Tenbrink Vineyards owners Linda and Steve Tenbrink came to Suisun (pronounced Sue-Soon) Valley in 1982 and established a home and made a living as farmers. Arriving with no experience, they now have about 60 acres in walnuts, heirloom tomatoes and various fruit trees. In 2006, they embarked in yet another venture into unchartered waters to make wine. Fortunately, with their friend and winemaker Abe Schoener acting as a mentor, they launch Tenbrink Vineyards. Years later, their daughter Lisa Tenbrink (and now Lisa Tenbrink Howard) and her husband Cliff launch in 2015 Tolenas Winery.
The name Tolenas has a significant history. The “upper valley” area where some of the vineyards are located was once part of the original Rancho Tolenas, part of the Mexican Land Grant incorporating a good portion of Napa and Sonoma Counties. A historical marker near their homestead denotes this information.
On a nice January 2020 winter day (about 65 degrees) we sat on the lawn in the front yard discussing their history and winemaking mantra. Both Tenbrink and Tolenas hold fast to make the wine as “natural” as possible with no chemical additives. This requires intense detail to the weather, the vineyards, the production and maturation of the wine once in the barrel. That said, the results speak loudly as to their success.
I very specifically only tasted a handful of wines this wonderful and bright sunny day. The first wine tasted was Tolenas Eclipse (a white Pinot Noir). This wine was light refreshing and perfect for a sunny day with a full mouthfeel. Whole clusters are gently pressed to extract the juice with very minimal skin contact to provide a lush creamy runoff as you can visibly see. This wine takes on the name from their 2017 vintage when they were picking the Pinot Noir grapes during an eclipse. This wine was a Gold Medal winner at the 2019 International Women’s Wine Competition. This is an exceptional wine and was unfortunately sold out!! $35 retail price.
Up next was Tenbrink 2018 Assyrtiko. This is one of the few locations in the USA where this is planted. Most of Assyrtiko is from the Greek island of Santorini (see a story Assyrtiko at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/10/22/2017-flowers-assyrtiko-from-santorini-greece/)
It was this story that caught Lisa’s attention and reached out to me that her father (Tenbrink) was making Assyrtiko in Suisun Valley. This wine had many of the key ingredients of a classical acidic Assyrtiko with zero residual sugar and yet a “soft sweetness” on the palate. It is an excellent wine with fresh white fish. Sorry but I enjoyed it so much, I actually didn’t take a picture of it! Only 40 cases were produced. $28 retail price.
Staying with the whites, the next wine was the Tolenas 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. This zippy wine consisted of citrus notes of lime & lemon, honeydew and peach characteristics. On the nose and in the mouth, it reminded me of a more classical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with its brightness. $25 retail price.
Perhaps the surprise wine of the tasting was the 2018 Tenbrink Chardonnay. Knowing full well of the San Francisco Bay fog streaming up into Suisun Valley, this wine was an immediate hit. I rated it on the nose alone. I can’t recall giving a “score” to wine before only on the nose! The pale straw coloring provided an array of honeysuckle, pear and apple on nose and later on the palate. It had a touch of citrus on the finish was clearly going to be a winner! With the score I wrote down, I did not change it once tasting it. For sure it will be in my List of Top Wines of 2020. To show my support for this wine, I immediately purchased six bottles. $28 retail price.
Two more wines were on the lineup today, both being reds. First was Tenbrink Tempranillo. A dark and lush deep purple wine on the eyes. The fourth most planted varietal in the world today. The darker fruit notes, cherries, tobacco and a hint soft leather were abundant. This was a “new world” Tempranillo as some of the classical earthiness was not present, but this is still an enjoyable wine especially with a softer and rounded feel. I really enjoyed the simple and understated label showing a spade and no name or varietal mentioned on the front of the bottle. This represents Steve’s roots being a farmer and hand caring for each of the vines. $36 retail price.
The last wine for the afternoon was the Tolenas 2019 Gamay Nouveau. Not a wine I normally have around and it has been years since my last Gamay tasting. This wine from the picture is bright, clear with a garnet coloring. And only being 12% alcohol, this is a great alternative as a warm summer patio wine served chilled. The weather while tasting this wine was truly cooperative in making this tasting a refreshing experience. $25 retail price.
In conclusion, the key takeaways from this family winery tasting experience, were many elements such as: personally a new undiscovered and underappreciated wine area, a rich history, diverse wines, geographical differences within the Suisun Valley (lower to upper), the quality of the wines across the spectrum, and least by not last, the warmth and genuineness of the Tenbrink clan (Steve, Cliff & Lisa). Confirmed with Lisa, they can ship to all states that allow out of state wine shipments.