Caymus owner approved for large Solano winery

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CORDELIA -- The owner of Caymus Vineyards is preparing for the start of construction this fall on a 5.5 million-gallon-a-year winery and distillery on farmland south of Fairfield to shift excess production from the Napa Valley winery.

The goal is to start preparing roads and building pads on 57 acres at 2658 Cordelia Rd. by mid-October, setting the stage for the first phase of construction of wine production facilities to begin in earnest next spring, according to Chuck Wagner, owner of Caymus as well as brands Mer Soleil, Belle Glos and Conundrum (707-963-4204,

The approval of the project near Fairfield on Aug. 1, following a use-permit application in mid-May, came at a good time. In late July, the Wagner family reached a $1 million legal settlement with the county of Napa exceeding the permitted production capacity of at Caymus' Rutherford winery.

"We settled with the county on the period of time to be fully compliant, and part of that is reducing the footprint," Mr. Wagner said.

Wagner Family of Wine has five years to downsize the Caymus winery under the settlement. After a 2008 county audit of its use permit, the company was accused of exceeding its annual production limit by 1.9 million gallons.

The problem came from trucking wine in bulk from the family's Monterey winery to Rutherford to save money on having a second bottling line, which can cost up to a few million dollars for high-speed equipment, and that was not thought to be counted as local production under Napa County's Winery Definition Ordinance of 1990, according to Mr. Wagner. Indeed, it was.

So, the Wagner family purchased 260 acres of legume and wheat land near Fairfield. When the Solano winery opens, most of the white wines from the Monterey facility will be shipped there, as well as certain coastal cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir grapes to be crushed.

Solano grapes aren't yet up to par for the Caymus brand, but they may suit the Conundrum red blend, currently under a California appellation, according to Mr. Wagner.

"We're going to investigate fine-wine production in Solano this year by purchasing grapes," he said.

That would likely be less than 100 tons, chosen from vineyards in the colder and warmer reaches of the county, Mr. Wagner added.

This spring, the plan calls for planting 10 to 50 acres of vines for zinfandel or red Rhone varieties such as petite sirah. Planting is anticipated to proceed slowly because of the $20,000- to $40,000-an-acre cost of developing modern vineyards, Mr. Wagner noted.

The first phase of the Solano project is set to include a 132,000-square-foot winery, barrel cellar and casegoods warehouse plus a 25,000-square-foot canopy for processing grapes and 32,000-square-foot mechanical systems building.

About 150 stainless-steel fermentation and storage wine tanks would have capacity for 6 million gallons, according to the use permit approved by the Solano County Planning Commission on Aug. 1.

The application, with initial designs by Summit Engineering, was filed in mid-May. An architect and general contractor for the project are being selected. Project cost wasn't disclosed.

The use permit allows for crushing up to 32,000 tons a year. The plan is to start with 6,000 tons and increase to the 20,000-ton, 3 million-gallon capacity of the first phase.

The second phase, tentatively planned for the next two to three years, calls for a 120,000-square-foot addition to the winery and 75 more tanks, allowing annual production to increase to 32,000 tons of grapes and 5 million gallons of wine. Also part of the phase would be production of a half-million gallons of distilled spirits.

The final phase, envisioned for 2016--2018, would add a 26,500-square-foot retail and hospitality center with a deli and offices, a 10,500-square-foot adjoining courtyard, new driveway for the center and a spur from the Union Pacific rail line to receive materials and ship finished wine.

The use permit allows for up to 100 people attending winemaker or club dinners as often as twice weekly, peak visitor traffic of 250 a day to a tasting and retail center and up to 500 people at special events six times a year.

"It's going to significantly increase the wine economy of Solano County," said Roger King, president of the Suisun Valley Vintners & Growers Association.

The county's Green Valley and Suisun Valley appellations have fewer than a dozen wineries, and less than a half-dozen of those have on-site tasting venues, according to Mr. King.

Yet, an ample supply of warehouse space in Fairfield, Vacaville and Benicia along Interstate 80 have made Solano County become home to a number of wine industry suppliers, such as stoppers, glass and other packaging, he noted. A key example of that is a 318,000-square-foot building under construction for Encore Glass just north of Wagner family winery.

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