the momentum has really taken off. We’ve got great energy. And when visitors see that, they see it as a community coming together.
“We’re truly a hidden gem and we’re out here trying to make our own name. I think everyone in Suisun Valley has that same goal.”