✏️By Alexandria Baiz & Vaughn Lowery
Fairfield, California the San Francisco Bay city famous for its fruit and local wineries that provide grapes to the Napa and other surrounding vineyards.
Welcome reception at the glorious Jelly Belly Candy Company, includes a self guided factory tour by the staff. The marvelous Company is a family-owned business based in Fairfield with another factory in North Chicago. The Goelitz family started a confectionery business in Illinois in 1869, than a Candy Business in 1924 in California. Later the Candy Company would expand a product line to include jelly beans. In 1965, the Mini Jelly Bean was developed. This was a small bean with a center of natural flavoring, different from traditional jelly beans in which only the outer shell was flavored. The company would become the infamous Jelly Belly Candy Company, with more than 50 varieties of flavors. Flavors traditional as cherry, exotic as buttered popcorn, and even inspired alcoholic drink flavors like blackberry brandy. Ronald Reagan while governor of California would quit smoking and turn to jelly beans as a substitute. The company also makes 100 different confections like gummies, candy corn, and chocolates. The tour is fun for the kids, but just as fun for the adults. This tour takes you through the process of making jelly beans, some stages include a video monitor explanation, while wearing a mandatory Jelly Belly paper hat. And, yes you get a free pack of Jelly Belly Beans at the end. There is also a shop where you can purchase and a Chocolate Shoppe with a fudge bar available for tastings. The ground floor cafeteria is great for lunch with Jelly Bean shaped pizzas being a favorite. For adults, upstairs is a wine tasting room with six different Suisan or green Valley Wines to match the six different chocolates made by the Chocolate Shoppe.
Mankas Steakhouse, a full American steakhouse menu with a local California flavor was our dine for the night. Chef Peter at Mankas uses favorite Suisun Valley products. The local product in Wooden Valley Winery was our first visit the next day at 7am for a visit to watch wine harvest in process. The Suisun Valley and Solano Country American Viticultural Area(AVA) -which is a wine-grape growing region-includes more than 50 sub-appellations of the best known wines region. The Suisun Valley about 8 miles long and 3 miles wide, between the Blue Ridge of the Vaca Mountains on the east. One fifth of the valley is planted as a vineyard with more than 20 varieties of grapes, established in 1982. The Green Valley just west of Suisun Valley is 4 miles long and a mile wide. Also called the Solano County/ Green Valley, AVA was established in 1983.
For breakfast a visit to Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company dedicated to growing and milling the “finest artisan olive oil” produced by owners Ann and Mark Sievers. Ann and her husband began with a harvest of 6 pounds of olives and 170 baby trees they planted in Green Valley. This turned into more than 2000 trees in Green Valley and Suisun Valley. The Suisan groves have 12 single varietals from Italy, Spain, France, and Greece, with blends as well. Il Fiorello offers in depth tours of their property, that concludes in an olive oil tasting and 13 balsamic vinegar reductions. Oil tastings are paired with seasonal bites of food including the classic Frantoio oil with steak.There are even cooking classes within the Fiorello’s Kitchen.
A visit to the GV Cellars is just what we need for a glimpse into a simpler time. The tasting area on the second floor consist of a deck view of the vineyards and Vaca Mountains. The original property was an 80-acre fruit orchard which was replaced with grapes to produce wine under “Chateau de Leu”. In 2005, Bob Hager the current owner would acquire the winery and vineyards. Today, the Cellar grows within a 30-acre vineyard six distinct varietals:Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. The Dolcetto and Cabernet Franc are a house favorite.
Greeted by the owner and winemaker Sal Glavan at his Galvan Family Cellars to taste his wines. Sal Glavan has been making wine in California since the 1990’s including a time working for GV Cellars. Galvan usually has a focus on crafting from the Green Valley and Solano County vineyards, but also ‘high end’ wines from the Napa County vineyards. Producing about 3,500 cases a year depending upon the grapes available wines are exceptional with the signature Bordeaux-style blends or Cabernet Sauvignon-base. The cellars also hold the tasting room for rock Wren Winery, owner Dennis De Domenico has produced Green Valley grape wines since 2005. He is known for making his Frenchs style Syrah “in the classic French style”.
The Suisun Valley Co-op is a perfect tasting room that is cozy but not crowded. Blacksmith Cellars, King Andrews Vineyards, and Sunset Cellars distribute their wine here. Matt Smith the owner and winemaker of Blacksmith Cellars started in 2003, with his release of his 2001 Alexander valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Smith starting as a chemist working in the lab at Beaulieu Vineyards in 1996. From that point he would work at various winecellars making a variety of familiar Suisun Valley wines. King Andrews is owned by Roger who is also the winemaker and Carol (Andrews) King. Sunset Cellars was established by Doug and Katsuko Sparks in 1977. Their speciality includes making small batches of high quality red wines. There are many interesting wines to try like the Blacksmith Rose and Sunset Suisun Valley Charbono Sunset.
