A good book, a cozy chair—what else do I need? Ah, yes.
“Scott, would you mind pouring me a glass of wine from the bottle on the kitchen counter, please?” I said to my husband. “The one we didn’t finish last night.”
When Scott brought in the Pinot Noir, I asked if he remembered our trip five years ago to Napa Valley, where we visited wineries, enjoyed delicious dinners and delighted in the sight of acres of vineyards spread across the landscape.
“I do remember,” Scott said. “But, it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.”
Suddenly recalling a conversation from work, I replied, “I just heard about a place that offers world-class wines, one on one tastings with the winemakers, and picturesque surroundings along quiet country roads. I think we should try it.”
Who would say no? Soon we were headed for Fairfield’s rustic Suisun Valley, located between San Francisco Bay and Sacramento.
This American Viticultural Area—the second oldest in California—is in Solano County, east of Napa Valley, and covers some 29 square miles. “Suisun” is an American Indian word that means “west wind,” a tribute to the winds that cool the valley and make it a perfect region for growing wine grapes.
The scenery is breathtaking. The Blue Ridge of the Vaca Mountains borders the east side of Suisun Valley, and the Howell Mountains—sometimes called the St. George Range—make up the western border. These majestic mountains rise to 2,000 feet and higher. Suisun Bay, the estuary where the Sacramento River enters San Francisco Bay, serves as Solano County’s southern border.
Some 3,000 acres in Suisun Valley are planted with more than 20 varieties of wine grapes; among them Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Viognier, Riesling and Zinfandel—oh my! The first commercial winery here opened after the Civil War, but like most wineries in the state, it was shut down during Prohibition.
“And thank goodness that’s over,” Scott said, laughing, as I told him what I had learned from searches on my phone during our drive.
It’s an easy trip through the wine valley, because Suisun Valley’s boutique wineries are situated in a loop just off Interstate 80 at Fairfield.
Our first stop was the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op, featuring wines from Blacksmith Cellars, King Andrews Vineyards, Mangels Vineyards and Sunset Cellars. Scott was amazed when he learned there is no tasting fee for groups of five or fewer, and it’s only $10 a person if your party numbers six or more.
Most of the people behind the counter at the wine co-op are winemakers and winegrowers, all eager to talk about different varietals, what’s good now and what’s looking good for future harvests. The best part? We didn’t feel rushed, we didn’t feel like we were getting the hard sell, and we didn’t really want to leave, but other wineries beckoned.
Driving a couple miles further, we arrived at Vezér Family Vineyard. Our Blue Victorian Cellar Master Blending Tour took place at their Blue Victorian, a classic Victorian building in powder blue. A wine specialist guided us through the home, explaining what makes Vezér’s wine making so special. In the barrel room, we went straight for the Petite Sirah and Zinfandel (what they’re known for), which the wine specialist extracted directly from the barrel and blended in our glasses.
Still craving more sips, we backtracked a bit and pulled into BackRoad Vines, which is known for “bringing back the traditional ‘old school’ art form of wine making.” Scott was especially fond of the Cabernet Sauvignon, and I really liked the Sauvignon Blanc.
Everywhere we stopped, we tasted great wines, were met by people who were both knowledgeable and friendly, and paid little—typically $5 to $10—in tasting fees.
That evening, not yet in a wine coma, we indulged in a romantic dinner at the extraordinary Mankas Steakhouse. Owner and chef Peter Halikas makes magic here every day, serving superior steaks, artisanal cheeses, fresh produce and fine wines, including those produced locally. Mankas also waives corkage if you bring your own bottle of Suisun Valley wine. We decided to order glasses of the Vezér Family Vineyard’s La Salette, which we didn't get a chance to taste while visiting earlier.
The next day, we picked up right where we left off and stopped in at GV Cellars, which sponsors special events and focuses on Italian varietals, including Sangiovese. The Late Harvest Dolcetto, a dessert wine, ended up being my favorite of the whole trip. It would add a festive touch at the end of any dinner, especially in my cozy chair with an after-dinner book.
Back tracking a bit, we made our last winery stop at Wooden Valley Winery. Established at the end of prohibition in 1933, it is the oldest operating winery in the region. Three generations of the Lanza family have dedicated their lives to the winery, and their passion is well represented in their wines. Greeted immediately by some members of the Lanza family with warm hospitality, we sipped on Dry Riesling and Marlena while listening to Lanza family history.
In between the wineries, we also stopped at a couple farm stands and two olive oil companies. We filled our backseat with dried fruit and nuts from the family-owned Cal Yee Farms, artisanal olive oils from Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company and Sepay Groves Olive Oil, and in the trunk we had—of course—a dozen or more bottles of award-winning Suisun Valley wines for when I sit and read.
Some may consider Fairfield off the beaten path, but with it’s great wine country, easy access and prices we can swallow as easily as the reds, it’s an ideal destination for wine lovers like us; one we will return to again and again.
Discover Fairfield’s delicious tours and tastings, from wine country to sweet treats.