Add a little sparkle to your wine tour
We are enthusiastic, really enthusiastic about wine. We partner with companies that offer courses, tastings, and tours. So when we’re asked to recommend a tour of the best Sonoma sparkling wine for a group of friends who just want to learn a little more about wine. Not only because we want to share our enthusiasm and knowledge but also because we want to personally introduce you to the incredible creators who strive to make the best sparkling wine in Sonoma imaginable. The thing about appreciating wine is that most people already do, and learning a little more can make that glass of wine even more enjoyable or perhaps open up a whole new palette. Here’s a scenario – A group of 6 friends wants to get together for a short vacation or day trip visiting Sonoma sparkling wine vineyards. They all love a glass of wine and agree it would be nice to visit a traditional winery or two and get some insider knowledge from the owner. They want to sit at a table of wonderful food at a lovely local restaurant, along with an expert who can guide them through the region’s wines. They want to discover what makes a truly great wine, but they want to keep it light and fun. They also want to shop, sightsee, and generally relax with their friends. That gives us a lot of space to recommend experiences that can be special!
Enter Sparkling Wine
Illustration by GGB
There’s something deceptively timeless about toasting with a glass of champagne (or some other form of sparkling wine). It’s easy to imagine that sparkling wine has always been connected with festive events and, more importantly, wealth and pageantry. But the story of Champagne shows otherwise. The drink is astonishingly contemporary – as are the trade and traditions surrounding it. And like numerous innovations, its advancement is primarily a result of three elements: experimentation, cultural change, and a stroke of luck!
Wine has been produced in the Champagne region of France for hundreds of years, and vineyards have been there since at least the time of the Gallo-Romans. Located near Burgundy, Champagne sought to compete with its more prestigious wine-producing neighbor. But sparkling wine remained an accidental novelty product. And in the era before Industrial Revolution in France, most winemakers were still frowning upon and trying to eliminate the annoying bubbles. Still, the drinks were embraced by wealthy and royal connoisseurs who wanted to flaunt their access to a rare product – even in Paris and outside France – led Champagne to become a deliberately manufactured luxury good. In the eighteenth century, the now-famous houses such as Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, and Louis Roederer opened their doors in Champagne. They competed to supply royal banquets, sophisticated, aristocratic parties, and the like. Still wines from Champagne were already popular with wealthy and powerful Londoners from about 1661. Dukes and other royalty ordered cases of such wines from Champagne to add to their growing collections.
But did you know that many historians claim the English – and not French monk Dom Pérignon – invented the thick glass Champagne bottle and cork in the early 17th century? Using corks imported from Portugal to stop heavier glass containers and fortifying wines with sugar, molasses, and spices, the English were reportedly the first to bottle sparkling wine that successfully prevented explosions. The British scientist Christopher Merret presented his findings on such advances in 1662 in a treatise for the London Royal Society. And there is evidence that sparkling wines may have been deliberately produced in Britain before Champagne secured a reputation for vin mousseux!
Illustration by GGB
Many short stories about sparkling wine attribute the invention of Champagne to the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon – whose name is synonymous with a brand romanticized by Hollywood.
But that’s misleading at best, if not downright wrong. For years, the wine monk who served as cellar master at Hautvilliers Abbey did everything he could to remove bubbles from his carefully crafted cuvees. The same process now used to make Champagne and other sparkling wines – which results in bubbles – was undesirable to Perignon. Therefore, he tried to avoid it and went out of his way not to use white grapes for the wines produced in the region at the time, as they were more likely to produce bubbles. The myth of the monk who invented Champagne (and the distinctive corked bottles still used today) was promoted by a 19th-century successor to the abbey, Dom Groussard. His goal? Probably to raise the profile of the Hautvilliers vineyards at a time when sparkling wines were gaining worldwide attention. Later, the Champagne industry spread the myth of Dom Pérignon to create a sense of mystique around the region and the product. Et voilà – it seems to have worked!
To get those tiny bubbles, we all know and love, a sparkling wine must be made a certain way. Sparkling wine goes through two fermentation processes, but the second fermentation (the one that creates the bubbles) sets them apart. There are six ways sparkling wine can be made, with each method resulting in a different level of carbonation. However, the two most popular methods of sparkling wine production are the Traditional Method and the Tank Method:
- The traditional (classic) method is characterized by the second fermentation in the bottle, where sugar and yeasts are added. This method produces smaller bubbles and is used in the production of Champagne.
- Tank (Charmat) Method: this method differs from the others in that the second fermentation process takes place in a large steel tank. This process helps to produce larger bubbles found in sparkling wines such as Prosecco.
10 Best Wineries in Sonoma and Napa to visit:
Sonoma County is debatably one of the best regions in California for making sparkling wine. With several sub-growing regions providing the perfect climate for growing premium sparkling grapes, it is no surprise that many Sonoma sparkling wines have gained worldwide attention. Several have even been sipped at some of the most prestigious events in the country. While sparkling wines can be found throughout the region, many AVAs within Sonoma deliver genuinely exceptional sparkling wines.
