By Linda Murphy for Sonoma Magazine
Excerpt below. Click HERE for the full article
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 at 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, crowd-pleasing yet remarkably refreshing style.
In this last competition of 2019, Breathless Wines saved the best for last! Winning Best of Show for the second time this year and numerous double gold medals!
- 98 Points
- Double Gold
- Best of Class
- Best Sparkling Wine
- and Best of Sonoma County!
- 97 Points & Double Gold
- 94 Points & Double Gold
Breathless 2012 Brut
- 93 Points & Double Gold
The Harvest Challenge is a wine competition that bases its judging on a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and winemaking savoir-faire, which contribute to give the specific personality to the wine.
In other competitions, this factor is ignored. At the Harvest Challenge, judges taste wines with other wines of the same appellation. Thus, with cross-regional competition removed, the inherent quality of wines can be seen without the influences that sometimes eclipse even a wine of very high quality.
Beyond the determination of medals, the Harvest Challenge affords its winners a unique selling proposition - its region ranked against its competitors. Harvest Challenge recognizes wine entries that best exemplify the soil and climate of their respective viticultural areas, and acknowledges its influence on wine quality. A medal in this wine competition not only gives your wine prestige and selling power, it adds talking points in your retail room. Favorable awards support increased local and regional sales. A win in the Harvest Challenge can put your wine into a whole new sales category.
A goal of Harvest Challenge is to learn how soil and climate contribute to the excellence and distinctiveness of wines. Over the course of this event, judges have learned to recognize when a wine's region is - and is not - a factor of wine quality. We think the bar has been lifted a little, and as a result, each year we perceive greater interest by winemakers and critics alike. Favorable awards support increased local and regional sales. A win in the Harvest Challenge can put your wine into a whole new sales category. All wines are judged in the context of their viticultural region in order to accomplish two things: greater sensitivity to the complexities and nuances of regional wines and also to measure the influence of regional soil and weather characteristics on the taste and quality of individual wines.
According to Harvest Challenge spokesman, Christopher Sawyer, "The Harvest Challenge is a judge’s dream come true. Beyond varietal category and price point, this one-of-a-kind competition is based on appellation instead of mass-production. The end result is more definition of the wines made with grapes inside the boundaries of a specific viticultural area and distinct flavors that have helped wines rise to the top of the scale in the global marketplace."