I first started my reporting of Suisun Valley wineries and AVA back in September. I genuinely have no idea where the time went, but it is time to get back on this. So this post will continue sharing many of the other wines we sampled and the fabulous and enthusiastic winemakers we met on our first day of presentations.
Two of the winemaker’s families have been working this land for decades. Parents, grandparents, and sometimes great-grandparents settled here to become fruit farmers growing cherries, plums, and others. Some slowly moved into wine grapes as supply and demand proved to be the more profitable fruit to grow. But, like many younger generations before them, the current proprietors wanted something more. They knew that they were growing quality grapes, so it was time to make wine versus just selling off the fruit to other wineries.
So picking up where I left off is…
Suisun Valley Wineries –
Suisun Creek Winery
Forty Years of Farming * Thirty Years of Growing Grapes
Making Wine Since 2016
Brian and Katie Babcock are fourth-generation farmers and first-generation winemakers. While Brian is “the” winemaker, you know right away that this is a team effort and a family winery. Brian grew up on the ranch that he now tends. After high school, he headed to UC Davis, where he studied Viticulture and Enology. Yes, that UC Davis, where those in the know, learn about the growing of grapes and the making of wine. In 2016, he made his first wines, a Petite Sirah and a Zinfandel. In 2018, they started selling their wine, and they have not looked back since.
They produce 900 cases of estate-bottled wine from their 80-acre farm. All wines are sold directly to the consumer from the winery and online.
The Wines of Suisun Creek Winery
Like many of the Suisun Valley wineries that we met, Suisun Creek makes several varieties of wine. We tasted six wines that range in price from $18.00 to $44.00.
Most of their wines will have some residual sugar remaining. This is intentional and provides a range of sweetness to their lineup. Most of the wines are still considered “dry,” but don’t be surprised to find a hint of sweetness in this portfolio.
The 2020 Verdelho is off-dry, which means that residual sugar remains in the wine after fermentation. Off-dry wines can have between 17-35 grams per liter of residual sugar. This wine has 20 grams/liter. Look for peaches and cream aromas that follow to the palate. The mouthfeel is rich, and the sweetness is balanced with plenty of acidity. You will want to drink this wine colder (37º – 40º) than I usually suggest (47º-50º). However, this wine is very drinkable, especially on a hot summer day.
The 2020 Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite from Suisun Creek in its classic California style. This wine is dry, but one will notice a slight sweetness from “just a tish” of residual sugar (~5 grams/liter). The body is light with a slightly viscous texture. Look for floral notes and lemon zest flavors in this wine.
Their 2019 Chardonnay is unique and full of surprises, at least for my palate. After the initial fermentation, this wine was taken through 100% malolactic fermentation, creating that buttery and creamy mouthfeel that many love in a Chardonnay. After the second fermentation, they transferred the wine to French oak barrels (30% new barrels) for a year. It is a dry wine, but expect a hint of sweetness. Expect a hint of oak on the nose along with toasted and spiced spun sugar. On the palate, the first note is its creamy texture, followed by notes of woodsy spice and butterscotch. This is a low acid wine with a lingering round and creamy finish.
The Rosé and Two Reds
One hundred percent Charbono goes into their 2020 Rosé. This wine also has approximately 5 grams/liter of residual sugar, which is still relatively low, yet the wine drinks more on the border of dry and off-dry. This perceived sweetness may come from the watermelon Jolly Rancher and cinnamon candy aromas followed by cherry and watermelon flavors on the palate. The finish is clean and juicy. This is a summer sip for me.
The 2017 Zinfandel shows very ripe fruit. The nose is herbal and a mix of red and black fruits. This wine is juicy, fruity, and spicy. Look for strawberry jam, black currants, and dark plum on the palate. This wine is soft and quite smooth. The ripe fruit and jammy flavors temper the 16% abv.
Their 2017 Petite Sirah is a big wine. The nose is woodsy with a bit of spiciness. The spiciness follows to the palate along with flavors of dark red fruit. There is a tartness that hits late on the mid-palate towards the finish. The finish concludes slightly herbal. The tannins are timid, and the alcohol is 16% abv. As such, the legs are long and fast. Overall the fruit-forward dark red fruit flavors with a smidge of sweetness and high alcohol blend together well. But if you are not a fan of high alcohol, you will want some food to cut the burn.
Suisun Valley Wineries
at The Suisun Valley Cooperative
Several wineries in the valley are super small and can not justify having their own tasting room. This is where the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative comes in, providing a place for even the smallest producers. These winemakers and growers take turns pouring the wines making it possible to learn firsthand the vision and philosophies behind these miro-producers.
Three Primary Wineries
The co-op is home to three producers Sunset Cellars, Blacksmith Cellars, and King Andrews Vineyards.
The wines from Sunset Cellars were presented by Fah Sathirapongsasuti, a co-owner of Sunset Cellars, and yes, his last name is spelled correctly. Fah was born and raised in Thailand and came to the US to go to university. His story is a fascinating one that I plan to tell in a later post year. So while the details below about Sunset Cellars are brief, it is only because I want to go deep to share the story of the new owners of Sunset Cellars and the wines they make.
