4th of JULY:
CALIFORNIA BUBBLES CALIFORNIA SPARKLING WINE and "CALIFORNIA
The average bear knows the word "Champagne" as a term denoting
"sparkling wine." But the average bear doesn't know the precise
definition of the term, its origins and that all that bubbles is not Champagne.
In most of the world outside the United States, "Champagne" is the
name of a famous sparkling wine. But only wine from the region of
Champagne is entitled to that designation, providing certain requirements in
grape variety and production method are met.
While there are many sparkling wines made in France and the rest of Europe, for
that matter, only those from Champagne are sold labeled. The little region
on the French map highlighted in blue is Champagne and not all its land can
produce sparkling wine.
In the United
States, once Prohibition came to an end, wine producers were quick to label
their products using the names of more famous, prestigious wines from
Europe. Hence there were numerous wines made in California, yet labeled as
"Chablis," "Burgundy," "Rhine,"
"Chianti" and, yes, "Champagne." These are all
geographical places in Europe. Imagine if the French start to use
the names "Napa" or "Sonoma" on wines from Bordeaux or
California winemakers would have their panties in a knot.
Over the years, as the wine market in America matured (and we're still in our
youth, kids), many vintners realized they didn't need to rely on European names
for uniquely American wines.
Some wine companies, though, continue to label their California sparkling wines
with the name "champagne" on the label, adding a bit to the confusion,
but cashing in on the name of a prestigious name.
"Fake" California "champagnes" sold in great quantities.
An old advertisement for Cook's "champagne."
Napa was, once upon a time, home to the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars.
Here's an old sales offer sheet to stores and restaurants with a major price
reduction for the month of May...
The fact that "cellars" is misspelled indicates the distributor wasn't
any smarter in the 1950s or 1960s than they are today.
Paul Masson "champagne".
A "champagne" made in New York State...Great Western.
In the 1970s we saw a major change in sparkling wine production
in California. Possibly spurred by the change in government in France,
some French Champagne producers may have been looking for places to invest to
get their money out of their home country. In doing so, they set up
shop in various locations around the planet.
With the labeling laws being a bit loose, anything with bubbles made in
California (and New York state, for that matter) was called Champagne.
The few producers of bottle-fermented bubbly in California always made a fuss to
explain that their wine was "fermented in this bottle." The laws
were so convoluted that there was a bottle-fermented process called the
"transfer" method. The bottles were opened, the bubbly dumped
out and filtered and then re-bottled. These had labels indicating
the wine was "Fermented in the bottle." But not "this
Back in "the old days" Schramsberg called its bubbly
They finally stopped when they began selling their wine in Europe and were
obliged to change the label.
Back in the 1960s, Napa Valley was home to the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars,
as well as the Schramsberg winery. Beaulieu Vineyards offered bottle-fermented
bubbly. Sonoma had Korbel. In Santa Clara County, the Mirassou
family made bottle-fermented bubbles. The Weibel clan was out in
"Mission San Jose," making loads of Charmat process bubbly.
Almaden and Paul Masson in Santa Clara offered bottle-fermented, transfer method
Charmat process? This was and is a technique where the wine is fermented
in a tank and put right into the bottle. It's cost-effective and easy to
produce. Gallo makes loads of "Andre" Champagne and they used to
have a fancier label called "Eden Roc." Woo hoo!
- With a long and
wonderful history, Schramsberg is just about our favorite California
sparkling wine producer. We like these because they taste like
California Sparkling wines, not Champagne.
