Sunday, April 18, 2010

Branching Out: Discovering Suisun Valley Wine Country

Believe it or not, Napa Valley is not "all that." Oh, I know it's great - I love living here, it's beautiful, the wines are spectacular - but honestly, sometimes the business of wine, the very thing that has made this little dot on a map so darn important in the scheme of things, gets oh-so-wearisome. The ever-increasing amount of gilded castles (aka, wineries), each one bigger and more elaborate than the last; the choked two-lane highways full of seasonal tourons that suddenly can't remember how to drive or use a turn signal; or worse yet - the groups of folks hell-bent on drinking for effect and therefore hire the biggest limo/stretch Hummer/party bus imaginable and proceed to crawl from winery to winery to the annoyance of well... just about everybody. Jaded? Perhaps.

So - a quandary: I'm a girl that loves wine and enjoys going wine tasting, but I don't get out and visit the world-renown wineries in my neighborhood as often as you might think, for the very reasons mentioned above. So where to go? Sonoma Valley? Sure - been there done that love it; Russian River - same. Healdsburg, San Luis Obispo, Sierra Foothills, Santa Barbara... of course. But what about something close to home? Somewhere chill and beautiful and fun where pretense doesn't matter and the wines are good. I think I've stumbled on a solution.... a mere 15 minutes from home: Suisun Valley!

Where? Exactly.

Most of us pass right on by the Suisun Valley as we whiz from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe on the I-80 corridor. You know all those strip malls in Fairfield and Cordelia Junction? Well, just to the north, not even five minutes from the bustling freeway is a swath of bucolic farmland dotted with wineries. A stunning little departure from the suburban mayhem on its fringes.

I had reason to be in Fairfield recently (and not just for my monthly trek to Costco) - and figured it was high time to explore something new. With dad and hubby in tow, we set out to see this part of California's Wine Country for ourselves. We had a few places mapped out, thanks to, and had the afternoon to roam.

We got ourselves to the right place, started down the main drag, and pulled in to the first winery we saw. The only reason we saw it, and quite frankly the only reason we pulled in, was that it had balloons tied to the front fence post. Balloons! Festivity! We're in!

Where we found ourselves was Winterhawk Winery, and we wound up spending all of our time that day right there. We never left. Didn't manage to make it to another single tasting room, because as luck would have it, we had happened upon Suisun Valley's biggest weekly party. And not a limo in sight.... ahhh.

At any rate, every Saturday of the year, rain or shine, Winterhawk turns their covered crush pad into an open air tasting room overlooking their estate vineyards where they not only pour their wares, but have live music and crank out hand-made pizzas in a portable pizza oven imported from Italy. And the cost? A whopping five bucks. Your five spot covers not only the tasting of their entire flight of wines (I think there was about ten that we tried that day), but also gives you one full glass of the wine of your choice and all the pizza you can eat. And get this - the day we were there, it was "Ladies Day" so I got the full monty for half price - $2.50! People dance, people eat, people drink, people linger. It's a local crowd, the wines are decent, the music good, and the vibe is utterly and completely laid back. This is the dress code:

See what I mean? Napa Valley this is not - and we were digging it.

Alas, other obligations took us on our way and we left Suisun Valley without discovering more. But that just means I have plenty of reasons to go back. I'm eager to go in the summer when the farm trails are bursting with fresh produce - the farm stands are far more prolific than the wineries, and as much as I love wine, I REALLY love farm fresh produce.

It only took me close to a decade to go visit Napa's neighboring valley to the east; I guarantee it won't be that long before I go back.

So who's with me?

1 comment:

  1. You found us and that is great. Come back and explore the rest of the tasting rooms along with produce stands and olive oil mill.