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Tenbrink Vineyards ~ A Suisun Valley Success Story

In a Nutshell

Linda and Steve Tenbrink have farmed in Suisun Valley for most of their adult lives. They came to Suisun Valley as newlyweds with absolutely no experience in farming, but they had a dream. They bought their first five acres, where the winery now stands, and at the urging of winemaker Abe Schoener they decided to build their winery. Once they had set aside a barrel of our own wine to see what it would taste like, they knew that they were also going to be making wine in Suisun Valley. Their first vintage was in 2006, and they’ve a lot of fun making wine ever since.

Their Farm

Over the years, they’ve continued buying farmland, which now includes about 60 acres for vineyards. They also have another 52 acre farm. This one is planted with walnuts, a variety of fruit trees, and an heirloom tomato patch. They grow several hundred varieties of tomatoes each year, and their clients include many Napa and Bay Area fine dining restaurants, like the French Laundry and Bistro Don Giovanni’s.

Their Winery

Their winery is a red barn, which they’ve added to the remnants of a100 year-old redwood barn They don’t have a tasting room yet, but they host a lot of private events by invitation, only.

Their Winemaking Style

They know the importance of great wine beginning in the vineyards. Steve controls the quality of the grapes during all the seasons, knowing each vine intimately. He use both traditional and new methods of winemaking to craft wines that are uniquely his own. Because they’re farmers first, they decided to use a shovel on their label, because “it’s a perfect icon,” according to Linda Tenbrink.

Stephen Tenbrink is a soft spoken, quietly self-assured grower. He and his wife Linda operate Tenbrink Vineyards in Suisun Valley; Steve the humble farmer, and Linda his promoter in all things related to their businesses. Steve began farming:

  • at first with cherries, peaches, apricots and prunes
  • followed by a farmers market garden with 100′s of heirloom tomatoes
  • segueing to a walnut grove
  • and finishing with a vineyard project by 1996

They got themselves over the Suisun/Napa mountain range to sell those tomatoes, headed toward a most opportune relationship.

That moment came with one of their clients, the talented and quirky winemaker Abe Schoener (former professor of Ancient Greek philosophy, so you can only imagine where he’d take winemaking). Abe was buying their tomatoes for a dinner party. They nudged him to come to their vineyards to see the promise that this might also hold for him… And he finally did it, changing the course of all of their lives.

Abe became fascinated. So fascinated, in fact, that Linda happily relates:

In 2002, we managed to convince Abe to visit our vineyard. He was very reluctant. However, once he took sight of the vineyards he said, “I knew that I was going to buy some of those grapes before I even got out of the car”. We were so happy that as a present to Abe we gave him some of our Petite Sirah grapes, which became the foundation of his Scholium Project – Babylon.

Things grow rapidly around us – and so did the Scholium Project. At Abe’s urging we built a winery, as he had outgrown the facility he was using in Napa. Once again, entering the winery business completely naïve – (probably a good thing we didn’t know) headfirst with no experience at winemaking .

The union of Abe and Steve has given the Tenbrinks an advantage of having a winemaker who’s brave, innovative, and daring to inspire their own winemaking style. And, he loves media attention. Together, they’re sharing the world of wine in a very close relationship.

[This image was taken during Passport Weekend, April 2009, for a Wall Street Journal story.]

The intent of making their own wines to showcase the potential for the excellent quality to price ratio that exists from Suisun Valley, and their connection to Abe Schoener, has done a lot to demonstrate that quality from vine to wine…

[Another photo from their Passport event. Steve is in the center in the beige shirt.]

Abe has had three really high profile stories in the last month alone:

SF CHRON: N.Y. takes a new look at California wines, by Talia Baiocchi, November 7, 2010:

“… Abe Schoener, proprietor of Scholium Project, found New York to be more receptive to his uncategorizable efforts, like skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. ‘I don’t fit into this new category of natural winemaking in California,’ Schoener says, ‘Nor do I fit into this old category of high-alcohol, extracted wines. Being in that no-man’s land has been a lot easier for me in New York than it has been in California.’ Indeed, two-thirds of Schoener’s mailing list is made up of New York residents.”

Esquire Magazine, Abe Schoener: Renegade Vintner, by Robert Willey, December 2010

“Last summer… an aspiring young French vintner on a two-week research tour put an unwashed, streaked glass to his lips. He was silent for a moment, this man schooled in the classic flavors of grapes now standing in a workshop cluttered with hydrometers and refractometers and lined with copies of Darwin, Gibbon, and Borges. And then he burst out laughing. This sauvignon blanc rocketed beyond its usual harmony of melon and citrus into an earthier realm of … mushrooms and cheese?! This petite sirah was — how do you say in English? — violating his mouth?!”

Wall Street Journal also had a story featuring Abe in November. Napa’s Retro Dudes, by Jay McInerney:

“”A former professor of Greek philosophy, Mr. Schoener is the proprietor of Scholium Project, a winery that makes deeply eccentric (mostly white) wines beloved by sommeliers and geeks. He looks a little alien here in his sharp black suit and his tinted Utopia LA glasses, but it’s clear that he’s part of the gang.”

Linda takes great pride in what they’re all achieving. She recent wrote:

I suggest that you follow Abe Schoener on Facebook, especially the last two weeks. He’s been in LA and was received favorably at Four Seasons; and is now in Chicago where every top end restaurant is throwing a reception for him.

Most of the publicity for the Tenbrink’s Vineyards is coming through Abe’s efforts, but Linda also enjoys important wine placement in companies like Dean & Deluca. They know they’re coming of age, with tie-ins from outside of their valley that are solidly placing them “on the map.”

Abe Schoener’s wines demonstrate the prices that a vintner is able to get using Suisun Valley fruit:

  • 2007 Tenbrink Vineyards Bricco Babelico ~ Petite $45 (Suisun Valley, but not on the label as the AVA)
  • 2008 Tenbrink Vineyards Babylon ~ Petite Sirah $75 (Suisun Valley, but not on the label as the AVA)

Hardy Wallace wrote about Suisun Valley and Tenbrink Vineyards: A Day at Tenbrink Vineyards by

“Last Sun., my buddy Tripp and I headed over to Fairfield, CA / Suisun (so-soon) – for a Sunday afternoon trifecta–Getting to hang and walk the vineyards with Linda and Steve Tenbrink of Tenbrink Vineyards and Winery, to taste barrels with Abe Schoener of Scholium Project and then to tuck into a ridiculous feast of pig-tastic proportions (Linda can cook like a maniac)…”

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