Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sonoma's Turn to Sparkle and Shine--Sparkling Wines in Sonoma

Oh what a difference a week makes. 

Last weekend, I was sitting, basking in the sun as it blazed down on my patio.  The temperatures were in the 90s, and I needed shade to enjoy time outside.  However, my realization that this sunshine must be savored and soaked up in all its glory seemed almost desperate as I sat sipping on and writing about Napa's sparkling wines.
I was all too correct.

This weekend, temps are in the 50s...for the high…during the peak of the day.  Nights have been in the 30s.  

Yes, sometimes just a short time makes a considerable difference.

The same can be said for a short distance.

Though Napa County and Sonoma County are separated merely by a virtual line, visits to the two vary greatly.  Grapes that prosper, atmospheres of tasting rooms, and philosophies in wine are quite different.
One such difference seen between these close neighbors is their sparkling wines.  Where Napa generally has sparkling houses that focus primarily on that style of wine and make little else, Sonoma’s diverse character shows through the many producers that make sparklers as just a minute part of a wider portfolio of wine.
Sonoma bubbles are truly special, maybe even more so because they are often one small share of a varied wine list.  Yes, Sonoma has producers who specialize in sparklers (think Korbel and Gloria Ferrer), but the possibility of finding a bubbly on the list at even a small producer is likely…and lovely!   

Gloria Ferrer
The first to realize the benefits of Carneros on the Sonoma side, the Spanish Ferrer Family planted the traditional Champagne grapes of pinot noir and chardonnay.  A stunning tasting room and production facility (including caves) was opened overlooking the rolling Carneros hills growing the Ferrer vines. 

To call the view from the tasting bar and outdoor patio gorgeous in truly an understatement. 

Sensational.  Beautiful.  Striking.  Amazing.  Even all these adjectives barely describe the vistas seen while sipping quality sparkling wines.  Whether a sunny Sunday or a gloomy weekday, this is a Sonoma must...a true wow experience!  However, the still wines produced here are also quality.  Don’t miss tasting a few of the bubble-less options as well.

Rain or shine, beautiful vistas await at Gloria Ferrer.
Wines of note:
VA de VI—With a splash of moscato, this is an off-dry style of bubbly.  The moscato adds a bit of richness and smoothness to the mouthfeel.  Joyful fruits of apple and lemon with yeast on the nose and palate, this would be a great sipper for those who just aren’t ready for the zesty essence of truly dry sparklers.  It would also be quite food friendly, especially with any dishes that have a hint of spice.

2011 Brut Rosé—If anyone is paying attention to my palate, this Brut Rosé should be a given.  My bias is beginning to show through—big rosé sparkling fan here…okay, huge fan! Gloria Ferrer’s shows strawberry shortcake with lemon zest sprinkled on top that makes me love this type of wine.  A great example of the style, drink it—and enjoy it—by itself.

Sparkling or still, both are special options here.
Buena Vista
Historically important to Sonoma, Buena Vista actually started by producing large quantities of sparkling wine in the late 1800s.  Hungarian Agoston Harazsthy was in the process of building a Sonoma wine empire when he purchased land to grow vineyards and built an impressive production facility, including caves for aging sparkling.  He entrusted his son Arpad to produce traditional method sparkling wines from California grapes.

Arpad had immediate success shown through the multiple awards he brought home with his 1861 cuvee from the 1863 California State Fair.  Unfortunately, this success was short lived.  Under the direction of his father, Arpad produced a large 1862 batch of sparkling…and not a single bottle had bubbles.  Not one.
Obviously Buena Vista has been through numerous changes in the over 100 years since this incident.  One is that excellent sparkling wines are consistently produced and enjoyed by consumers.  Myself included. 

Historically important and incredibly impressive press house as tasting room.
Wine of Note: 
La Victoire Brut Rosé—Served in a more traditional style bottle, Buena Vista considers this a tribute to Arpad and his sparkling wines from the past.  A rich smell and taste of ripe red cherries comes through with a hint of almond cookie on the finish.  Pair with fresh strawberries for a special (and maybe romantic) treat.

Another great example of a brute rose.
Virginia Marie Lambrix prides herself on her artisan style of winemaking at VML Wines.  This attitude of treating all wines as small, special lots is quite evident in the one sparkling she produces.  The tasting room is located in the beautiful Russian River Valley, one of my favorite spots in all of Sonoma.  The location is enough of a reason to visit, but once a sip of any of the wines is enjoyed, the reasons multiply.  A tasting can be enjoyed inside the cool, modern tasting space, or better yet, pack a picnic to sit on the VML patio and drink in all that is the Russian River Valley!

The Russian River Valley in all its splendor, enjoyed at VML Wine.
Wine of Note:
2010 VML Blanc de Noir—After I had completed my tasting, a young teacher, her mother, and her fiancée shared the patio with me.  They had come all the way to the RRV to toast the teacher’s upcoming new job with a bottle of VML Blanc de Noir because no other sparkling would do!  Brut style with just a touch of chardonnay in the cuvee (even though it is labeled a blanc de noir), this is a unique wine filled with peach pie and lemon zest.  Pair with seafood or a new job.

A special, sparkling treat at VML.
Longboard Vineyards
From surf boards to grape vines, Oded Shakked took his sense of adventure from his surfing career and applied it to winemaking.  Though this may seem quite a jump, it isn’t as big as the jump he made from his home in Israel to his tasting room in Healdsburg.  He scaled this hurdle with stops at UC Davis and J Vineyards.   While at J, he learned much about wine making from Judy Jordan, including how to make traditional method sparkling wines.  (J sparklers from Sonoma are also worth a taste!)

A wonderful, relaxed atmosphere permeates all when walking in the totally hip tasting area.  Surf boards hang from the ceilings and surf videos play on the television while excellent wines are tasted with the coolest tasting room staff.  Longboard currently has one sparkling wine to enjoy, but rosé lovers like me can begin to cheer—his brut rosé is coming soon!

Hang loose at the Longboard tasting room.
Wine of note:
Brut Cuveè Sparkling—Traditional method in every way, shape, and form, this smells, tastes, and finishes like a brut Champagne.  Dry, crisp, and zippy filled with lemon and bread dough, this is a sparkler for serious bubble lovers.  Enjoy as an aperitif at a formal dinner or as a celebration for any occasion; however, just enjoy this wine soon. 

Longboard's Brut Cuvee...look at those bubbles!
As I wrap up in a warm blanket today after sweating in the sun last weekend, I’m reminded what a difference a week can make.  I am also well aware what a difference just a few miles can make, especially when it comes to wine.  So close in proximity, yet often so far in terms of style, Napa and Sonoma make some absolutely amazing sparkling wines.  However, Napa sparkling producers usually specialize in just sparklings and do few still wines.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump away in Sonoma, many producers have a much more diverse array of wines on the tasting menus.  Some, like Gloria Ferrer, may specialize in bubbles, but still produce multiple still options.  Others illustrate the varied style for which Sonoma is known, producing mostly quality still sippers, but then showcasing one or two sparkling options. 
Those that embrace this change of pace are making some very special bottles of bubbles.  So special that wine lovers need to embrace the contrasts of these two regions and drink the bubbles of both!