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Suncé Winery & Vineyard

Sonoma County region

A small, family-run estate producing small lots of rare varietals, vineyard-designates, and classic blends

When the co-owner describes her winery as a “bricks and mortar business” it is probably wise to seek an explanation for the verbiage.

In the case of this month’s Gold Wine Club selection, Suncé (pronounced soon-say) Winery & Vineyard, such a clarification was offered by co-owner Janae Franicevic during a recent interview. “We are a tightly designed winery operation,” she clarified. “We have four acres on our campus, and three are planted in Pinot Noir that produces our Zora’s Estate Pinot Noir. On the remaining acre are located our winery and bottling line, deck picnic space and bocce ball area, wine cellar barrel storage facility, commercial kitchen and our residence. Since we deal directly with our customers who come to our campus to see for themselves, I believe we fulfill the definition of a brick and mortar operation.”

Suncé Winery & Vineyard began its life back in 1990 when Frane Franicevic leased two barns and called his winery One World Winery. Its first release came the following year and was greeted with great initial success and industry accolades. For three years Franicevic toiled and was eventually the victim of his own success. The owner of the barns saw One World Winery’s progress and decided he wanted to get into the business himself.

In 1994, Janae Franicevic entered the picture with her marketing skills and general business expertise. A former dressage horse facility became available and a down payment was made on what was to eventually become Suncé Winery & Vineyard.

The Franicevics’ started a family and began designation of various aspects of their winery operation. Zora, now 20, was the recipient of their estate vineyard Pinot Noir plantings. When second daughter Suncé came along in 1998, the winery name was changed in her honor and remains so today. Third daughter Zemlja, now 11, shares her name with the winery’s Barolo-style blend.

From the winery’s initial production of around 3,000 cases at its inception, Suncé Winery & Vineyard has grown to around 12,000 cases for the current year. Interestingly, the winery has developed by making a large number of small lot wines (as many as twenty-four), many at or under the 200 case level.

To accomplish this, winemaker (see Winemaker section) and co-owner Frane Franicevic has utilized some 39 different varietals that his wife sources (See Regions sections) from ideal growing locations throughout Northern California.

Suncé Winery & Vineyard is also a true family operation. All daughters have worked in the vineyards and winery’s bottling line and are now in various schools. The Franicevics also hope that little Zemlja will one day join them in the winery business.

Map of the area

Frane Franicevic - Owner & Winemaker

Picture of Frane Franicevic - Owner & Winemaker

As a youth in his native Croatia, Frane Franicevic worked with his father in his family’s vineyards, and helped him in making barrels and wines. This fact was not uncommon in Eastern Europe where sons followed fathers into the family’s business.

When he immigrated to the United States in the early 1970’s, Frane Franicevic put what he had learned to good use. He started working in restaurants in the great food city of New Orleans. He also started making wine in his basement. Frane began offering the wines for sale and found good responses from his customers. He began making even more wine and eventually decided to pursue the wine grape without reservation. Franicevic admits to taking some industry seminars but insists he had no formal training in winemaking.

His wines have won numerous medals and accolades and are a tribute to his father’s initial tutoring. It is easy to forget that most classical winemakers took a similar route toward a wine vocation before the advent of modern universities and colleges that feature viticultural studies.

About the Vineyard

Picture of About the Vineyard

Approximately ninety percent of the fruit used by Suncé Winery & Vineyard originates from the vast borders of Sonoma County. The seemingly limitless number of terroirs and micro-climates suits the winery’s well-defined course of action, producing small lots of wines using a large number of varietals to accomplish its mission.

Suncé Winery & Vineyard also owns its own three-acre vineyard of Pinot Noir that is located adjacent to the winery in Olivet, just west of Santa Rosa and has several long term leases for nearby vineyards. In addition to fruit from Sonoma County, the winery also purchases fruit from Lake County, Yola County and Mendocino County.

“We look for varietals and the best possible terroirs for each grape,” informed Janae Franicevic, who handles all the sourcing and vineyard relations for the winery. “Since we have so many varietals in our portfolio, it is necessary to look far and wide for the best possible representatives of those varietals.”

This year, a total of 14 or 15 different varietals will be produced by Suncé Winery and Vineyard that will result in 24 different small lots. Needless to say, a great deal of planning goes into the sourcing and implementation of these lots, perhaps more than in any other California winery entity.

Frane Franicevic and Family

Picture of Frane Franicevic and Family

Frane Franicevic was only 17 when his family came from Croatia to settle in New Orleans. He had learned the winery business from his father and grandfather who operated a small operation in their native village of Sucuraj on the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea. At a young age, he was already well vested in the rudiments of winemaking and vineyard management.

In New Orleans, he became interested in the restaurant business and worked in several of New Orleans’ premier dining establishments. At one point, he began making wines in his basement and started telling his dining customers about the wines. He was asked to bring the wines to work. He began selling his wines through the restaurant and sales were so good that he started making more wine to meet the demand.

His education called, and Frane Franicevic earned a BA and Masters in Philosophy. In search of a doctorate, he enrolled at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. In 1985, to finish his thesis, he found an obscure place in Sonoma County called Camp Meeker to meditate. It was located near Forestville and was one of the up and coming locales for the burgeoning Sonoma wine industry. Franicevic fell in love with countryside and the people. He quickly relocated to the Santa Rosa area and the rest is history.

When the wine business called him in the early 1990’s, he had already won a number of contests for amateur winemakers at the widely respected Sonoma County Fair.

Frane Franicevic is unique in that he is one of a handful of self-taught winemakers who are also winery owners. His Suncé Winery & Vineyard had been operational for more than two decades and has found a niche that assures its continued success.

His wife and partner Janae also have a great deal in common. Both were philosophy majors in college and both were servers at one time in the restaurant business. “We both learned a lot from our early experiences,” Franicevic related in his thick Croatian accent. “And I believe we have put what we learned to good use.”

Franicevic is also extremely proud of his Croatian heritage and loves its native sport of soccer. He has been able to work successfully at a number of occupations (including operating a shrimp fishing boat south of New Orleans) but has always returned to his first love, the wine industry.

Each of his daughters has a part of the winery operation named after them. Zora means dawn in English, Suncé means sun or sunshine and Zemlja refers to the soil or earth. All names have distinct relationships to the wine business.

The still youthful 62-year-old still has plenty of get-up-and-go left in his engine. He continues to experiment with obscure grape varietals toward producing more unique and challenging wines. His latest fascination involves the teroldego, a deeply colored red-wine grape grown in the Trentino-Alto Adige wine region of northern Italy that enjoys but one DOC under Italian wine law. Frane Franicevic had been working with the teroldego for the past year and expects to see some results in the near future.

His attitude and success could not have been accomplished without the aid of his wife Janae. The close couple has made difficult business decisions with a sense of togetherness that has made the entire operation successful.

Frane Franicevic is the epitome of the American dream come true. He had utilized his manifold talents to the best of his abilities and has won praise and accolades for his accomplishments. He takes great pride in his family but adheres to the strict personal values of his Croatian heritage.