Lisa Howard saw first hand the challenges and hardships her parents had to endure to ultimately find their true calling and passion in working the land in Suisun Valley. At a very young age, Lisa was exposed to the stresses of overhauling a property and the hard work that goes along with farming. Steve and Linda Tenbrink (Lisa’s parents) would eventually go on to build their own winery.
“Growing up as a farming family was fun because every day was different and your parents were around more than other people’s parents, but super hard,” noted Lisa.
Lisa would shift gears upon entering college and study engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a focal area in Agriculture. Her training would eventually take her to Arizona where she would consult with farmers on irrigation initiatives while working as a project engineer. About the same time, Lisa would go on to meet her husband, Cliff Howard.
After a few years away in the hot sun of Arizona, an opportunity to purchase 55 acres in the prime of Suisun Valley came across the couples’ radar down the road from Lisa’s parents. Through quite a bit of competition, the couple was able to purchase the property and follow in the footsteps that were forged ahead of them while also creating a new chapter.
Cliff and Lisa were finally meant to do what they were meant to be doing. They set up their own label: Tolenas Vineyards and Winery. The name “Tolenas” pays tribute to the explorers who came to the Suisun Valley and played a major role in the history of the region. “Life was harder and crazier, but natural,” said Lisa.
With no formal wine training, Lisa would jump head first into the role, “Just watching my Dad, reading everything I can get my hands on and asking questions of other winemakers around me”, noted Lisa.
With the help of Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards, they were able to replant grapes on the property while also leasing out and buying back the grapes they would use in their estate red blend.
“I really feel like we are just learning and beginning. We experiment a ton with different techniques, yeasts, timing of additions…temperature control. We do our best to learn something new every year, ” said Lisa.
Next years goals include potentially include creating a sparkling wine and establishing a tasting room. Things are going great and they’re only getting better for the Howard family.
Tasting Notes and Highlights:
2015 Red blend – 50% Petite Sirah/30% Cabernet Sav/20% Tempranillo. A beautifully, deep gorgeous red complexion capturing youth and vitality. Hints of blackberry surrounding this lusciously ripe yet balanced Petite Sirah driven blend. Great on a chilly Autumn night by the fire with a perfectly cooked short rib. Suisun Valley continues to be a rising star on the Petite Sirah scene.
2018 Eclipse (White Pinot Noir) – a lovely slightly golden color that has hints of baked apple goodness with notes of strawberry. Earned a gold medal in the 2019 International Women’s Wine Competition. Lisa and Cliff decided on creating the White Pinot the day of an Eclipse thus the name. A lovely counterbalance This wine would go great with a crab salad and a lemon dressing on a hot summer day.
2018 Sauvignon Blanc- Beautiful nose giving off aromas of luxurious perfume. Touches of grapefruit hitting your lips. Honestly, go out and buy a brick of Cheddar, Gouda and Monterey cheese and indulge yourself with this wine.