15 Sonoma Wines for Stressful Times
Quench your thirst during warm and smoky summer days with these light sparkling or fruity wines.
BY LINDA MURPHY
Featured in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Sonoma Magazine
The skies are clogged with smoke from fires burning in Sonoma County, Napa Valley and throughout the state. Evacuations, warnings to evacuate and emergency alerts have us all on edge. Temperatures of 100 degrees and higher have eased for the moment but can return anytime, with almost a month left of official summer.
Sonoma wines are here to help: to quench the thirst during the remaining warm days before fall, for Labor Day (and COVID-19-safe) get-togethers and for celebrating small victories. In moderation, wine can bring people together, make food taste more delicious and give us some joy in difficult times.
But do check yourself. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, while drinking alcoholic beverages temporarily dampens the brain and body’s response to stress, feelings of stress and anxiety can return, and worsen, once the alcohol wears off.
The following Sonoma wines are a pleasure to drink, and buying them supports the grape growers, vineyard workers and wineries that produced them. These recommendations, good year-round, are also specific to this season of heat, smoke and uncertainty. They don’t have firm, drying tannins or heavy toast or smoky aromas and flavors (there are enough of those in the air). Instead, they have vibrant and flavorful fruit, succulence and crisp acidity. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot will have their starring moments in fall and winter.
They’re wonderful for celebrations of all kinds, from a negative COVID-19 test to the dog’s birthday to your first hair styling in months. Or enjoy them as simple, pure refreshment.
Start with the Breathless Wines NV Sonoma County Brut ($27), an energizing burst of red berry, citrus and tropical fruit overlaying classic brioche-like yeastiness. It’s available in many Sonoma markets and restaurants, at the Healdsburg tasting room and online.
Read the full article and see what other wines made the list HERE.
Sisters Dream Big and Honor Late Mother With Breathless Wines
"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away." -Maya Angelou.
My first thought after being invited to explore the sparkling wines of Breathless Wines was that it was a rather unusual name for a winery. By its very definition, one might immediately think of not being able to breathe. Having just recovered from Covid-19, I admit that my thoughts did wander in that direction. But other definitions for “breathless” are anticipation, excitement, or the act of experiencing a strong emotion. And after tasting these enchanting sparkling wines, they did take my breath away but in a very positive way!
The box that the wine arrived in was an eye-catching presentation with a lot of thought and love poured into it and certainly captured my attention!
Breathless Wines, a female-led winery, was founded in 2008 and is located in Healdsburg, CA in the heart of Sonoma County’s wine country. It is owned and run by three sisters, Sharon Cohn, Rebecca Faust and Cynthia Faust. The winery was born out of a desire to honor their mother who passed away from a rare lung disease. I asked the sisters why the name “Breathless”. Sharon replied, “We are honoring our mom, Martha, who encouraged dreaming big. Our mom lived her life taking no breath for granted, even before her diagnosis, so the name Breathless fit her to a tee.” Their mother’s passion for life, to dream big and live life to the fullest was passed down to her daughters and is evident in every aspect of Breathless Wines.
The sisters, who refer to each other as sister 1, 2, and 3, each bring their unique expertise to Breathless. Sharon, (sister 1) Is the “glitz, glamour and panache” behind the bubbles of Breathless and handles all of their Marketing. Rebecca, (sister 2) brings her business savvy to Breathless with over 20 years of experience in the wine industry. She is co-founder of Rack & Riddle and has been the CFO of several wineries. And Cynthia, (sister 3) who is the ambassador for Breathless, has also been in the restaurant and catering area with her husband.
I asked them why they decided to focus on sparkling wines. Sharon said, “ Sparkling wine has always been a favorite “go-to” over the years for all of us. Rebecca (sister 2) and her business partner Bruce Lundquist, started what has become the second-largest producer of sparkling wines, only behind Korbel. Custom crush for bubbles has increased in demand as they built the business from the ground up and so we had the perfect launching pad and with Penny, their executive winemaker willing to take us on, we began our quest.”
