Before he landed a part-time job in UC Davis’s viticulture lab, Manveer Sandhu was a pre-med student focusing on neurobiology. “I just needed some extra money and thought the lab would let me use my scientific brain,” says Sandhu, the executive director of winemaking at Healdsburg’s Rack & Riddle.
But after a few months of working in the vineyard and expanding his knowledge in the lab, Sandhu was hooked on the science of wine. He began taking classes in enology and studied under Dr. David Smart, a renowned UC Davis viticulturist. But when he decided to change his major to enology and viticulture, his parents had other ideas. “Coming from a traditional Indian household, I had a difficult time explaining the decision to my parents,” says Sandhu. “They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t pursuing a career in medicine.” After graduation, Sandhu jumped into the industry with a lab position at Delicato Family Wines, followed by a job at E. & J. Gallo.
Today, at Rack & Riddle, Sandhu manages a team of six winemakers creating sparkling wines for clients of all sizes, from small, family-owned brands all the way up to major players like Trader Joe’s. The mass retailer’s Brut Reserve North Coast sparkling wine is produced at Rack & Riddle’s facility.
Each summer, harvest arrives early for those on the sparkling wine scene, explains Sandhu. “We really want to capture the acidity, bright fruit, and freshness of the grapes without the weight of ripeness,” he says. “After working with growers for over a decade, I finally know what I’m looking for in the vineyard.”
This year, with early budbreak and bloom and a massive September heat spike, harvest for sparkling wine grapes was over in a flash. “It was the shortest harvest I’ve ever seen,” Sandhu says. “It happened so fast we didn’t even have a chance to catch our breath. Harvest began August 8th and it was over by September 9th.”
By mid-November, Rack & Riddle will have finished harvest for its custom crush clients. Some of the juice will be going through malolactic fermentation or into barrel. Then, Sandhu and his team can enjoy the holiday season.
Three to try
Sparkling wine expert Manveer Sandhu of Healdsburg’s Rack & Riddle loves these Sonoma sparklers for the holidays.
Portalupi 2021 Arrossire Di Barbera Pauli Ranch, Mendocino County $45. “I love working with untraditional sparkling wine varieties, and this sparkling Barbera is great.” 707-395-0960, portalupiwine.com
Balletto 2016 Sparkling Brut Rosé Russian River Valley $42. “This is such a nice sparkling. Balletto really puts the essence of the Russian River into this wine.” 707-568-2455, ballettovineyards.com
Amista NV Sparkling Blanc De Blanc Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County $48. “Amista is also doing great things with different sparkling varieties, like Grenache, Syrah, and Mataró.” 707-431-9200, amistavineyards.com