Fah first poured a two-bottle vertical of the Sunset Cellars Barbera; the 2000 and the 2012 vintages. The 2012 vintage was my favorite of the two, although the 2000 vintage stood up well in comparison. Look for black cherry and dark chocolate expressions in both wines, with the younger of the two showing a more bold and rich profile. He then poured a port-styled wine that is slightly fortified, which both Gary and I both enjoyed.
Roger King presented four of his wines from King Andrews Vineyards. As a grower for thirty years, he sells most of his fruit to other winemakers. But as a personal passion project, Mr. King makes four different wines that together total 250 cases that he only sells at the co-op. It is important to note that Roger King is a contrarian. His first statement to our group was, “I’m different.” He makes his wine to please his palate.
He is gruff and somewhat of an antagonist when it comes to his wines, and he is very proud of that. So, if you like his wine, fantastic. If you don’t, move along. I have to admit, I was put off by his presentation style and did him a disservice by not taking more detailed notes. But, ultimately, I did find the first two wines he presented somewhat interesting and his two red wines quite quaffable.
What he poured…
He first poured his 2020 Rosé of Zinfandel which he said is in the Provincial-style. And while it is a pale-ish rosé, I wanted more acidity. He then poured his 2017 Albariño. This wine is what I would call Roger’s signature achievement. While he uses Albariño grapes, it looks, smells, and tastes nothing like a traditionally made Albariño. One can see that the wine is a brassy, yellow color. In addition to aging for a few years, this wine has also oxidized, as Roger intends. Beyond that, my notes are, “It is nothing like an Albariño from anywhere else, but I like it.” I, personally, would not call it an Albariño because it is so different from what one would expect. But this is why I call this Roger’s signature wine – It is different!
His red wines, as I said, are easy to drink. If a red wine can be a porch pounder, these two wines are it. He makes a red blend called, Six Pac and a Petite Sirah. Six Pac is my favorite. It is a blend of five red varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Trousseau, and Vermentino, a white grape. It is light and fresh and can have a bit of a chill on it if you wish.
Suisun Valley Wineries –
Growing Wine Grapes for over 100 Years
Gina (Mangels) Richardson is the winemaker and co-founder of Mangels Vineyards, along with her father, Gary Mangels. The Mangels family has been a part of winemaking and grape growing in Suisun Valley for over 100 years. A detailed history of the family and their connection to wine is on their website and is an enjoyable read. It nets out with Gina and her father founding Mangels Vineyards in 2009. Gina called Mangels Vineyards a “no-frills” winery. Gina calls herself a practical winemaker with a day job, kids, and the winery. There is never a dull moment for her as she multi-tasks her three essential jobs.
Mangels Vineyards Wines
We tasted six of her wines, starting with the 2019 Pinot Grigio. It is a lower acid wine that is creamy and full of apple and other orchard fruit flavors. The lack of crisp acidity makes this better as a cocktail wine than a food wine. We followed that with a beautiful California-style Sauvignon Blanc with tropical fruit aromas and flavors with plenty of crisp, mouthwatering acidity. This is a Sauv. Blanc that I could drink every day.
Next were her three red wines and a dessert wine, starting with her version of a Basque blend. The 2013 Caora is a blend of Graciano, Grenache, and Tempranillo, all picked on the same day and co-fermented together. Each variety brings its signature characteristics to the wine. Just before bottling, Gina adds a touch of her port-style dessert wine to the blend bringing in a slight sweetness to provide the backbone to barbecued foods. Her 2017 Syrah came next. What surprised me about this wine was how soft and velvety it was. Given the more extended maceration and 60% new French oak usage, I expected to find more prominent tannins. This wine is ready. Drink it now.
The 2018 Reserve Petite Sirah was next.
It is dark purple-red with a transparent rim. The aromas are rich and plummy with a hint of vanilla. The plum follows to the palate buoyed by mouthwatering acidity and soft tannins, and a medium body. I want some creamy bleu cheese right now as I drink this wine. Perhaps even a slow-roasted short rib with a thin caramelized crust of fat. This is an enjoyable sip that keeps my mind racing with pairing ideas. I am happy I have a bottle at home. I am making a feast to enjoy with this one.
And last was Cala NV (non-vintage), her Petite Sirah port-style dessert wine. This wine is made using the solera method* of aging. This wine was first made in 2011 and each year following. But the first release of this wine was in 2018 to allow the first vintage to age for seven years. I am not sure when Gina bottled the wine we sampled, but it was delightful.
* Solera is a process for aging liquids such as wine, beer, vinegar, and brandy, by fractional blending so that the finished product is a mixture of ages, with the average age gradually increasing as the process continues over many years.
The next Suisun Valley Wineries to cover are Vezer Family Vineyard and Wooden Valley Winery.
Until then, how much wine could a wine drunk drink, if a wine drunk could drink drunk?
That is all for now.
Rick and Gary