Sonoma County Viticultural Area (AVA)
The Russian River Valley, along with the Carneros and Sonoma Coast AVAs, features the perfect climate for growing classic sparkling wine grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the perfect spot for a Sonoma sparkling wine tasting. A strong ocean influence from the Pacific Ocean offers gentle wind and persistent fog that keeps the area cool. These influences provide a prolonged growing period that allows the grapes to mature slowly and develop complex and elegant flavors while preserving the vivid acidity important in producing quality sparkling wines.
Here are our 10 best Sparkling Wineries in Sonoma and Napa to look out for:
- La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
3575 Slusser Road, Windsor, CA 95492, (800) 314-1762
This family-run winery produces wines exclusively from cool sites and also offers stunning views of the vineyards. While they have typically focused on still wines, this year the winemaker Jen Walsh created their first Russian River Valley Sparkling Wine, a Brut Rosé using traditional methods from 73% Pinot Noir and 27% Chardonnay.
11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (888) 594-6326
With an upbeat slogan like “Let life bubble over”, this iconic sparkling wine house is a must-see! Situated in the heart of Russian River Valley, J Vineyards produces a range of still and sparkling wines from classic grapes such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Meunier. From bone-dry Extra Brut to softly sweet Demi-Sec and complex vintage sparkling wines, lovers of all kinds are sure to find something that suits them.
- Inman Family Wines
3900 Piner Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95401, (707) 293-9576
A passion for Pinot Noir led the Napa native Kathleen Inman to create her winery in the heart of Russian River Valley. Since then, the petite, terroir-driven winery has been producing both still and sparkling wines from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris that are low in alcohol and good with food. The winery’s two sparkling wines, Inman Sister’s Cuvée and Brut Rosé based on 100% Pinot Noir, are great demonstrations of the Russian River Valley’s potential for world-class sparkling wine production.
- Bacigalupi Vineyards
4353 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448, (707) 473-0115
Founded in 1956 by Charles and Helen Bacigalupi, the family has a rich history in sparkling wine production. Their signature sparkling wine, Brillante, is a tribute to Paul Heck, co-owner of Korbel, father of daughter-in-law Pam Bacigalupi and close friend of Charles. Bacigalupi produces their sparkling wine according to traditional methods with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their own cultivation.
- Iron Horse Vineyards
9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472, (707) 887-1507
Located in the Green Valley appellation of Russian River Valley, the wines from this family-run winery have an impressive history; they have been poured at White House five times in a row Presidential Administrations, opening with Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings and ending the Cold War. Iron Horse produces 12 different traditional sparkling wines ranging from their classic Vintage Brut to their Joy! Blanc de Blancs, which is 100% Chardonnay and ages a whopping 13 years en tirage.
- Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
23555 Highway 121, Sonoma, CA 95476, (707) 933-1917
Winemakers since the 1500s and owners of Spain’s La Freixeneda (of Freixenet Cava fame), the Ferrer family founded this winery in 1986 to pursue their dream of making sparkling wines using traditional methods on a New World terroir. They chose Carneros, where they would grow to be the first sparkling wine family in the region. The wines, produced as both still and sparkling and ranging from brut to demi-sec, have been awarded over 500 gold medals and fifty 90-point ratings, just in the last five years!
13250 River Road, Guerneville, CA 95446, (707) 824-7000
This Russian River Valley pillar has been producing sparkling wine using the méthode champenoise since 1882. While the wines, like Iron Horse, have been served at many Presidential Inaugurations, Korbel believes sparkling wine should be part of every type of celebration, from achievements to small, cozy weeknights at home. Korbel is also committed to sustainable growing and winemaking practices and is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers. Korbel Champagne Cellars is part of our partnership with Priority Wine Pass where you can save money on purchases.
- Domaine Carneros
1240 Duhig Road, Napa, CA 94559, (707) 257-0101
While not technically in Sonoma, Domaine Carneros is a stone’s throw away in Carneros and must be on your sensor if you like sparkling wine. This popular winery glistens with a great selection of sparkling wines and cheese pairings to enjoy on the sun-drenched patio. If you’re looking for an upscale tasting, the Bubbles & Bites experience features four sparkling wines paired with Asian-inspired hors d’oeuvres, while the Ultimate Chips & Dips Tasting allows two people to enjoy a selection of caviar, chips, crème fraîche, and sparkling wine.
- Amista Vineyards
3320 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, (707) 431-9200
Amista’s owners, Mike and Vicky Farrow, had their minds set on producing sparkling wine when they acquired the winery, now Morningsong Vineyards, in 1999. They included Syrah to the Chardonnay vines, bought Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel grapes from other growers, and released their first wines in 2005. Three years later, they launched their sparkling Syrah – a pretty daring move in Sonoma, but a longstanding practice in Australia, where Syrah grapes are made into sparkling Shiraz. The Farrows were so obsessed with sparkling wine that they founded the Amista Sparkling Friends wine club in 2014.
- Domaine Chandon
1 California Drive, Yountville, (888) 242-6366
Famed Champagne producer Moet & Chandon dipped its French hands into the American wine market in 1973 with the creation of Chandon. Their visitor center in Yountville offers walk-in tastings of their current releases. After a tasting at the bar, you can stroll through the picturesque, lush gardens filled with eco-friendly indigenous plants.
We hope you’ll love these wineries as much as we do, and as an added bonus, have a look at one of our partners, Alexandrie Cellars!