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Toast: You CAN Go Home Again (and make good wine)

(From the Vacaville Reporter)

Gina and Annalise RichmondDon't tell Gina Oberti Richmond you can never go home again. A fourth-generation native of Suisun Valley, Richmond traveled across the Pacific to hone her winemaking skills and picked up a New Zealand husband in the process.

She is now home in every sense of the word, the couple living steps from the house where she was raised.

Richmond, along with her partner, Gary Mangels, are part of a winemaking renaissance that is Solano's best hope for keeping Suisun Valley the undeveloped gem it is today.

The Richmond-Mangles partnership came about the old-fashioned way. Mangels farmed wine grapes in a former orange orchard that belonged to Richmond's father, seven acres that had been in the family since her great-grandfather sold produce from his horse and buggy. When her dad mentioned to his old friend that his daughter was studying enology, a partnership was born.

Matt Smith of Blacksmilth Cellars and his crossflow filtering machineRichmond had been planning for a career in law when a friend stopped by and told her, "Hey, I just found out you can get a degree in winemaking!" "I said, 'Really! No way!' " recalls Richmond. Considering UC Davis to be "a little too close to home," Richmond chose California State University, Fresno, to get her degree.

To complete her education, Richmond worked as a harvest intern in Napa Valley and then in New Zealand. Asked about the signature grassy flavors of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Richmond is forthright: "I prefer the California style of sauvignon blanc. They (New Zealand winemakers) hate being known for that grassy style." But because the British have fallen in love with New Zealand's sauvignon blanc, Kiwi winemakers are forced to continue making it.

Still ... "They hate drinking it and they hate making it," says Richmond.

With her own label, Richmond is under no such constraints. "I make all the winemaking decisions: when it gets picked, if we're going to try some new fermentation practice or a new yeast. (But) When it comes to blending, it's a group decision."

Gina and her husband both hold day jobs in Napa, which helps them operate their Mangels business. He works as a viticulturist and she at a winery specializing in volume production for retailers like Trader Joes. Despite wineries blossoming everywhere from China to Missouri, Richmond says Napa Valley is still the mecca for wine pros. "It's like being in finance and working on Wall Street," she says.

Crossflow filtration has a self cleaning design and can get winemakers pretty excited. We thought it looked a lot like pumping blood.When I caught up with the Mangels at their Suisun Valley property, Gina, with baby and toddler in tow, was filtering red wine with the help of another vintner, Matt Smith, from the Suisun Valley Cooperative.

Meanwhile, Richmond's daughter played among the vines, the morning sun polishing her hair -- an idyllic childhood. I wondered, is this the fifth generation that will see the world and come home again?

You can try Mangels Vineyards wines at the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative tasting room at 4495 Suisun Valley Road. Don't miss their tempranillo, a chewy mouthful of fruit and spice that screams for a summer barbeque.

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