Breathless winemaker, Penny Gadd-Coster, and honorary 4th sister brings her expertise and passion for producing Méthode Champenoise (traditional French method) sparkling wines. She was awarded Winemaker of The Year in 2013, just one of many awards in her 35 years of winemaking.
Breathless Wines works with select vineyards throughout the North Coast of Sonoma County and Mendocino County. Their focus is on sustainability and finding the best grape clones within these choice vineyards. Sharon said, “Penny has worked with our vineyard partners, for over 13 years. She has a love for the Pommard Clone (Pinot Noir) and searches it out as she can. Her profiling and blending of the grapes to make the Breathless wines is spot on to what the sisters are looking for time after time!”
And, indeed, these wines are “spot on”!
Breathless Brut NV
Sourced from vineyards in Sonoma County, this is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Aging is 24 months.
Deep gold in color, wonderful aromas of brioche, tart apples, and a touch of floral emanate from the glass. Fine bubbles and a refreshing mouthfeel lead to a palate of melon, pear, citrus notes and a hint of vanilla that lingers on the finish.
Breathless Blanc De Noirs NV
Grapes for this wine were harvested from Sonoma County and is a blend of 93% Pinot Noir and 7% Pinot Meunier. Aging is 24 months.
A soft salmon color sets the stage for succulent aromas of berries, brioche and a hint of spice. This is a refreshing wine with fine bubbles that enhances the flavors of strawberry, cranberry, cinnamon and a hint of spice. A touch of citrus zest lingers on the finish. Ooh, la la!
Breathless Blanc De Blancs NV
Sourced from Sonoma County, this 100% Chardonnay is aged for 32 months.
Pale lemon in color this sparkling wine opens to delightful aromas of sweet apple, baking spice, citrus and tropical fruit notes that spill onto the palate with a creamy and fine effervescence. Pear and a touch of vanilla linger on the finish that begs for another sip.
I love wine labels and this one is certainly an attention-getter. Sharon explained how they chose this particular label. “We searched high and low for a label for Breathless. Our vision was of the hikes we took with our parents while backpacking in Yosemite and Yellowstone and every day hikes in Sonoma County. We would reach the summit and turn around to admire the view and were always reminded of how lucky we were to live and experience the beautiful nature all around. We were breathless from the hike and the view. We just couldn’t translate that to the bottle no matter how hard we tried. Our sister Cynthia found this beautiful 1915 vintage poster while googling champagne under Wikipedia. We all agreed it perfectly embodied our mom and her spirit. This label represents how our mom, Martha, lived life every day, always celebrating large and small accomplishments and time together. The woman on our label not only is a tribute to our mother but to all the men and women who teach and remind us to take each breath we are given as a gift to be cherished.”
Have a glass of Breathless sparkling wine and enjoy the journey it takes you on. And remember, just breathe.
By Liz Thach
Do you enjoy sparkling wine? If so, consider scheduling a visit to Breathless Winery in Sonoma County, California.
As part of our continuing series on supporting local wineries during COVID by scheduling safe visits to winery tasting rooms, a small group of us ventured to the town of Healdsburg where Breathless is located. There we were greeted with a flutes of delicious bubbly wine, potato chip appetizers and a sabering demonstration with a sword.
Breathless Wines Famous Even in France
[Liz Sharon and Fiona Prepare to saber Picmonkey] Liz, Sharon and Fiona select a bottle to saber I first heard of Breathless several years ago when the 2012 Breathless Brut won the top Sweepstakes Award in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair as well as several other competitions, where I was doing blind wine judging. This was quite amazing, because the winery had just opened in 2011, and their first vintage was already stealing all of the awards. They have continued this winning streak, winning 13 medals and a Best of Show with their most recent releases in 2019.