Schramsberg was founded by a German fellow who hailed from Worms (that's a
city in Germany! We're not casting aspersions on the poor fellow's
family!!). Jacob Schram was a barber and he dragged his shears and
razors up and down the Napa Valley in the 1800s. Robert Louis
Stevenson paid Mr. Schram a visit and wrote of his impressions in The
"Mr. Schram's, on the
other hand, is the oldest vineyard in the valley, eighteen years old I
think; yet he began a penniless barber, and even after he had broken
ground up here with his black malvoisies, continued for long to tramp
the valley with his razor. Now, his place is the picture of prosperity:
stuffed birds on the verandah, cellars far dug into the hillside, and
resting on pillars like a bandit's cave: all trimness, varnish, flowers,
and sunshine, among the tangled wildwood. Stout, smiling Mrs. Schram,
who has been to Europe and apparently all about the States for pleasure,
entertained Fanny in the verandah, while I was tasting wines in the
cellar. To Mr. Schram this was a solemn office; his serious gusto warmed
my heart; prosperity had not yet wholly banished a certain neophyte and
girlish trepidation, and he followed every sip and read my face with
proud anxiety. I tasted all. I tasted every variety and shade of
Schramberger, red and white Schramberger, Burgundy Schramberger,
Schramberger Hock, Schramberger Golden Chasselas, the latter with a
notable bouquet, and I fear to think how many more. Much of it goes to
London - most, I think; and Mr. Schram has a great notion of the English
In this wild spot, I did
not feel the sacredness of ancient cultivation. It was still raw, it was
no Marathon, and no Johannesburg; yet the stirring sunlight, and the
growing vines, and the vats and bottles in the cavern, made a pleasant
music for the mind. Here, also, earth's cream was being skimmed and
garnered; and the customers can taste, such as it is, the tang of the
earth in this green valley. So local, so quintessential is a wine, that
it seems the very birds in the verandah might communicate a flavor, and
that romantic cellar influence the bottle next to be uncorked in Pimlico,
and the smile of jolly Mr. Schram might mantle in the glass."
- Jacob Schram died in 1904
and his son Herman ran the place until Prohibition. He sold it and
it became Joseph Gargano's California Champagne Company. That was in
1940. In 1951 the place came under the ownership of Douglas Pringle,
a San Francisco interior decorator. Apparently he wasn't so hot at
"decorating" the insides of the champagne bottles and he commit
suicide in 1960.
Jack Davies came into the picture around the mid-1960s. He was a
management consultant and a member of the San Francisco Wine and Food
Society. He had given some money to the famous (or notorious) Santa
Clara winemaker, Martin Ray. Mr. Ray was, apparently, a difficult
fellow to get along with and Davies parted company from that endeavor.
In 1965 he assembled a group of investors who purchased Schramsberg.
The Davies family moved in and set about making wine in 1966. The
cellars were cleaned up and progress proceeded slowly.
speeded things up from a sales and marketing standpoint took place in
1972. American President Richard Nixon traveled to "Red
China." Say what you will about Tricky Dick, but the man was a
wine lover. And the "champagne" he loved from California
was the Davies' family's Schramsberg! Thirteen (or so) cases
of sparkling wine taken to China launched the Schramsberg
"ship." And they've been sailing along nicely ever since.
We had been in contact with Davies right about that period and were lucky
to get some cases of their much in-demand bubbly. And we've been
featuring their wines ever since.
The quality continues to improve, too. A few years ago we were
invited to a blind-tasting of Champagnes with a Schramsberg bubbly in the
flight. Winemaker Hugh Davies has become so proficient at his craft,
that he's fearless in putting them to the test against France's top
HERE TO SEE OUR REPORT ON THE SCHRAMSBERG VERSUS THE WORLD TASTING
current batch of wines is terrific.
BLANC DE NOIRS, like most Schramsberg bubblies, used to be a Napa
wine. Today, though, they go far afield to assemble various lots of
base wines to make this. Fruit from Carneros, Anderson Valley in
Mendocino, as well as Sonoma and Marin are incorporated into this
excellent wine. The wine is predominantly Pinot Noir with a bit of
Chardonnay. It's mildly toasty and medium bodied. The acidity
is less bracing than many Champagnes, but it's still a really good, fine
BLANC DE BLANCS is now made entirely of Chardonnay.
