On the back road to Napa is a small AVA that produces big flavor. Rock Creek Vineyards, a tiny winery with a permit for only 500 cases, is one of only two wineries in the Solano County Green Valley appellation.
Winemakers Carolyn and Tom West aren't even sure what their zoning would permit as far as opening the winery for tastings. Their first vintage didn't need a tasting room because it earned three medals in the San Francisco Chronicle 2009 competition - a gold for their Sangiovese and silver for their Zinfandel and Super Tuscan blend.
"We met at back-to-school night when our kids were in first grade. Then about ten years later we met again. We were both single so we got married," explains Tom with an unusual if x then y logic not normally applied to courtship.
They bought the property 20 years ago and slowly turned this onetime horse farm zoned rural residential into a vineyard and winery. When they do open occasionally for tastings, Tom says the neighbors don't seem to mind. “We get quite a crowd. A couple of times the tasting has gotten out of hand and we end up bringing the bottles out to the creek. It's mostly neighbors. They don’t taste and leave. They taste and party."
In their former lives Tom was a CFO and Carolyn an event planner. "When I had my event planning business and people encouraged me to expand, I said I want to be the best in Silicon Valley, then we'll expand." She applies the same strategy to Rock Creek Vineyards. "We'll never be big. I would be very, very happy to become known as the premiere winery of Solano County."
If Tom is the rock of Rock Creek Vineyard then Carolyn is the creek. He is solid, steady and clearly happy right where he is. Carolyn is effervescent, with a running patter of wine talk and entreaties to "eat!" "Do you like seeing all this? Or is it boring. Did you taste the cab? Did you like it? Did you like it as much as our zin?" The secret to Tom's luscious zin is to pick super ripe grapes. The alcohol content is high but it seemed well integrated into the flavor, if such a thing is possible
The wine of Solano County's Green Valley will be a surprise for people who think of Solano as a pit stop on the way to Tahoe. Fairfield, the closest city to Rock Creek, hugs the freeway with fast food restaurants, and Jelly Belly and Budweiser plants. Just in from the freeway is Suisun Valley, an unusually diverse pocket of agriculture where visitors can find wineries among the produce stands. Rock Creek Vineyard is in the neighboring AVA, Green Valley. Carolyn is passionate to have Green Valley of Solano County recognized, appreciated and not confused with Sonoma. "We love to have people like our wine but I’m on this mission to have Green Valley recognized as an AVA. Our target market is this community. We are at the high end of Fairfield pricing but we can’t sell it for any less."
As we toured the hand-scraped terraces Tom explained, "We did all this, not designed as a venue, but just a place for us to live. This is a hobby that exploded, a landscaping project that grew. I don't have a board of directors pushing me about profitability. We are just trying to recover our costs and enjoy living here. The best way to do that is keep people coming back by making really good wine and that's what we're trying to do."