Caymus brings the juice to Suisun Valley

May 13 2019

Daily Republic By Todd R. Hansen

SUISUN VALLEY — A handful of wine enthusiasts entered the Wooden Valley tasting room recently, perusing its decor before settling down at the bar to sample a range of offerings.

One of the attractions is the generational display of the Lanza family and the long history they represent in the Suisun Valley.

Perhaps the most influential is Richard “Chick” Lanza, whose vision of the valley as a wine region with its own reputation, and eventually a tourist destination, is beginning to take shape.

“We have started, and we are on the upward climb of my dad’s vision,” said a cautious Ron Lanza, one of the three brothers who run the Wooden Valley operation. He is also the president of the Suisun Valley Vintners & Growers Association.

Lanza said at the recent Passport Sunday event, he saw a lot of new faces among those who attend the event each year. That, he said, is a very good sign.

But there is another name that has moved to the forefront: Caymus.

Chuck Wagner and his family are building a 200,000-gallon-a-year winery in Suisun Valley that will include a tasting room and an event center. It is 10 times larger than any other winery in the valley, and that is on top of its existing Cordelia bottling operation.

It is already marketing its Caymus-Susiun Grand Durif, a petite sirah, and is helping to further define the varietal on which Suisun Valley is building that reputation.

“You want to be known as a great wine region . . . but you need a great wine to chase that,” Lanza said.

“A bigger part is getting Suisun wines, the appellation of Suisun wines, out all over the U.S. and around the world,” Lanza said.

“I can tell you,” Lanza said, “when people come in here for the first time, one of the first questions you hear is, ‘What is Suisun Valley known for?’ ”

Caymus is going to help answer that question.

 “I think we are three to five years away from that . . . but we are already feeling it for the growers because of (the grapes) they are buying from growers and because they are leasing (ground), the impact has been huge,” Lanza said.

He points out that while Wooden Valley is arguably the premier winery in the valley right now, only 5 percent of the grapes the family grows goes to its own wines. That means a lot of revenue is leaving the county.

Lanza said Wagner is also lending his expertise to other growers, showing them his farming techniques and other operational proficiencies to help produce better products.

Even Lanza upgraded a couple of wines that were already popular, changing to a more sophisticated label, improving the quality of barrels and corks in anticipation of a new Caymus market. What surprised him was they quickly rose to being among his top sellers.

But Suisun Valley as a tourism destination must go well beyond Caymus, or even the growers alone.

Lanza gives the county planners a great deal of credit for making agriculture tourism a priority, noting particularly the creation of agricultural tourism centers – locations that Lanza hopes will be developed with restaurants, lodging, galleries and other outlets that will support the wine industry.

“What this valley really needs, and for our valley to be successful, our competition cannot be each other,” Lanza said. “We are competing with other wine regions.”

But Lanza said the valley also needs more “players” to be able to complete: the wineries as well as other related attractions.

“Caymus is that big player who not only brings its talents, but may attract other good players,” Lanza said. “But it is going to take investors . . . I’m sure the presence of Caymus has people looking, but they have not pulled the trigger, yet.”

Even the presence of Gallo, though it shut down a popular winery in favor of just growing grapes, still has a big impact because it tells buyers that it believes in the quality of Suisun Valley vineyards.

One controversial element that has entered the discussion is short-term vacation rentals. There are voices, within the wine growers, on both sides of the issue.

But Lanza thinks that the nature of wine tourism will bring the right kind of people to the region, and they will be looking for higher-end homes to rent.

 “It’s been very good for us,” said Lanza, who is fully aware of what happened with an overflow party at the Suisun Valley Inn.

He thinks the outcome was generally overblown, especially by people who do not want the valley to change, but in many cases, are not invested in agriculture themselves.

But Lanza also believes the existing hotels will have a role to play.

“The idea is to get people to stay . . . and one of the ways to get people to stay in a hotel is you show them what there is to do,” said Lanza, who also serves on the board of the Fairfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.

This version corrects the reference to the Caymus-Susiun Grand Durif in the eighth paragraph of the original.