When the Wagner family back in 1972 started Caymus Vineyards, their little town of Rutherford in the central Napa Valley was still largely undiscovered, yet felt full of possibility. The Suisun Valley, which is a mere 40-minute drive southeast of Caymus, and separated from the Napa wine country by no more than a county line, has that very same look and feel as did Rutherford 45 years ago. It too has a maritime climate, with warm days and cool nights moderated by gentle breezes blowing in from San Francisco and San Pablo Bays. The Suisun Valley AVA is about one-and-a-half times the size of the Rutherford AVA, and it has rich soils that historically are known for growing stone fruit, yet the domaine is also ideally suited to growing certain varieties of wine grapes.
The Wagner family recognized that when the rich soils of the Suisun Valley are paired with its ideal climate, it becomes a perfect match for growing some of the finest Durif grapes, a varietal that is synonymous with Petite Sirah. Beginning an in-depth search in early 2014 of "the Suisun", they identified a few top-quality Durif vineyards hidden in the corners of this small, picturesque valley. Setting their sights on producing a new Caymus-style wine from one of the worlds heavyweight grape varieties, they made a promise to themselves that "a new wine bearing the Caymus name would have to be great - or, it would not be bottled."
With its deep color, rich texture, firm tannin, and bold flavors, there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah. The variety was originally known as Durif, but took on its more popular moniker when it was imported to California from France in 1884. Despite its origins, it has since become known as a quintessentially Californian grape. It has been commonly utilized as a blending partner for softer Zinfandel and other varieties, but has also found success as a single varietal wine. It is most commonly grown in Lodi and the Central Valley, and to an extent in Sonoma and Napa counties.
In the Glass
Petite Sirah wines are typically deep, dark, rich, and inky, with concentrated flavors of blueberry, plum, backberry, black pepper, sweet baking spice, leather, and cigar box, and chewy, chocolatey tannins. Notes of vanilla and coconut can be found in examples with significant amounts of new oak.
Petite Sirah’s full body and bold fruit make it an ideal match for barbecue, especially brisket with a slightly sweet sauce, and other rich meat dishes. The variety’s heavy tannins call for fatty protein and strong flavors that won’t get drowned out by the wine.
Don’t get Petite Sirah confused with Syrah — it is not, as the name might seem to imply, a smaller version of Syrah. However, it is the offspring of Syrah (crossed with an obscure French variety called Peloursin), so the two grapes do share some characteristics despite being completely distinct varieties.
Caymus Winery Called 'Oracle' of Suisun Valley
FAIRFIELD — Ron Lanza said his father had a vision for the Suisun Valley when he and other wine grape growers worked to have it designated as an American Viticultural Area in 1982.
Others did not see it, but Lanza, owner of Wooden Valley Winery, was assured by his father that some day it would help.
“You are going to make my father’s vision a reality,” Lanza told Chuck Wagner during a public hearing of the Solano County Planning Commission on Thursday.
More than two dozen speakers came to support the proposal for the Caymus Suisun Winery to be located at 4991 Suisun Valley Road.
Many, like Lanza, strongly believe that having a wine label as prestigious as Caymus come in will give instant status to the valley and the wines that are produced there.
“You will lift us up,” one speaker said.
An equal number of speakers were there to tell the commission that Wagner, the founder of the Wagner Family of Wines and the Caymus brand, will be an equally great addition to the community.
The commission was listening, voting 4-1 to approve the use permit and mitigated negative declaration. Commissioner Paula Bauer dissented, expressing concern about traffic and the size of the project.
“I thought I was part of the community, and it was confirmed tonight,” Wagner said.
The plan is to open by September 2018.
The winery will specialize in the “grand durif,” a softer version of a traditional petite sirah, which Wagner said will become the trademark wine for the valley.
He also noted that most of his acreage will be dry farmed, reducing the impact on water supply. He said Caymus currently has 300 acres, of which only 60 are irrigated.
Wagner said there is already a small group of the existing winemakers working to try to develop a uniform taste and a marketable global brand for the Suisun Valley.
The winery will have the capacity of producing 200,000 gallons of wine each year.
The Suisun Valley Road project has a mitigated declaration for environmental impacts, including construction issues such as dust and noise, as well as requiring Caymus to obtain a variety of water, drainage and habitat-related permits.
The facility, which will use grapes from Solano County and other regions, also will conduct retail sales, have tasting for guests and will host special events, county documents state.
Weekday events will be limited to fewer than 100 people. Anything more than that will have to take place on the weekend, the county reported.
Wagner also has a 160,600-square-foot production and bottling facility going up on Cordelia Road under the name Cordelia Winery. All the wine produced in Solano County will be bottled there.
There was opposition to the project. Issues concerning the elementary school across the street and the health and welfare of its students, increased drunken driving near a school, increased traffic from tourists, noise and other factors were pointed out.
The sheer size of the winery also raised red flags for some area residents, who believe it does not fit into the existing culture of the Suisun Valley wine industry, which has 12 smaller wineries operating.
Wagner founded the Wagner Family of Wines in the Napa Valley with his parents – Charlie and Lorna Belle Glos Wagner – in 1972. Charlie Wagner Sr. began as a home winemaker in the 1960s.
The family claims a winemaking heritage that dates back four generations and more than 160 years, including a family connection to Elmira.
Printed in the August 4, 2017 edition, page A3
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