Even more surprising is when I mentioned Breathless Wines to some winemakers in France, and they said that most of the wine industry in France knew Breathless very well, and were especially impressed with the three sisters, Sharon, Rebecca and Cynthia, who started the winery and their famous winemaker, Penny Gadd-Coster. Penny has long been known as a super star in the California wine industry. With more than 30 years of winemaking experience, including stints at Jordan, J Winery, Forenzo Vineyards, and Rack & Riddle, where Breathless is located, Penny was rightly named “Winemaker of the Year” for Napa, Sonoma, and the greater Bay Area by the North Bay Business Journal.
Not a Chateau – Housed in Industrial Warehouse
Wearing masks, we arrived at Breathless Wines for our 11am appointment and were greeted by Sharon Cohn, whose business card reads, “Sister 1 of 3.” The winery tasting room is a small, cozy building nestled next to a large industrial complex of three huge warehouse buildings that house Rack & Riddle – the famous custom crush business that makes sparkling and still wine for many wineries in Napa and Sonoma. Indeed, all of the Breathless wines are made here as well.
What makes a visit to Breathless so enticing is not only the wine, but the beautiful outdoor garden with shaded tables, flowering shrubs and tall fir trees that spread out from the tasting room. This is also ideal for COVID outdoor tastings, as the seating areas are more than 6 feet apart.
Wearing a mask, Sharon invited us to take a seat in a large gazebo in the center of the garden. We were pleased to see a small welcome sign for our group, along with crystal Champagne flutes, small bowls of potato chips (one of the best pairings with all types of wine due to the salt and crunch), and a bottle of Breathless Brut chilling in a silver ice bucket.
The Story of Breathless and Its Beautiful “Lady on a Flying Cork” Label
As we sipped the beautiful Brut sparkling wine and nibbled on potato chips, Sharon told us the story of Breathless Winery. She and her other two sisters, Rebecca and Cynthia, decided to start the winery to honor their mother who had passed away from Alpha-1, a disease that makes it hard to breathe. This was also an inspiration for the name “Breathless,” along with its double meaning of something so beautiful it leaves you breathless. Today they donate money from wine sales each year to Alpha-1 Foundation, as well as other non-profits.
All three sisters have impressive backgrounds in finance, business strategy, hospitality and wine, so starting the winery was based on passion for wine and family. They decided to focus on sparkling wine, made in the traditional methode Champenoise, where secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, producing delicate bubbles and fresh exciting wines to celebrate life.
Sharon described how they decided to use the “Lady on a Flying Cork” from a 1920’s Champagne poster for their label. “We were working with a graphic designer who told us we should put a picture of our ‘chateau’ on the label, but we laughed because we make our wine in this warehouse.” She gestured to the large aluminum sided building behind her. “However, we found this great old poster of the lady on the flying cork and decided to use this. We pay a royalty to the artist for every bottle sold.”
A Tasting of Five Breathless Sparkling Wines with a Sword Demonstration
In total, we tasted five Breathless Sparkling wines, each made in the traditional method with aging 2 to 3 years in bottle as non-vintage wines. They all had very distinctive personalities.
Breathless Brut – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, inviting red cherry notes with lemon zest and tiny bubbles. Received 98 points in the 2019 Harvest Challenge ($27)
Breathless Blanc de Blanc – 100% Chardonnay, fresh pear and lemon with hints of toast and minerality; great complexity, with a zippy refreshing finish. ($34)
Breathless Rosé – 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, fruit forward and voluptuous with ripe cherry cordial notes, and hint of sweetness on the finish. ($33)
Breathless Blanc de Noirs – 93% Pinot Noir, 7% Pinot Meunier, sophisticated and complex with toasty brioche and lemon brûlée notes – delicious! Sweepstakes Wine at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. ($32)
Breathless Moscato – 98% Muscat Canelli, 2% Chardonnay, perfumed floral nose of honeysuckle with spice and honeydew notes on palate with slightly sweet finish. A perfect brunch or appetizer wine. ($29)
[Fiona and Liz toast at Breathless 2 Picmonkey] Fiona and Liz toast to a successful sabering and the wines of Breathless
When we arrived at the Blanc de Noirs, Sharon invited one of us to “saber” the bottle with a sword. This is an ancient tradition from Europe of breaking a Champagne bottle using a saber (sword). It was popularized by Napoleon’s cavalries to celebrate a victory. The French term is sabrage. Since I had already done this several times in the past, I encouraged Fiona to try it (Fiona Fang is a graduate student in Sonoma State’s MBA program in Wine Business). Sharon showed her what to do, and after donning gloves and eyeglasses for protection, Fiona deftly sabered the bottle and then poured from it into our glasses.