They used to incorporate a bit of Pinot Blanc in this wine, but that was
ages ago. A small percentage of the juice is fermented in wood and
we like the elegance of this wine. It displays notes of Granny Smith
apples with an faintly citrusy tone. It's crisp and lively...a bit
lighter on the palate than the Blanc de Noirs.
BRUT ROSÉ is a delight! We've been fans for so long, we
recall it was originally called "Cuvée de Gamay."
Then it changed to "Cuvée de Pinot." These days it's
simply Brut Rosé. The blend is something close to 60% Pinot
Noir and 40% Chardonnay. They capture a nice strawberry note
from the Pinot in this wine. It's reasonably crisp and fairly
dry without being heavy or having a bitter note from tannin.
CREMANT is a wonderfully original sparkling wine. This
bubbly has been in production since the early 1970s and it features a U.C.
Davis hybrid grape called Flora, a cross of Sémillon and Gewürztraminer.
Today they blend in a bit of Chardonnay to gift it some 'lift' and spine,
but the wine still retains a nice note of peach and ripe tropical
fruits. It's a "Demi Sec" wine, so it's sweet, but not
sticky sweet. Fruit desserts and light cakes (not chocolate)
are great pairings with this.
is a killer!
The wine is dominated by Pinot Noir and it spends about 5+ years on the
spent yeast so you'll find loads of toasty notes to this magnificent
wine. The 2001, tasted in 2010, is spectacular and worthy of
comparison to the best Champagne has to offer.
bubbly labeled "J. Schram" is Chardonnay-based and they use their best
lots for this deluxe bubbly. It's a nice counterpart to the Reserve
bottling and is moderately toasty with the green apple notes showing nicely on
the nose and palate. It's reasonably crisp and finishes dry.
Currently in stock: BLANC DE BLANCS 750ml
(List $37) SALE $29.99
BLANC DE BLANCS 375ml (List $21) SALE $17.99
BLANC DE BLANCS Magnum (List $80) SALE $69.99
BLANC DE BLANCS 3 Liter (List $267) SALE $219.99
BLANC DE NOIRS 750ml (List $37) SALE $29.99
BRUT ROSE 750ml (List $44) SALE $37.99
CREMANT Demi Sec (List $41) SALE $34.99
J. SCHRAM 750ml (List $100) SALE $89.99
RESERVE 750ml (List $106) SALE $89.99
Moet et Chandon having set up shop in the Napa Valley, a few other French
Champagne firms followed.
While Moet and Mumm chose the Napa Valley, despite its relatively
Mediterranean climate, Roederer looked more for a place with climatic
conditions more similar to those of the Champagne region.
Roederer is, of course, one of the handful of large firms in Champagne
with integrity and an eye towards quality. While all the French
owned firms fought to remove the term "Methode Champenoise" from
Spanish, Italian and other European sparking wines, virtually all of those
with California wineries employed that designation on their American
bubblies. Except Roederer.
The story of this California winery goes back to the 1970s.
Roederer's Champagnes were imported to California by the San
Francisco-based wine distribution company "A.L. Romano."
This firm imported some of the most "avant garde" wines of the
day: Roederer Champagne, of course. But from Italy they had
Anselmi's Soave, Biondi-Santi Brunello, Mastroberardino's Taurasi along
with a few upstarts from California, including Mirassou and wine from some
fellow named Robert Mondavi.
One of Larry Romano's collaborators was a fellow named Henry Bugatto.
Henry had worked for the Montebello Wine Company, which bottled its wines
right in San Francisco. In those days, Henry told us, there were
perhaps a half a dozen businesses in The City where you could bring a jug
or demijohn and have them "fill 'er up!" Henry had taken
the job of "winemaker" and he wondered, at the time, just why he
At one point the Rouzauds asked Mr. Romano if he and some of his
California associates might know if there was a property which might be
planted where it was suitable for sparkling wine production.
