SUISUN VALLEY — Fall brings a flurry of activity to Wooden Valley Winery in Suisun Valley and has done so for about 80 years, though there have been many changes.
Grapes need to be picked. Some get shipped to winemakers on the East Coast. Some stay in Suisun Valley and get made into wine at Wooden Valley Winery.
The crush is on. Grapes destined for white wines go to the winepress. Grapes destined for red wines get fermented along with their skins in large, silver tanks.
Ron Lanza during the middle of the 2013 crush looked at the deep purple color of grape juice that had been in the fermentation tank for only a few days.
“We’ve not even begun to ferment this and look at the color you’ve got,” Lanza said. “This is fantastic.”
Lanza and his family runs the winery. They create all types of wines, from Chardonnay to Gamay to Riesling to Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel.
Wooden Valley Winery is in the heart of Solano County’s Wine Country. This is an area with warm days and cool nights, with breezes from the Bay Area blowing through the gaps in the coastal hills. Local grape growers compare the climate to that in the neighboring, world-famous Napa Valley.
In addition, Wooden Valley Winery gets water from Lake Berryessa reservoir through the Solano Irrigation District. That means plentiful water, even after the relatively dry winter of 2012-13.
“We’re very fortunate to have Lake Berryessa and SID,” Lanza said.
For Lanza, great wine starts with great grapes. The weather and the way vineyard managers care for the vines all contribute to the quality of grapes that come from the fall harvest.
It all appears to have come together in 2013.
“It’s a great year for wine, because it’s been a great growing season,” Lanza said.
Wooden Valley Winery traces its beginning to Salvador and Manuel Brea, who founded it in 1933. The Breas called it “Wooden Valley” because the road in front bore that name – later, this particular segment of road become Suisun Valley Road. Wooden Valley itself is farther to the north, in Napa County.
The winery originally made jug wine for everyday table consumption, Lanza said. Most of the customers were immigrants living in the Bay Area.
In 1944, Mario Lanza moved to Suisun Valley to become a partner with the Breas in the winery. Mario Lanza had previously worked for the Oakland Scavenger Co. He got injured and his doctor recommended he leave the Oakland area for a warmer climate.
In 1955, Mario Lanza became Wooden Valley Winery’s only owner. The Breas had a condition, though – the name Wooden Valley Winery would live on.
Mario Lanza and his wife Lena made Wooden Valley Winery a family business. They brought in their son Richard to work with them. Richard Lanza and his wife Adrienne carried on the business and in time their sons – Ron, Rick, Larry and Ken – got involved.
Today, the four Lanza brothers carry on the Wooden Valley Winery tradition. Rick Lanza is the winemaker, Larry and Ken Lanza work with the vineyards and Ron Lanza works on the sales and other aspects of the business.
They keep an 80-year tradition moving forward.
“Family businesses tend to be difficult,” Ron Lanza said. “But I think with ours, what makes it work is there’s basically my parents and four brothers. We just pretty much share the same goals, where we want to take the business.”
Anna and Antonio Deleon are among Wooden Valley Winery’s fans. They’ve been customers since 1978.
“We’re a few blocks from there,” Anna Deleon said. “We tell people we’ve got our own winery.”
The Deleons came to the area from Texas. When they have visitors from Texas, they bring them to Wooden Valley Winery.
“They love it,” Anna Deleon said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.
Wooden Valley Winery
4756 Suisun Valley Road, 864-0730
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., every day