There is no better time than the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to get out and about in Wine Country, sample bubblies of all styles, and stock up for New Year’s Eve and beyond. Any day can be a sparkling wine day in my house, although foam for the holidays is particularly appropriate.
Longtime Sonoma bubbly makers Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Iron Horse Vineyards, J Vineyards & Winery and Korbel Champagne Cellars continue to rule the roost, yet dozens of Sonoma wineries now offer sparklers in their tasting rooms.
The relocation of Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services from Mendocino County to Healdsburg has provided the equipment, storage space and know-how to produce fine fizz locally. Traditionally made sparklers, for which still wine goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle to create the bubbles (often labeled as “méthode champenoise” or “méthode traditionelle”) are labor- and time-intensive. Rack & Riddle supplies everything a winemaker needs to turn his or her own grapes into liquid gold.
“When I worked at J (Vineyards & Winery), through 2006, there were a dozen producers of sparkling wine in California,” partner Bruce Lindquist said. “Now Rack & Riddle has 100-plus sparkling clients, a private-label business, and most (Sonoma) tasting rooms have bubbles.”
All the wineries below are bubbly masters, and also produce and sell still wines. Guest experiences might include wine and food pairings, tours, and the opening of older vintages and magnum-size bottles. Tasting room hours vary, so call ahead before visiting.
Rack & Riddle co-founder Rebecca Faust and her sisters, Cynthia Faust and Sharon Cohn, own Breathless Wines and pour their sparklers at a tasting room adjacent to Rack & Riddle.
Don’t let the industrial park setting deter you from visiting: They offer a fun, art deco France-meets-Sonoma vibe, with several sparkling wines, patio and inside service, recorded music and experiences that include instruction on the art of sabrage – the removal of a sparkling wine cork with a sword. Recent events have included crepe and dim sum brunches.
The wines, made by Penny Gadd-Coster, are fruity and so very easy to drink, made in a slightly sweet, crowdpleasing yet remarkably refreshing style.
499 Moore Lane, Healdsburg, 707-395-7300, breathlesswines.com.
Alan Baker and Serena Lourie’s winemaking business is a labor of love – for each other and the wines they like to drink. Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Rosé and Pinot Noir are among their offerings at their downtown Healdsburg tasting room, though sparkling wine holds a special place in their hearts. They make two: a lovely, nuanced 2013 Brut Rosé ($68) and 2013 Brut Zero ($68), an all-Chardonnay blanc de blancs to which no sugar was added at the time the yeast was removed after secondary fermentation – an otherwise common practice. The wine is bone-dry and yet remarkably rich and textured.
340 Center Street, Healdsburg, 707-433-8270, cartographwines.com.
Korbel Champagne Cellars
This is the oldest continually operating sparkling wine house in North America, established in 1882. That history gives Korbel the legal right to use the term “Champagne” on its labels, even though the wines are not from Champagne, France. They’re produced in Guerneville, from grapes sourced from Sonoma and throughout California.
The bruts, rosés, blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs are ubiquitous in national markets, yet visits to the winery are highly recommended. Not only does the staff pour winery-only reserve bubbles and still wines, it’s also a great place to taste and buy the 2016 brut made from organically grown grapes, a bit harder to find. Don’t miss the tour of the ancient cellars and robust gardens.
13250 River Road, Guerneville, 707-824-7316, korbel.com.
J Vineyards & Winery
Judy Jordan and her father, Tom Jordan of Jordan Winery, founded J Wine Co. in 1986 for the express purpose of producing méthode traditionelle wines. Judy later took over the business and with her then-winemaker, Oded Shakked, vaulted J to the top tier of U.S. sparkling wine houses. E. & J. Gallo purchased J in 2015 and has continued to offer a great visitor experience.
Belly to the bar for the five-wine J Signature tasting, or reserve ahead for the Legacy Tasting (small-production wines paired with artisan cheeses) or chef Carl Shelton’s five-course tasting menu, with winery-only and older-vintage bottlings, in the J Bubble Room. Want to see how Sonoma sparkling wine is produced? Book a tour and tasting.
11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, 888-594-6326, jwine.com.
Iron Horse Vineyards
Barry and Audrey Sterling purchased the property in 1976 and made their first sparkling wine in 1980. Their daughter, Joy Sterling, and her brother, Laurence Sterling, are the out-front faces of the company, though Barry and Audrey continue to live on the estate and have a hand in continuing the tradition of producing prestige-level bubbles from their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards in the chilly Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA, several of which have been served at White House diplomatic dinners and the 1986 Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev summit meeting in Iceland, which ended the Cold War.
Not to be missed are the 2015 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs ($54), 2014 Classic Vintage Brut ($45) and the festive 2014 Wedding Cuvée ($45) — Iron Horse’s youngest sparkler that still spends three years aging on the spent yeast cells. Come for the wide range of classy bubblies, and stay for the jaw-dropping view of Green Valley from the outdoor patio tasting room. At this time of year, rainbows make frequent appearances.
9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, 707-887-1507, ironhorsevineyards.com.
Fizz runs through the veins of Longboard owner and winemaker Oded Shakked. A former sparkling winemaker for J Vineyards & Winery, he founded his own business in 1998.
While Syrah, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are foundation wines at Longboard, Shakked’s love of bubblies wines are on display at his Healdsburg cellar: a brut ($45), brut rosé ($50) and a scintillating Brut Z, a late-disgorged wine with zero dosage and four years in the bottle ($75). Fermentation of the juice in neutral oak barrels is a signature of his sparkling winemaking style, which adds depth and palate weight to the naturally acidic bubblies.
5 Fitch Street, Healdsburg, 707-433-3473, longboardvineyards.com.