Henry Bugatto was given the task of doing the research. One of the
newcomers to the Romano portfolio was a brand new winery which sat on a
hill above Oakville. It was called Vichon. They made a wine
called "Chevrier Blanc," a sort of Bordeaux blend of Semillon
and Sauvignon Blanc. Robert Mondavi eventually bought the Vichon
winery and later the brand was used for some modest wines Mondavi was
importing from the south of France. Geez...this is complicated,
Vichon's owner was a winemaker named George Vierra. George is still
making wine for various wine brands today, in fact. Bugatto credits
George with suggesting they consider Mendocino's Anderson Valley. So
Henry went out that way and along Highway 128 in Philo where he found a
nice prospect of a property. Roederer bought more than 500 acres
there and started planting vineyards which are devoted to Chardonnay and
Pinot Noir. In fact, Roederer's vineyard plantings more than doubled
the grape production in the Anderson Valley. And they're very
devoted to cultivating their own vines, feeling this allows them to
achieve a higher quality wine.
In 1988 they brought their Anderson Valley Brut sparkling wine to the
market. Five years later, their more deluxe bottling, L'Ermitage
(which is vintage dated) made its appearance.
Roederer brought a French winemaker to orchestrate their sparkling wine
production. Michel Salgues began in the mid-1980s before handing
over the reins to Arnaud Weyrich, another French fellow with training at
the wine school in Montpellier.
ROEDERER ESTATE "ANDERSON VALLEY BRUT" is a
Chardonnay-dominated bubbly, typically with 40% Pinot Noir in the
blend. They don't look for the base wine to undergo a malolactic
fermentation and some of the base wines have been kept in wood. The
wine usually spends about two years on the spent yeast. I've found
the wines have become a shade sweeter over the past few years, as I
suspect they're trying to please a larger audience. We've
found the magnums and double magnums of this wine to be
different. Some say that's due to the larger format and
greater surface area of the spent yeast, which gives the wine a more
ESTATE "BRUT ROSE" is a delightful pink bubbly. It's
60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and they add a bit of red wine to the
cuvee to get the color "just right." It, too, spends about
two years on the spent yeast and it's reasonably dry.
We like the berry and cherry notes of the Rose bubbly. Magnums are
available, typically, and these we've found to be more consistent with the
wine in the standard sized bottle.
The special bottling is called L'ERMITAGE, as it's a tip of the cap
to the Champagne house's long-standing and close relationship to the
Russian market. Of course, Cristal was created for the Russian Czar
and this wine is named after the famous museum of art and culture in St.
Petersburg (not Florida). The current bottling is close to 50/50
between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I've found it to be more fruity
and a tad sweeter than the earlier vintages. Again, I suspect
they're reacting to the market and seeing wines with a bit of residual
sugar are becoming increasingly popular amongst an audience which
professes to like "dry" wines.
Currently in stock: ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT 750ml (List
$24) SALE $18.99
ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT Magnums (List $52) SALE $45.99
ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT Jeroboams (List $180) SALE $149.99
ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT ROSE 750ml $25.99
ROEDERER ESTATE BRUT ROSE Magnums (List $68) SALE $59.99
ROEDERER ESTATE L'ERMITAGE 750ml $46.99
ROEDERER ESTATE L'ERMITAGE Magnums (List $115) SALE $99.99
World War II, young Claude Taittinger had the opportunity to travel and so
he came to the United States and made a little tour. He was even in
Northern California and was enchanted by the landscape of the wild, wild
There wasn't much of a wine industry at that time, of course, the result
of Prohibition and the Depression. And who knew wine?
Years later, while running the family business in Champagne, he realized
that eventually the region would be unable to meet the world demand for
sparkling wine. The Taittinger family had a subsidiary firm in the
Loire, called Bouvet. This company also makes sparkling wines,
though far less grand than those made on their home turf.
