Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Suisun Valley Co-op Aims For Niche In Wine Market

Suisun Valley Co-op Aims For Niche In Wine Market
By Danny Bernardini/Staff Writer

Roger King poses inside the Suisun valley Wine Co-op tasting room located at the old Westwind Winery facility on Suisun Valley Road. (Reporter file/Rick Roach)

As Suisun Valley winemakers continue to make a name for themselves, marketing and exposure have become more important than ever.

With full-service wineries and other wine producers dotting the area, the local wine business is staging an attempt to capture the mystique and notoriety of its nearby neighbors in Napa.

One of the first combined efforts to help get the word out will be a multi-winery tasting room in the area that will showcase local wines. Taking up residence, and taking advantage of the nearly 20-year-old use permit, by leasing the old Westwind Winery facility at 4491 Suisun Valley Road, the new co-op will feature tastings of at least seven local wineries when it plans to open in June.

Roger King, president of the Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association and grower of Ledgewood Vineyards, said it's imperative for local wine producers to have a market for their goods. He said having a store front to move local products, rather than selling the grapes, is one of many ways to start spreading the word on Suisun Valley.

"It's a huge step (for selling local wines)," King said. "I've got to have a sales venue. There's way more money in the bottle than on the vine."

Also sharing the building is Sunset Cellars, which has been producing Suisun Valley wines for about 10 years. Previously located in Alameda, the company has been operating out of a Lake County facility most recently. Owner Doug Sparks said that for years he has wanted to set up shop in Suisun Valley, from where 80 percent of the grapes his firm crushes come.

Sparks said he isn't sure how big of a production center will occupy the property, but said there will be wine made there. As for relocating to Suisun Valley, Sparks said the grapes there offer a unique opportunity.

"We've been looking for a place in Suisun Valley for years. We jumped on this," Sparks said. "Suisun Valley grapes are a combination of quality and value. We don't have to charge and arm and a leg."

Because the property had an existing use permit and allowed production of 5,000 cases a year, Sunset sells about 2,000 a year, it took little time to make the decision. Adding to the value was the fact was the good condition the buildings were in.

"One of the real attractions was that we had to do so little," Sparks said.

One of the only remaining questions is when the co-op will open. King said complications with the application process to sell liquor has postponed the opening, which was slated as far back as late-April. As it stands, the tentative date to open the doors is four weeks.

"We were planning on being open already," King said. "If heaven and earth move, maybe something will happen."

Danny Bernardini can be reached at county@thereporter.com.

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