Kim Westerman, Senior Contributor, Wine & Travel
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Sharon Cohn, Rebecca Faust, and Cynthia Faust are sisters who grew up in Northern California with a mother who loved adventure. Their childhoods were filled with hikes to spectacular vistas and road trips up and down the coast. Their idyllic summers came into stark relief when their beloved mother was diagnosed with a rare lung disease that would take her life in 2008 — and the three sisters were inspired to create a sparkling wine brand in her honor. Flash forward to 2015 when the “Breathless” label was launched. The winery has just reopened its Healdsburg tasting room after the Covid-19 closure, and guests can now visit (by appointment only) to taste through a nuanced portfolio of sparkling wines (and several still wines, to boot).
Sister Rebecca was no stranger to the wine industry. In 2007, she had co-founded Rb Wine Associates, LLC – now known as Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services in Hopland — which her mother was able to witness just before she died. When Rack & Riddle was relocated to Healdsburg, there was a small piece of land adjacent to the warehouse that was reserved for the burgeoning Breathless concept, now an outdoor garden area and tasting room made of four shipping containers. Cynthia brought in her expertise in finance and operations, and Breathless was born.
Is it a coincidence that this women-owned company also has a woman winemaker? Well, yes and no. Sharon says, “We just kept hiring those we thought were the best fit and most talented to fill our needed roles. We are very pleased and proud that so many of our key roles are filled with talented and inspiring women.” She had seen the rise of women in the California wine industry as early as 1984, when her husband Bruce Cohn, founder of B.R. Cohn, hired Helen Turley as the property’s first winemaker. Breathless winemaker, Penny Gadd-Coster, who was mentored by André Tchelistcheff of Jordan Winery (where she worked for 13 years), learned the art and science of méthode champenoise, which she applies to Breathless wines today with grapes sourced from Carneros, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, and Mendocino County.
What about the wines themselves? Besides the meticulous sourcing and vinification process, which results in a range of crisp, elegant sparkling wines — blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs, rosé, brut, and Moscato — this brand is joyous and playful, as represented by the label, a 1915 English magazine illustration for a story about Champagne.
Gadd-Coster didn’t set out to be a renegade, but Breathless wines are, in fact, disruptive in terms of their departure from brands in the male-dominated wine industry. Stylistically, she strives for a cross between the elegance of France and fruit of California, and her chief mission she describes as “bringing bubbles to all.” And it’s refreshing — literally — to discover a wine brand that consciously creates a lineup and a space that is woman-centered.
Breathless sparking wines are excellent with seafood and other classic pairings, and both the rosé and blanc de noirs can stand up to foods with a little spice. The brut and blanc de blancs are ideal with raw oysters and delicate crudo and sushi preparations. Make an appointment to visit the tasting room here.
Do you know who invented dry Brut Champagne?
By Rebecca Rosenberg
Today, Breathless Brut is Breathless Wines’ most popular sparkling wine. But did you know that until 1870, champagne was sweeter than the sweetest dessert wines we have today?
In 1858, Madame Pommery was a French widow with no experience making wine, yet took over her husband’s winery that produced red wine. She immediately switched to making sparkling wine, twice as difficult and painstaking as still wine. She’d gone to school in England and knew the English preference for dry (still) wine. Madame Pommery began to experiment with making dry brut champagne, which proved even riskier because grapes needed to stay on the vine longer in order to ripen with a natural sweetness…whereas other champagne makers could disguise premature grapes by adding more sugar.
Madame Pommery’s clients rejected her first few years of dry champagne, but she persisted. And, the 1874 vintage of Pommery Brut was so delicious and sought after, the English immortalized it in a popular song: Ode to Pommery!
Breathless raises a glass of Breathless Brut to Madame Pommery who steered the world’s taste in sparkling wine from sweet to dry.
For more on my CHAMPAGNE WIDOWS novels:
Breathless Brut’s fine mousse fills the palate with a light, refreshing effervescence. Enjoy tropical notes of guava and pineapple with citrus highlights and just a hint of yeast. The finish is smooth and satisfying. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Aged 24 months.
98 POINTS , BEST OF SHOW, BEST SPARKLING, BEST OF SONOMA,
DOUBLE GOLD & BEST OF CLASS - 2019 Harvest Challenge
90 POINTS - "Lively and Refreshing!" - Wine Enthusiast Magazine, August 2020
90 POINTS & DOUBLE GOLD - 2020 American Fine Wine Competition
93 POINTS - 2019 North Coast Wine Challenge
92 POINTS - 2019 American Fine Wine Competition
GOLD MEDAL, 91 Points - 2019 Sunset International Wine Competition
GOLD MEDAL, 90 Points - 2019 Orange County Fair Wine Competition
91 POINTS- 2019 North Coast Wine Challenge
92 POINTS - 2019 American Fine Wine Competition
In the upcoming August issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine - Breathless will be featured with three great scores!
90 POINTS - Breathless NV Brut Rosé Méthode Champenoise (Sonoma County).
A delicate pink hue, this sparkling wine is heady and flavorful in strawberry and peach
tones. Dry and stony in texture, it is nuanced and elegant, with refreshing acidity. —V.B.
90 POINTS - Breathless NV Brut Méthode Champenoise (Sonoma County).
Golden in color, with a firm mousse, this lively, refreshing sparkling wine tastes of apple skin,
pear, mango, and a hint of brioche. It remains fresh in the glass, showing moderate
body weight and finishing stony and dry. —V.B.
90 POINTS - Breathless NV Blanc de Blancs (full review text to come).
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