Originally from Oakland, Roger King moved to the Lake Tahoe area in 1972, where he experienced a formidable marketing career in the ski industry. All of this happened before becoming a grape grower in Suisun Valley. What brought him to Suisun was one of the companies that he worked for had a home office in the East Bay of California. He moved to Suisun Valley in 1988, which allowed for him to live more conveniently between Tahoe and Lafayette, as he carried on his work.
He began growing grapes in Suisun Valley, while continuing in the ski industry.
King’s ski mountain resort work involved hotel management in the following states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and California.
So, what does any of this have to do with farming?
While it may not seem like a logical segue, once someone has grown a product, knowing how to market it gives that person a tremendous edge. And, Roger King is one of those people.
He came to Suisun Valley at the right time, because there were people in Fairfield’s government who wanted to preserve agriculture in their verdant Suisun Valley. Among the five Fairfield council members were Jack Batson, Karin MacMillan, Harry Price, Marilyn Farley, and John English. It was finally decided, between the city of Fairfield and the Solano Irrigation District, that an infusion of more than $1,600,000 would be spent to promote the marketability of valley produce and to create other mechanisms to preserve and enhance Suisun Valley agriculture, that would continue past 2010.
Meanwhile, both the ski industry and the grape growing industries were experiencing economic collapse. Roger was at the right place at the right time for all Suisun Valley grape growers. He wrote a set of goals and objectives that led to the formation of Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association, later to become Suisun Valley Vintners and Growers Association. Collectively the group tapped into those revenues for the good of the valley. Roger was viewed by the group as a natural leader, so they elected him to be their president in 2002, a position that he still holds to this very day.
Knowing how to leverage funds from the town of Fairfield and SID, as well as putting the right team in place to carry out all of the outsourced tasks, has kept Roger at the successful forefront for all of their marketing efforts.
So, let’s get back to the land and the man who loves to grow grapes. The following is a Q&A with Roger about his wine grape growing.
What made you choose certain varieties to grow?
“Wine Business used to publicize Nielsen scan data. I studied it and saw that Merlot was doing really well for sales. It was the Merlot rocket ship era. I also had a mentor back then, Dan Capp. He helped me to understand how to grow grapes. Some of my Merlot is now blended into my Cab wines, but when I started it was simply ‘supply and demand.’”
What other varieties are you also farming now.
“Grenache blanc, Cabernet, Sangiovese, Albariño, Syrah, Zin, Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot.”
Are you still managing other people’s properties?
“Not so much anymore. When I went to work for Appellation America, I had to cut back about 95 percent.
“I have one vineyard that I still work with. It’s a mountain property, up about 2,000 feet. It’s called Loomis Family Vineyards. We planted Rhône varieties. There are blocks of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Counoise, as well as Grenache Blanc, and Viognier. The family wanted to have a vineyard that would be a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
What are your wine grape growing philosophies?
“Minimal intervention… Let the vine do what it wants to do naturally. It’s a reflection of what’s going on with the vine, without additives. If the vine is struggling, cut it back to even only two spurs; and, if the vine has a full cordon on a six foot plant, don’t try to jack it up.”
Any new innovations that you like?
“Yeah, the old trellis systems. What’s evolved in California works for California, versus chasing technology for some other regions; i.e., French vertical shoot positioning… The way they use this system, if used in California will produce sun burned grapes. My old friend Russ Oles used to say, ‘No more science projects… I’m going to put stakes in the ground and plant my vines next to them. When the stakes fall over, the vine had better damned well stand up on its own.’ Which means, when the stake rots away, the vine had better be well established.”
What are your challenges?
[Laughing] What isn’t a challenge?
From Grower to Winemaker to Wine Producer
“In 2004, I began making wine, but that first vintage wasn’t from my own grapes. Then, by 2005 I decided that after growing grapes for 17 years and selling them to others, I wanted to capture my own vineyard’s nuances and see what unique qualities winemakers were getting from my own grapes. They were receiving high scores from wine critics, and that made me very curious. The first vintage of Suisun Valley wine was from my 2005 King Andrews Vineyards Suisun Valley Syrah. When it came time to name my company something that would reflect who I am, I decided to use our last name of ‘King,’ and my wife Carol’s maiden name of ‘Andrews.’”
King Andrews wines are featured and only sold in the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op.
“I enjoy being featured at the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op, where I pour my small production wines on weekends. It’s very rewarding to share these wines with people who stop by. I enjoy educating customers about winemaking details, and getting their reactions. My wines include a flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and an Albariño.
It’s as clear as freshly cleaned glass that Roger King stays in Suisun Valley because he’s continually challenged by his multifaceted career. It has more depth and opportunity for growth that someone with his skill set thrives upon. To go from grape grower to winemaker to wine producer is the stuff that dreams are made of, and this man is living the life that most people could only dream of having. While “It’s challenging every day I get out of bed,” admits King, it still is what he wants to do for “the rest of my life.”