Grand Island Vineyards Opens Winery

California's Salman Family will produce 2016 red wines in Delta facility after 45 years of grapegrowing

by Ted Rieger
Grand Island Vineyards
Grand Island Vineyards new winery and tasting room facility occupies a 5-acre site adjacent to the Sacramento River in the Clarksburg AVA.
Walnut Grove, Calif.—After more than 45 years growing wine grapes in the Clarksburg American Viticultural Area (AVA) and nearly 10 years developing a winery facility, the Salman Family opened Grand Island Vineyards’ tasting room on a property bordered by the Sacramento River and Steamboat Slough.

The winery entrance is directly off the levee road of State Highway 160, which follows the meandering Sacramento River between the City of Sacramento and Contra Costa County. The tasting room had a soft opening with weekend hours beginning in January, and a more formal opening will take place this spring.

Family history
The Salman family’s history in Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta agriculture dates to the 1920s, when Mujiko Salman, an immigrant from what is now Croatia, purchased property that is still the home ranch for Salman Farms on Sutter Island in Sacramento County. The family originally grew a variety of row crops such as tomatoes and asparagus. Enver Salman, Mujiko’s son, began planting wine grapes in 1969 including French Colombard, (no longer produced) and Petite Sirah, now one of the Clarksburg AVA’s more sought-after varieties, and this original block is still in production.

At age 75, Enver remains active in daily farming operations, while his wife Cynthia Salman oversees administrative functions for the business. Their son Joe grew up on the home ranch and returned to work in the family business after graduating from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo with a degree in BioResource and Agricultural Engineering. He is involved in all aspects of the business, has managed development of the winery and now manages winery operations. His wife Lenaya handles special projects such as visual design and décor at the new winery as well as graphic design of wine labels.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Salmans expanded vineyard production by leasing acreage and developing vineyards with more varieties under contracts with winery customers. Today, the Salmans farm about 450 acres of vineyards with more than a dozen varieties planted. White wine cultviars include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Fiano, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Symphony; while Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot are among the red varieties. The Salmans also farm two pear orchards.

Wine grape buyers include both large and small wineries: E. & J. Gallo and Simi Winery in Sonoma County, Pine Ridge Vineyards and Beaulieau Vineyard in Napa Valley, Jeff Runquist Wines in Amador County, and nearby Lodi and Clarksburg wineries including Bogle Vineyards. Runquist produces a Salman Vineyard designated Petite Sirah that regularly wins top awards in wine competitions.

Winery development
The 128-acre Grand Island Vineyards property was purchased in 1996 and today is planted with 100 acres of wine grapes and 10 acres of pears. It was Enver’s idea and goal to expand the business into winemaking, and family discussions about building the winery began around 2000. The winery project had its share of development challenges. As Joe Salman explained, “It was something we wanted to do, and we knew it would be difficult, and it was a long-term project.” Being located in the Delta, new building projects have planning and permit issues related to flooding, water and environmental concerns. Delta-area soils tend to have high organic matter and peat composition that require attention to building foundation and seismic safety issues. Salman said when the original conditional use permit was filed with Sacramento County in 2006, the county didn’t have a plan or much experience for permitting new wineries. (The county later adopted a winery and farm stand ordinance, which makes the process more straightforward.) Salman said, “We worked through it, but the planning, loans and permits all took time, and the construction took longer than expected.”

Finishing touches on landscaping are in progress, and winery equipment will gradually be installed during the next two years. The tasting room and upstairs offices are open in a 11,300-square-foot, two-story building that has barn-style elements with a Mediterranean feel. “Our goal was to have a new and functional structure, but one that looks like it belongs and has been here a long time, like our family has been,” Salman explained. The winery and visitor facilities occupy a 5-acre site with parking areas, landscaped grounds and plenty of room for picnicking and special events.

Estate wines produced under two labels

The Salmans’ first commercial wine was a red blend from the 2007 vintage called Sutter Island Red, produced at nearby Scribner Bend Winery. Beginning in 2012, the winery started producing varietal wines at Estate Crush, a custom-crush facility in Lodi. Production is now about 1,000 cases per year. To date, all wines released have been under the “Bridgehead” brand, named for the historic Steamboat Slough Bridge that was built in 1924 and is visible from the tasting room entrance and grounds. It is also graphically represented on some of the wine’s labels. Current Bridgehead releases from the 2012 and 2013 vintages are priced at $10 to $15 per bottle.

Salman expects to begin producing red wines at the new facility during the 2016 harvest, but he will continue producing white wines at Estate Crush for at least one more vintage. A winemaking consultant will be hired to oversee production this year. The winery will produce higher end estate wines under the Grand Island Vineyards label and will soon bottle a Pinot Noir for its first release under this brand.

Salman said the plan is to grow production slowly, perhaps 5% per year, but he does not envision reaching the facility’s permitted production capacity of 150,000 cases in the foreseeable future. Their priority will continue to be their grape-buying customers. For the near term, Salman says: “We serve our grape customers with their tonnage and quality needs, and what isn’t sold to them will go to our own winery program. As long as we continue growing high-quality grapes for our customers, it also helps the quality of our own wine.” Salman said vineyard operations will continue to expand. When new blocks are planted under contract for grape buyers, additional acres will be planted for Grand Island wines.

Salman said: “We’re not looking to be a big national brand, we want to build business from the inside out. We want people to visit our beautiful property and remember the quality of the wine and their experience and come back.” The emphasis will be on direct sales at the winery and through a wine club. The property will be available for special events and weddings, but Salman said weddings will likely not be scheduled until 2017.

The Salmans have been active grower members of the Clarksburg Wine Growers & Vintners Association for many years and have served on its board of directors. They will also join as a winery member to be included on the Clarksburg Wine County visitor map and in promotions. The winery plans to join Sacramento River Delta Grown to be part of its Delta Farm and Winery Trail Guide.

Salman summarized: “Our goal is to grow high-quality wine grapes that go into a high-quality bottle of wine, and to showcase the grapes from this area. Some wineries don’t have the luxury of having all estate-grown fruit and being able to manage both the grapegrowing and the winemaking to their quality standards. Based on the interest and good response we’ve had with our wines so far, I think we’re doing a good job with that.”

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