Napa’s Neighbor

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In the southeast corner of the North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA), the boundary lines of area extend just a few miles beyond Napa County to include about 30,000 acres of Solano County. Here you will find two AVAs—the Solano County Green Valley AVA and the Suisun Valley AVA—literally feet away and across a political boundary from the esteemed Napa Valley AVA. That has to be a bit like being the awkward little sister of a beauty queen, or the geeky big brother of a star football player. However you want to describe it, it has to be tough being Napa’s neighbor.

In the interest of shining some light into this corner of the wine world, here is a bit of information on the AVAs of Solano County, California:

Suisun Valley AVA:  The Suisun Valley AVA, located just to the south of Napa County, lies between the southern edge of the Vaca Mountains (to the east) and the Howell Mountains (also known as the St. George Mountains [to the west]). The AVA is about 8 miles long and three miles wide, covering about 15,000 acres—of which about 3,000 acres are planted to vine.

The Suisun Valley enjoys a relatively cool climate (it is classified as “Region III” under the Winkler Scale), but is significantly warmer at its northern edge. The southern end of the valley, adjacent to Suisun Bay, can be cooler by as many as 14 degrees (F) during the heat of the day. Suisun Bay itself forms the beginning of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and is connected via the Carquinez Strait to San Pablo Bay (to the west).

The Suisun Valley was first recognized for the quality of its red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah (Durif). These grapes are still widely grown in the area, which is now planted to more than 20 other grapes as well. These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris, Gamay, and Chenin Blanc.

There are just over a dozen wineries producing wine within the confines of the Suisun Valley AVA, and several dozen more that produce wine under the Suisun Valley appellation while located in adjacent counties. Sunset Cellars, the Vezér Family Vineyard, and Wooden Valley Winery are among the standouts.  The Vezér Family Vineyard calls the Suisun Valley “the Petite Sirah Capital of the World”— who can resist that?

Solano County Green Valley AVA: The Solano County Green Valley AVA (not to be confused with Sonoma’s Green Valley—the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA) is smaller and cooler than the Suisun Valley. Solano’s Green Valley AVA measures just about four miles long by one mile wide and has about 800 acres planted to vine.

Solano’s Green Valley AVA is located just to the south/south east of Napa, and enjoys a maritime climate due to its proximity to Suisun Bay. At last count, the area has just a few wineries—including GV Cellars and Rock Creek Vineyard—and just over a dozen independent grape growers.  The area is known for red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah, but a handful of other grapes (including Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris) are grown here as well.

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Wine production in Solano County has a well-documented history. We know that an Australian by the name of John Volypka planted vines in the area as early as 1858 and was making wine by 1863. Others followed—Harry Schultz soon had a large winery, and by 1879 S.F. Jones had 90 acres of vines and produced 50,000 gallons of wine a year.

In 1952, Ben Volkhardt Jr. bought 80 acres of land in Green Valley. He planted peaches, pears, and grapes, but soon the business focused on grapes and wine. His son—Ben Volkhardt III—joined the business in 1974 and the two formed the Chateau de Leu winery—which survives to this day as GV Cellars (under different ownership).

Based on petitions filed by the Volkhardts, both the Suisun Valley and Solano Green Valley were awarded their AVA status in 1982, making them among the first wave of AVAs approved in California. The first AVA declared in California—in January of 1981—was their neighbor-to-the-north, the Napa Valley. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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