The Pacific Flyway, where more than a billion of birds follow the 10,000 mile stretch from South America to the Arctic on their annual migration, makes a stop in Fairfield. Suisun Marsh is one one of the significant stopover points where the birds rest, feed, and restore their energy for continuing on. The Pacific Flyway Center is an educational and conservation initiative. With goals to educate public about the Flyaway and restoring wetlands to keep the flyaway viable.
A drive to the Grizzly Waters Kayak in Suisun City, where we meet the owner James Berg and get set for kayaking Suisun Marsh. Suisun Marsh is part of the Bay Area Water Trail where you can go on trails and see local and migrating birds.
With greetings from Jennivive Soriano the supervisor of brewery experiences we explore the Anheuser-Busch Fairfield brewery. Opened in 1976, the Fairfield Brewery is the ‘greenest’ of the company’s breweries, which derives a third of its power from solar and wind energy. Brewery tours include an hour of the Anheuser-Busch story and how their beers are produced. We took the tour of the brewery that includes the Flights of Fairfield. Fairfield is home to one of the Budweiser plants a famous attraction. The brewery is home to the one of a kind Budweiser Clydesdale (Horse) race events, tickets available online.
The Heretic Brewery Company known for their inner heretic beers that push the boundaries of beer flavors. Owners Liz and Jamil Zainasheff started as homebrewers and in 2012 would open the Heretic Brewing Company. With a variety of 18 different beers on their menu they also have a bar menu of burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers.
The Vezér is a Suisun Valley winery, owned by Frank and Liz Vezér. The Vezérs came to Fairfield more than 20 years ago and purchased 30 acres for vineyards, which has now spread to 60 acres. Originally selling their grapes to other wineries but in 2001 established their own label. The family vineyards produce estate wines like their flagship, La Salette a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. There are two tasting rooms one on Mankas Corner Road and the other on Suisun Valley Road.
A visit to the Cal-Yee Farm Shop whom specializes in dried fruits and nuts. Founder Yee chew Yong fled from China to work as a laborer in California. In 1908, he rented 20 acres of farmland on Clayton Road where his son would purchase the land and his son would start the family’s dried fruit business.
The Wooden Valley winery started in 1933 after prohibition by Salvador and Manuel Brea.In 1944, Mario Lanza would partner with Manuel and eventually become the sole owner. Third generation of Lanzas, four brothers manage the Winery today. This winery is the oldest in the Suisun Valley with a large variety of red and white wines. The Lanza wines have the authenticity of traditional Italian family wines.
Dinner at Favela’s Fusion an upscale Mexican tequileria. The menu includes signature dishes representing the flavors of different regions in Mexico. The owner Veronica Favela-Diaz’s parents immigrated from Mexico and she grew up in Northern California. She and her father opened three restaurants in the 90’s emphasizing affordable quality Mexican food. After Veronica and Husband Edgar traveled all over Mexico learning about the different regions foods they came up with Favelas Fusion. This fusion offers a combination of traditional authentic Mexican cuisine. The Fusion applies a mix of Mexico to obtain one of a kind dishes that are beautifully displayed like the Shrimp Fajitas burrito with cilantro infused with rice and black beans in a tomato tortilla.
A trip to the Mangels Family Vineyards to meet owner Gary Mangels and winemaker Gina Oberti. Gary Mangels is a fourth generation of a California farming and ranching family. His great grandfather bought 240 acres of land in 1876 and the family has grown grapes, made and sold wine, and raised livestock since. In 1943, surviving through prohibition the family sold the winery operation, but maintained the vineyards. Eventually the family would purchase Suisun Valley land and partner with Gina Richmond to found the Mangels Vineyards. Gina makes a variety of red and white wines including, Pinot Grigio and Syrah.
Backroad owners Jeff and Judy Anselmo greet us inside the tasting room in the kitchen of the house. Their wines are relatively young and maturting. As they find their style the plans for construction of the multimillion dollar tasting room will be completed in 2019. Backroad will be a neighbor to The Wagner family of wines -owner of famous Caymus Winery- new tasting room on Suisun Valley Road. It will open in late 2018 with hopes to specialize in ‘grand durif’ and become the trademark wine for Suisun Valley.
Dinner at Chez Soul in downtown Fairfield a Louisiana style restaurant. With every Southern comfort food you can think of from Gumbo to Southern Fried chicken. “Beneath the heart is soul. The soul needs food.”. The owner Cheryl Reed runs the restaurant with her family her brother is the manager and her daughter is the cook. Cheryl’s vision for Chez Soul is good food in a welcoming place that feels like home.