In the 1980s, though, the company decided to invest in California and they
purchased a 138 acre parcel for vineyards and a chateau-like winery.
The firm hired Eileen Crane, a young enologist who'd been affiliated with
the Spanish-owned sparkling wine company of Gloria Ferrer. Eileen is
still with Domaine Carneros, though the day to day winemaking is handled
by a fellow named T.J. Evans.
Famous Austrian winemaker Anton Iby and Domaine Carneros
"boss" Eileen Crane...
We visited the winery with a group of top Austrian vintners who were
impressed by the cellar and the wines.
Domaine Carneros uses solely fruit from the Carneros region,
too. The vineyards have always been farmed sustainably and
they recently received "certification" as to these parcels being
"organic." The currently have something close to 350 acres
of organically-farmed land.
- DOMAINE CARNEROS BRUT is typically close to 60% Pinot Noir with
the balance being Chardonnay along with a tiny percentage of Pinot
Blanc. Most vintages see a small amount of the base wine undergoing
a malolactic fermentation, but this is simply to add another note of
complexity to the wine. The wine usually shows nice fruit and a very
mildly toasty, yeasty element. They give it three years of aging
"en tirage," by the way. It hits the palate as being
fairly dry, though if you taste their Le Rêve bottling alongside, this
shows itself as the more fruity and softer, crowd-pleasing wine.
DOMAINE CARNEROS "LE RÊVE" is their whiz-bang cuvée, a
wine which is the Californian counterpart to the Taittinger "Comtes
de Champagne," the deluxe bottling from their "mother
This is usually Chardonnay with perhaps 2% of Pinot Blanc. They age
it for approximately six years on the spent yeast and so it has more of
the toasty notes which we find in favorite Champagnes. Though the
dosage has been about the same as their basic Brut, we find this to have a
point of austerity and finesse which makes this wine worthy of comparison
to top bottlings from Champagne. Its price has escalated over
the past few years and is a bit dear for most people.
CURRENTLY IN STOCK: DOMAINE CARNEROS
"BRUT" (List $28) SALE $23.99
LE RÊVE Special order item
- Back in
the 1970s, Californians discovered an attractively priced alternative to
French Champagnes and it was Spanish bubbly in a black bottle. The
Freixenet brand despite its odd name, became an overnight success.
The Ferrer family had ties with the United States, as Jose Ferrer's father
ran an import company in New Jersey before World War II. Jose came
to the U.S. with the notion of starting a winery to produce sparkling
wine. He visited Napa and other viticultural areas with hopes of
visiting a prospective site in Sonoma's "cattle belt" of
Carneros, he and he son were meandering on what today is the home of the
Gloria Ferrer "Caves & Vineyards." And suddenly a
young bull decided to have a run and check out what these interlopers were
This little encierro was taken as a sign that this place must be
"the place." And so the Ferrer's bought this cattle
pasture and today it's a beautifully manicured vineyard and wine cellar.
When they started, we felt the wines were not quite as good as
some of their French-owned competitors. This was sort of appropriate as
modest Spanish "cavas" are not quite as noble as their Champenoise
competition. Today, though, they offer entry-level bottlings which we feel
are superior to those of Chandon, Mumm and Piper Sonoma.
GLORIA FERRER SONOMA BRUT is a Pinot Noir-dominated
sparkling wine, with less than 10% of the juice being Chardonnay. It
spends about a year and a half on the yeast, yet it seems to show more toasty,
biscuity notes than wines which are actually aged longer en tirage.
They usually add a substantial sweetening dosage to finish the wine and yet is
has a lean and crisp quality suggesting a drier wine. It's usually
sale-priced and offers good value.
GLORIA FERRER BLANC DE NOIRS is made similarly to the
Sonoma Brut...mostly Pinot Noir with 8% Chardonnay...18 months on the spent
yeast and about 13 grams-per-liter of sugar. It has a nice red fruit note
and isn't all that sweet, though.
