Winemaker earns honors

Silver and Gold for Solis Winery

WINNING TEAM Vic and Mike Vanni of Solis Winery in Gilroy pride themselves on award-winning vintages. Photo Steve Foreman

The new year got off to a golden start for Solis Winery in Gilroy, as they came home from the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition with two gold medals and four silvers for their wines. This continues what has been an impressive streak of award-winning vintages for the winery, which became part of the Vanni family in 1989.

These results are no fluke. Solis Winery has entered the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for a number of years, consistently faring quite well. As the largest competition of American wines in the world, this year’s Chronicle competition attracted over 6,800 wines, and 64 wine judges.

In the 2019 SF Chronicle Competition, Solis was awarded gold medals for their 2014 Reserve Estate Baciami and 2016 Estate Grenache, and silver medals for their 2014 Reserve Estate Cara Mia, 2014 Estate Seducente, 2014 Estate Syrah, and 2015 Estate Zinfandel. All the wines are grown and produced in the Santa Clara Valley, one of the oldest commercial wine regions in the state of California.

Vic Vanni, co-owner of Solis Winery, who handles business and marketing says receiving this number of awards in America’s biggest wine competition is truly an honor.

“Quality always comes first at our family-owned business, and we take great pride in producing some of our region’s most outstanding wines and unique varietals,” says Vanni. “We encourage people to come visit our tasting room and try our award-winning wines for themselves!”

Vanni says that he and his brother, Mike, the Solis winemaker, assumed the mantle of leadership from their father in 2007. Since 2000, though, Mike has handled all the vineyard operations and wine making.

Both brothers have been working tirelessly to raise the quality and the visibility of their wines, their winery and of the region overall. Naturally, Vic wasn’t surprised by the results, as they come on the heels of previous acclaim.

In 2017, at the San Francisco Chronicle Competition, the winery scored a Double Gold for the 2013 Cara Mia, a Gold for the 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and Silver for the 2013 Estate Zinfandel. In 2016, the winery garnered Gold for the 2012 Baciami Reserve, Gold for the 2012 Estate Syrah and Silvers for the 2012 Seducente and 2012 Estate Zinfandel.

There’s definitely a consistent pattern here. They enter half a dozen competitions each year, performing very well in each overall. In fact, at the 2015 California State Fair, their 2011 Solis Estate Merlot was awarded a Double Gold and Best Merlot in California, their highest winemaking honor to date.

Asked how their focus on varietals and winemaking style has changed over the years, Vanni replies, “We used to make a second tier of wines, but when my brother and I took over, we stuck with only the premium level. We haven’t changed much from a varietal standpoint, but added the Baciami blend in 2010 to incorporate a heavier wine in our offering and to utilize our estate petite sirah.”

Vanni feels their blends have always been well received and are a testament to their winemaker and his style.

“The Cara Mia is our Bordeaux blend and means ‘My Dear’ in Italian, but was really named after my dad’s favorite red rose,” says Vanni. “Our family had been in the cut flower business for almost 60 years.”

They began making Baciami in 2010, while the Cara Mia dates back to the mid 1990s.

The Grenache, though, is quite new to the Solis lineup.

“In 2014 we planted a new vineyard and decided to try some grenache—2016 was our first vintage and it is very nice,” Vanni says. “Not sure how soon it will be until we release it though, as it is a very small production.”

We had to ask if these wines are some of the best they’ve made to date, to which the ever humble Vanni replies, “I think we continue to learn how to improve quality, but there are always the uncontrollable factors in this business that can affect quality, so it is hard to say if these are the best we’ve done. I think it is up to the customer to make that decision.”

Come visit, taste the wines and decide for yourself. While you’re here, admire the sparkling house immediately visible as you come down the driveway. Its distinctive crushed abalone shell exterior made it shiny and unique, as there were only two such houses in Santa Clara County. It was built in 1922 by the original proprietor of the estate, Alfonse Bertero, who also planted the first vineyard there, establishing what became Bertero winery. It remained in business even during Prohibition, when Alfonse became a bootlegger to survive. The winery operated until about 1980, when it was sold to a group of investors who changed the name to Summerhill Vineyards.

Vic and Mike’s parents, Dave and Valerie Vanni, originally came to Santa Clara Valley in 1980, moving their three sons from Los Altos to a small 5-acre vineyard next door to the old Bertero Winery. The Vanni family was in the cut flower business in Watsonville, and Dave was taking over the operation. Although he had no experience in vineyard management or winemaking, Vanni had a green thumb and was soon on his way to turning a hobby into a new obsession.

Over the next five years, Dave and his family replanted the old vineyard with chardonnay and merlot, supported by a new trellis system and irrigation. Vanni then acquired the adjacent property, again replanting the vineyard. Finally, in 1989, Vanni purchased the defunct Summerhill Vineyard and renamed it Rancho de Solis Winery, after the Mexican land grant dating back to 1830.

Today, the Vanni family holdings include the 16-acre estate vineyard at Solis, which was planted to red grapes in the early to mid-1980, along with a newly acquired 20 acres of land known as the Due Ponti Ranch, just west of Gilroy Gardens. They’ve been busily planting vines, positioning Solis to thrive well into what looks like a golden future.

Solis Winery’s award-winning wines are available locally and online. To learn more, visit soliswinery.com.

Laura Ness

Laura Ness is an accomplished freelance writer offering travel tips and commentary on the California wine industry.

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About Laura Ness
Laura Ness is an accomplished freelance writer offering travel tips and commentary on the California wine industry.