Ledgewood Creek Winery & Vineyards
Central Valley region
The future certainly looks bright for the winery and its family of fine wines
When Dean Frisbie left his home state of Kansas and headed to California forty years ago, he had little inkling that his future would one day be tied to the California wine industry.
After receiving a pair of degrees from Kansas University (Engineering and Law), Frisbie came west as an assignment for his then employer Chevron Oil. He settled in Northern California’s Bay Area and soon met another transplant, his future wife Bunny, who was originally from Massachusetts.
The couple married in 1969 and set about raising a family. During the time, Dean changed professions and ultimately wound up selling commercial real estate developments.
Nearly twenty years later, Dean Frisbie acquired the family’s first piece of agricultural land, a massive 145-acre plot in Suisun Valley that was planted in pears. When the prices for pears plummeted two years later, a neighbor who managed vineyards offered to help Frisbie replant his existing groves. Suisun Valley’s near by location to Napa Valley (due east seven miles) made the move seem plausible and the transition was begun. Since that time, additional parcels of land have been added to the Frisbie fold. The family’s acreage presently totals around 400, with some 335 presently under vine. All their early fruit was sold to Sebastiani Vineyards, but a decade ago new contracts were signed with Clos du Bois, Ravenswood and others.
As these long-term contracts neared fruition, Dean Frisbie sought another business outlet to hedge his family’s position in the industry. The wine industry was at a peak and the idea of opening a family winery was advanced. After much consideration, Ledgewood Creek was founded and its first wines were released in 2001.
“I looked around at what was happening,” remarked Frisbie, “and saw a great deal of growth in just about every region. My family was basically growers and we were really successful at what we did. Since Suisun Valley wasn’t on everyone’s must have list, I guess I was taking a chance starting the winery. I liked the fact that Suisun Valley had its own appellation (since 1981) and I thought the new winery gave us a really good hedge against future problems. I felt I needed to create a permanent home for our grapes and the winery seemed like the right thing to do.”
Since the family sold around 90% of its grape production, Ledgewood Creek’s initial release of 2200 cases was literally a drop in its proverbial wine bucket. Added to the fact that the new winery was only the second winery in Suisun Valley, it was gratifying to everyone that Ledgewood Creek’s wines began drawing support from around the area and elsewhere in the state.
Production has grown steadily and will hit between 14,000 and 15,000 cases in 2007. The winery and visitor’s center have also been completed and the complex now produces an amazing number (11) of varietals. A second Frisbie Family label, cleverly entitled Picnique, accounts for a sizeable amount of the winery’s total production.
Dean Frisbie is now a very spry 76, and continues day-to-day activities at the winery. He has assembled a first class team to take Ledgewood Creek to its next projected level, that being the 30,000 case mark. Frisbie figures that will take some 5 to 7 years to achieve, but is in no real hurry. He has watched the wine business stretch to its peak in the late 1990’s and return to more normal levels for the next half-decade. The Ledgewood Creek staff includes two of Frisbie’s sons, Tom and James, and an outstanding outside cast. Consulting winemaker Larry Langbehn brings with him some imposing credentials including a stint with heralded Napa icon winery Freemark Abbey. Even Dean’s wife Bunny gets into the act and is a frequent helper at the newly opened tasting room.
The future certainly looks bright for Ledgewood Creek and its family of fine wines. Dean Frisbie’s dream of a producing winery in Suisun Valley is a reality and also a critical success. We predict you will hear a great deal more from Ledgewood Creek in the future.
The Art of Fine Wine
"Wooden Valley Vineyards"
A watercolor painted by David Peterson as an interpretation of the Suisun Valley vineyards.
(See newsletter for full painting)
About the Vineyard
Ledgewood Creek Winery is located in the rustic Suisun Valley where a mix of vineyards, orchards, crops and grazing cattle surround just a dozen or so working wineries. Suisun, pronounced Sue Soon, is an Indian word meaning West Wind and is in reference to the winds that cool the Valley and make it an ideal environment for vineyards.
Nestled by rolling hills to the west and north, Suisun Valley vineyards have quietly thrived in the secluded region since the mid 1800s. The Suisun Valley is just eight miles long and three miles wide, with an estimated 3,000 acres planted to vines. The cool climate region is similar to nearby Carneros, but without the fog, it offers much more diversity of wine grape varietals.
