Solano County Wine Grapes Thriving

Vallejo, Calif.—It’s the least-known segment of the prestigious 3 million-acre North Coast AVA, wedged between Napa County and the San Pablo Bay. Its own sub-appellations (Suisun Valley and Solano County Green Valley) are not famous, but a hefty percentage of Solano County’s $20 million annual wine grape crop finds avid buyers nearby and across the continent.solano-wine-region-map

Currently Solano County has 22 wineries, of which 13 have vineyards and 10 sell grapes, according to WinesVinesDATA. The largest, G V Cellars in Fairfield, Calif., produces 22,000 cases per year; only four others produce 5,000 or more cases.

These statistics will be skewed dramatically in the near future: As reported this week in The North Bay Business Journal, Chuck Wagner, owner of 90,000-case Caymus Vineyards in Rutherford, Calif., will begin constructing a new 5.5 million-gallon winery operation in Cordelia and planting as many as 50 acres of vineyards in fields formerly devoted to legumes and wheat. Early harvest, available labor The 2013 crop started coming in two to three weeks early, thanks to a warm spring and hot summer. This is especially welcome news for Solano growers, who principally rely upon hand labor in their vineyards.

Because of the early harvest this year, the growers have had no problem sourcing labor. But, said Jake Stuessey, winemaker at 5,000-case Blue Victorian in Suisun Valley, “You’re always holding your breath: Once Napa starts its harvest, that’s when our labor problems start.” Larger and wealthier producers from the other side of the county line can lure vineyard workers away mid-crush. “It was a major problem last year,” Stuessey recalled. He expects an average-size crop from his 25 vineyard acres this year, although Sauvignon Blanc is heavier than normal.  “The only grapes I’m selling this year are to another local winery,” Stuessey said. “We buy from other wineries to fit our wine programs.”

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