Meeting with the Famous Breathless Winemaker – Penny Gadd-Coster
We were honored when Penny Gadd-Coster, the award-winning winemaker of Breathless Wines and Director of Winemaking for Rack & Riddle, stopped by our table to chat with us for a few minutes. Penny explained that they make around 20,000 cases of Breathless sparkling wine each year, and that is it sold and shipped to more than 25 states. She also described the impressive size of Rack & Riddle, which produces around 1.7 million cases of sparking and still wine for many different wineries. With more than 70 employees and two locations, Penny has a huge winemaking empire to oversee. However, her true love is making sparkling wine, and the exquisite taste of Breathless wines is a true tribute to her skill and artistry as a world-class winemaker.
Wine Stars Blog:
July 28, 2020 / fangfiona
Have you seen a champagne or sparkling wine bottle being broken open with a saber? I have not, until I was very lucky to have a chance to try it at Breathless Wines, known for their traditional method (the original method for making Champagne) sparkling wine in Healdsburg when Dr. Thach and our group visited!
What is Sabering?
A saber is a type of sword with a curved blade associated with light cavalry in the early modern and Napoleonic periods. The technique of breaking open a champagne bottle using a saber, called “sabrage”, was popularized after the French Revolution, when Napoleon’s cavalries celebrated their victory by using sabers to open champagne bottles.
For someone who has never held a saber, let alone cut a bottle open with one, it can be quite intimidating. Luckily, Breathless has very careful protocols guided by their friendly experts. I was led by Sharon, one of the Founding Sisters of Breathless Wines. The “Saberer” first puts on protective heavy-duty gloves and safety goggles. Because of Covid-19, an extra pair of disposable gloves are worn before the heavy-duty gloves, and of course, I was masked up like everyone else. Also, using a cold bottle makes it easier to break.
Having the correct posture helps to wield power. To start, Sharon demonstrated how to stand sideways, almost like an archer, and hold the body (where the label sits) using my non-dominant hand. Of course, the bottle must be pointed far away from anyone – everyone needed to stand back!
Learning The Technique
Next, Sharon demonstrated the actual technique of holding the saber, and how to strike the bottle. With the saber in hand, the blade sits at an angle to the bottle, and I took a few turns running the blade along the bottle towards the lip, which is the breakage point.
Finally, the wire cage was taken off as an extra step to make it easier. Shortly after the demo, I was ready. My hand went faster than I was mentally prepared and POP! Went the top. I did not apply much force, and it felt a lot smoother than expected. Indeed, I read later that it is simply the force applied at a fragile point of the bottle – with already much internal pressure – that breaks it. Some wine was lost, but I held it up in victory, still shocked at what happened just seconds ago. I was relieved no one was hurt!
Serving the Wine
What good is opening a wine if you can’t enjoy it? After sabering, make sure to check for shards before serving. We all got to enjoy a fresh glass afterwards!
Breathless Wines awards every Saberer with a “Certificate of Completion”, and the cork sealed with their signature Breathless label. I am really grateful for such an unforgettable experience, and hope to lose less wine next time!
Try it Yourself!
For more information and to schedule this exciting Sabrage Experience, please click here:
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