Although the Suisun Valley has been an official American Viticultural Area for thirty years, it wasn’t until recent years that the wineries become more widely known and truly began to flourish. With Ledgewood Creek Winery leading the pack, Suisun Valley is now on the map in a big way.
Larry Langbehn - Winemaker
"When I first started working with Ledgewood Creek in 2002, I discovered the highest diversity of unusually excellent quality grapes that I've seen in the last 15 years,” says Wedgwood Creek's winemaker, Larry Langbehn.
Larry has been making wines around the world for over thirty years and brings a unique talent to his work at Ledgewood Creek. In addition to being a consultant winemaker in California, Larry has managed his own family winery, worked with winemakers in Eastern Europe and China, and even did a stint as a vinegar maker. His experience has made him one of the most valuable winemakers in northern California today and Ledgewood Creek is happy he found a home with their team.
James Frisbie - Winery Owner
James Frisbie was a recent graduate of Pepperdine University in Southern California in 1993, working on the staff of California’s Senator Diane Feinstein. Even though he has majored in Political Science and Spanish, he decided to try a career as a securities broker after a year on Senator’s Feinstein’s staff.
‘Everything was going great until the securities company I was joining decided to merge with another firm,” James Frisbie, now 33, recently recalled. ‘When the announcements were made, a number of us were told our jobs were being abolished even before we got started. I wasn’t at all prepared for such a happening and didn’t know what I was going to do.” James immediately called his father Dean, who accepted the news in a most positive manner. He invited his son to come home and join his efforts to expand the family’s growing base of vineyards.
‘It all seemed a little weird to me,” James Frisbie continued. ‘I had never studied oenology or anything remotely connected to it. What happened was truly fortunate. At that precise time, my Dad was at a point in the evolution of our business where he wanted to change the method of selling our grapes. Up to that time, we had sold everything to Sebastiani. Dad wanted us to find new wineries and spread our base of supply. It was a really natural fit and for the next couple of years I was able to attract a number of top wineries to sign long term contracts for our fruit.” An incredibly modest James Frisbie went on to explain that his association with his family’s business continued to develop over the next ten years until today he fills dual positions within the business’s structure. He serves as the company’s sales and marketing leader as well as the all-important harvest manager each and every vintage.
‘We’re not too keen on titles around here,” he confided. ‘Since none of our family was trained professionally in the wine business, it was critical that we find some real professionals to help us achieve our goals. Our team here is really first rate and capable of future growth.” James also admits that he wasn’t completely sold on the prospects of building a new winery when the project was first proposed. He felt that he had his hands full with his duties as vineyards and harvest manager and that he really didn’t have the specific knowledge to make the proposed winery successful.
‘What my Dad was trying to do was quite simple,” James Frisbie further explained. ‘He was simply trying to protect what we had built up over the years. Our ten-year contracts with some of our grape customers were coming to an end and the wine business was going through one of its softer periods. In the end it was ultimately Dad’s decision. In retrospect, the decision to build Ledgewood Creek Winery was one of the best business decisions that could be made.” James Frisbie is atypical of many modern winery executives in that he is completely self-taught. He has learned the wine business from the grass roots up and is proud of his family’s accomplishments thus far.
‘When you consider that Suisun Valley is a real newcomer to the wine industry, I think we have really come a long way,” he added. ‘When we started here, the Suisun Valley Appellation was brand new, and we were only the second winery to be built. Today, there are almost a dozen wineries located in our valley and consumers have begun to take notice. Our wines have done quite well in competitions against some of the finest wineries in the state, and that speaks well as to our quality achievements.” James Frisbie is also very excited about his family’s entry into the Rhone varietals arena through its Picnique label of wines. He sees this new label as a potential vehicle to help the winery achieve its growth through the next decade.
Frisbie has come a long way since his days as an intern on a US senator’s staff. He appreciates his position within his family’s growing business and realizes there is much work ahead to continue Ledgewood Creek Winery’s continued expansion. We are betting that James Frisbie and the Ledgewood Creek staff are more than up to the job. Enjoy!