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Suisun Valley Grape Growers Create a Brand, Literally from the Ground Up

Suisun Valley Grape Growers Create a Brand, Literally from the Ground Up

When the Suisun Valley Vintners and Growers Association (SVVGA) originally formed in 2003 (as the Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association), this coalition had two main objectives:

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  1. To advance awareness of the Suisun Valley American Viticultural Area, established in 1982.
  2. To send their message of ultra premium winegrapes, in all direct sales methods, to all of their contacts.

According to SVVGA President Roger King, “The long term direction of that initial approach tied in with our strategic plan of brand building the Suisun Valley AVA. After the first year, we looked at the results of those initial efforts, and each year thereafter we’ve built upon all of our successful aspects. Getting our professional grape sales and PR strengths in place for a major roll out became the solid foundation for our forward movement. Within that first year, we finally began to be recognized as an ultra premium, wine-grape growing region by many, and that’s very rewarding.”

By 2004, after two years of monthly Board of Directors meetings, they began to ask themselves, “How does a group like ours finance our regional sales efforts in this highly competitive and expensive market, in order to sustain our long range marketing goals?”

A new objective began to emerge, namely, to find a way to become this self sustainable marketing group for many years to come. They collectively realized that they were land and/or crop rich; but, cash on hand, however, wasn’t as plentiful. With continued brain storming sessions, they decided that the best approach for convincing others of their grapes’ quality would be to have their own prime example. The idea of their own wine brand became apparent, and consequently took shape over the next few years.

During the harvest of 2006, the growers selected their best possible Syrah. This variety was chosen above others, in order to demonstrate the propensity of Suisun’s cooler, southern region to produce stellar Rhone fruit. At the time it wasn’t generally understood that this region of Suisun Valley has a cooler climate; one which supports fabulous, Rhone and Burgundian variety production.

This was to later be substantiated by Dr. Paul Skinner’s “Suisun Valley AVA Climate, Topography, and Wine Grape Characterization Study.” Prior to this scientific research, however, it was only intuitively understood by the farmers. The grape growers knew that intuition doesn’t sell fruit, though; only science does. So, in May of 2008, Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association hired Terra Spase of Napa, California, to begin the process of scientifically defining their terroir. Skinner and his staff immediately initiated the project, which was to inventory and assess the conditions of the available climatic and topographic data for the Suisun Valley AVA. One of the direct results proved that Suisun’s cooler, southern region is a perfect growing region for Rhone varieties.

A wine produced would hold the promise of substantiated facts.

Suisun Valley’s Brian Babcock, was chosen to be the winemaker for this first vintage. Son of Howard Babcock, of Babcock Vineyards in Suisun Valley, Brian has received his enology and viticulture degree from U.C. Davis. He was already making wine for his family owned and operated Bask Cellars. The grapes were sourced from three separate vineyards, each separately owned and operated by the following:

  • Howard Babcock ~ Babcock Vineyards
  • Gary Mangels ~ Mangels Ranch
  • Paul Herman ~ Wine & Walker Ranch

Brian recalls,

The three growers delivered about 1,000 pounds of fruit, in three equal parts. It was definitely a micro crush experience. We crushed and destemmed it at Bask Cellars, adjusting the wine as we went along, adding nutrients and yeast. Once it was went through fermentation, I barreled the wine, and it was shipped to Wooden Valley Winery, where the members of SVVGA took over watching the wine from that point forward, as it aged for the next two years.

The grape growers had their own area at the winery, where they tended their wine, allowing it to barrel age, and with continued racking and sampling during the next two years. Together they explored this 2006 Syrah’s depth, flavors, and potential marketability. By the time those two years had passed, the wine was ready for bottling, with labels having already been approved by the TTB.

Once released, the wine more than delivered what the grape growers had hoped for, and one for which they are proud to offer for sale at their marketing events. The grape growers are now also successfully using this wine in their local fund raising efforts, and plan to continue to develop this revenue stream through each successive vintage.

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