Local wine lovers have long enjoyed a close proximity to some of California’s most storied wineries. Those who want to enjoy premium wines among vineyards comparable to Napa and Sonoma—but without the traffic, high prices, and crowded tasting rooms—have no further to go than our own backyard. Just twenty minutes from Benicia up highway 680, the Suisun Valley American Viticultural Area is an accessible and affordable winemaking region just waiting to be explored.
Winding north on Suisun Valley Road, the bustle of Cordelia Junction quickly gives way to bucolic scenes of farmland, churchyards, rolling hills and resplendent vineyards. The first stop surely must be the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative (4495 Suisun Valley Road). What the locals refer to merely as “the co-op” is housed in a comfortable, rustic building that perfectly expresses the approachable, good-natured feel of the region’s wine industry. The co-op is a joint venture of five different Suisun Valley wineries that rotate staffing for its tasting room. Reminiscent of the bygone days of the Napa Valley, a diverse tasting menu of over forty wines is offered free of charge, often poured by the winemakers themselves.
Doug Sparks, owner of Sunset Cellars, is a regular fixture behind the tasting bar at the co-op. “The wineries here are all family owned and operated,” he explains, “with a connection to the land, the community, and its history… our wines have a combination of quality and value that you don’t see elsewhere.” The Sunset Cellars 2006 Barbera proves his point handily: a luscious, velvety balance of old world structure and new world fruit, with hints of plum jam and licorice. At just $22, it is the most expensive bottle on the menu.
The oldest winemaking operation in the region is Wooden Valley Winery (4756 Suisun Valley Road), established by Italian immigrants in 1933. Its tasting room gives a sense of this proud history. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Petite Sirah are particularly memorable here. Once again, all wines sell for $20 or less.
Winterhawk Winery (4537 Abernathy Road) is less picturesque, but some of the best wine in the valley is made here. In the summer there are weekly tasting events, featuring live bands under the breezy patio. The family-friendly Ledgewood Winery is not far off, specializing in a variety of Chardonnay styles and excellent Merlot.
Mankas Corner is a Suisun Valley hub, and home to the Vezér Family Vineyards’ Mankas Corner Winery. In contrast to other local wines, the Vezér (pronounced VEE-zer) wines are aimed at higher, “ultra-premium” price points. Winemaker Jake Stuessy states simply, “We’re proud of our wines.” Another family operation, Vezér lovingly handcrafts each vintage with a fanatical devotion to quality. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their incredible selection of blockbuster California reds—Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and their blends.
The Vezér family also owns The Blue Victorian Winery (5071 Suisun Valley Rd), a stunning location for tours, tastings, weddings, and other events. The tasting experience at “The Blue Vic” is more laid back, with a completely different selection of wines. A concert series at both Vezér properties is a summer highlight.
The Cast Iron Bar & Grill in Suisun City features Suisun Valley wines, as does the Mankas Steakhouse, which waves their corkage fee for local wines. The Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company (2625 Mankas Corner Road), an alluring culinary destination in its own right, sells several Suisun Valley wines that can’t be bought elsewhere.
www.suisunvalley.com is a one-stop resource to plan your getaway to this undiscovered gem of a wine country.