Smaller then a hamlet, little Mankas Corner in unincorporated Suisun Valley has a long and colorful history—and is now a hot, happening place. It’s a curious and burgeoning epicenter of excellent wines and wineries, music, food and agritourism. Located in northern Suisun Valley, just a bit north of I-80 between the Suisun Valley Road and Abernathy Road exits, the juncture called Mankas Corner has long been a crossroads between Napa, Solano and Contra Costa counties.
A Little History
In 1855, a man named Christley Manka purchased an interest in a rough-hewn tavern and general store. It sat at what became an important crossroads for agricultural and mining operations in the general area. Most importantly “Mankas Corner” was on the Benicia to Suisun City stagecoach route between Suisun Valley in the south and Berryessa Valley to the north. Over the next forty years, Manka’s store became a popular gathering place, which integrated a bar, a community center, a blacksmith, a Masonic hall and a post office. Another stagecoach line stopped at Mankas Corner twice daily on the Benicia to Suisun City run and the return.
For many years, wheat, barley and other grains from Monticello, and what was known as Berryessa Valley in northern Napa County, supplied much of Northern California. During harvest times, huge wagon trains used the Suisun-Berryessa road, travelling through Mankas Corner and then further south to the Port of Suisun City. Before the completion of Monticello Dam in 1957 and subsequent flooding of Berryessa Valley, the town of Monticello was a fertile and abundant farming community. Sadly, today the town of Monticello lies at the bottom of Lake Berryessa.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mankas Corner was also an important waystation on the main route from the Sulphur Bank Quicksilver (mercury) Mine in Knoxville, located in northeastern Napa County, to San Francisco. Mercury extraction (though extremely hazardous to workers) was a key element in gold and silver processing while also used in the manufacturing of caps for explosives. Later on, mercury was utilized in the production of various weapons, radio electronics, heat gauges and even used in drug production and in dental fillings. In the years between 1864 and 1903, Napa County was one of California’s leading mercury producers. The Sulphur Bank Quicksilver Mine finally closed for good in 1957, although the old Knoxville Road can still be traced on the western side of Lake Curry, down Gordon Valley Road and on in to Mankas Corner.
Food & Wine
“I like the rural setting … it’s kind of out in the country but still 5 minutes from Fairfield,” said Fairfield resident Barry Ruffino. “It’s not pretentious or crowded like Napa. I like the whole atmosphere plus I enjoy the $5 Tuesday specials at Mankas Corner Steakhouse.” Ruffino, who is seemingly at every single Mankas Corner area event, told me, “There are lots of fun wineries like Wooden Valley Vineyards, Seven Artisans Winery, Back Road Wines, the Wine Cooperative and GV Cellars.”
The local Suisun Valley AVA has more than 30 wineries. Local wines are rapidly improving in both quality and quantity. The most notable grape in Suisun Valley may be Petite Syrah, but other varietals thrive in Suisun Valley including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as well as various blends such as Meritage.
Mankas Corner Steakhouse is the main, and frankly only fine dining spot around, but visitors will enjoy nearby Il Fiorello Olive Oil Tasting (which, for the cost of the tasting, does a wonderful small-bites pairing), or a stop at Napa Grass Farmer for some delicious grass fed artisan meats.
Ebullient local realtor Mary Reyff is considered the “mayor” of Mankas Corner. Though an appointed, ceremonial position, she is a rabid booster of the area. “This place was a stagecoach stop a hundred and fifty years ago and today everybody is family here” said Reyff. “There truly is a sense of local camaraderie in this area, and music is one source of continual enjoyment.” She is one of many who come to hear musicians join in on Tuesday night jam sessions at Mankas Corner Steakhouse. Others of note include Seven Artisans Winery, which hosts fun bands every Saturday afternoon, and Wooden Valley, offering Friday night events all summer long.
Solano County had many defunct little communities such as Collinsville, Batavia, Tremont, Denverton, Silveyville, Binghampton and Maine Prairie, but tiny Mankas Corner remains a viable stop. Come experience Mankas Corner and environs yourself—have a glass of wine, a little food and hear some fine local music in a living slice of the old west.
When the conditions are right, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes growing in our To Kalon vineyard go from hard green berries to ripe purple grapes in just a matter of days. This process is known as verasion, and it's when the grapes develop their full color, flavor and sugar level. It's the last step in the grape's life cycle before we harvest. This video shows five days of verasion compressed into 30 seconds during some very hot weather in late July.