They make a number of other sparklers. We've enjoyed their
Carneros Cuvee on a number of occasions. It comes in a unusual bottle and
it's actually nicely yeasty and toasty thanks to being matured for close to a
decade before disgorging. We can order this for you along with their
various other sparkling and table wines.
Currently in stock: GLORIA FERRER SONOMA BRUT
(List $20) SALE $16.99
GLORIA FERRER BLANC DE NOIRS (List $20) SALE $16.99
after Mumm's competitors at Moet et Chandon had come to California, this
venerable Champagne house set up shop in the Napa Valley.
Their long-time winemaker from France, Guy Devaux, had searched various
locales for a suitable place for sparkling wine production as part of the
"Project Lafayette," a code name for their off-shore
winery. In our cynical view, we find it amusing that he chose a
fairly warm climate place instead of a cooler site. We've long
maintained that Devaux picked a good place to "sell wine," more
than he picked a place to cultivate fruit for a Champagne-like sparkling
Roederer chose Mendocino's Anderson Valley and Taittinger went to Carneros
as did the Freixenet folks from Spain. Mumm, either owned or in
partnership with the Bronfman family of Seagram's fame, built a winemaking
facility along Napa Silverado Trail near the ZD winery in
Rutherford. Ownership of the Mumm brand has changed numerous times
since the founding of this winery. Seagram's, of course, started the
place but it's been under the umbrellas of Vivendi, Diageo, Allied Domecq
and, finally, Pernod Ricard this week. Stay tuned...
The winery was completed in 1986 and they've been off and running ever
since, with most of their grape sources said to be in the Carneros
region. At least their wines have a Napa appellation. Check
bottles lof Chandon these days and you'll see their "California"
wines...and we'd read some time ago of fruit coming from really marginal
Still, most of the Mumm Napa wines don't generate much excitement for
us. We find the basic bottlings to be perfectly pleasant, but they
lack focus and precision. These strike us as having had the hands of
the marketing people in the winemaking arena.
The one bubbly which is a cut above is their DVX, as in Devaux,
bottling. We understand this to be close to a 50/50 blend of Pinot
Noir and Chardonnay. It is matured for about 5 years on the yeast,
which explains the nicely toasty notes in the wine. It's fairly dry
and medium bodied.
Currently in stock: DVX
- The Argyle
winery has been around for nearly a quarter of a century and they manage
to keep a low profile.
It's a brand founded by an Australian icon, Brian Croser, along with Cal
Knudsen (who was a partner in Knudsen Erath ages ago).
The winery farms something close to 250 acres and they're one of the
largest producers in the state of Oregon, yet here in California, it's a
brand that gets overlooked.
- The winemaker is a fellow named Rollin Soles, a fellow who's originally
from Texas. He'd studied microbiology, followed by a stint at UC
Davis with enology studies before working in wineries. He's been
with Argyle practically since its inception and they make some terrific
The bubblies are made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A high
percentage of the base wines is fermented in wood and they will employ a
malolactic fermentation depending upon the acidity of the wines of a
particular vintage. Most of the sparkling wines spend a minimum of
three years on the yeast.
Brut bubbly is predominant Chardonnay with close to one-third of the blend
being Pinot Noir. It's matured for 3 years en tirage and the
wine seems quite dry on the palate owing to its high level of
acidity. It's actually right at the top of the scale for a dosage in
the "Brut" designation, but the wine sails along the palate with
a measure of austerity.
Currently in Stock: 2007 ARGYLE BRUT $26.99
- Back in
the 1970s California saw its first major foreign investor in the world of
wine. The large Champagne firm of Moet et Chandon was going to set
up shop in the Napa Valley. Also at this time we'd heard stories of
numerous French companies looking to invest abroad, apprehensive that the
government might institute controls and limitations on such projects.
The winery was constructed near the town of Yountville, appearing to be
dug into the hill west of the St. Helena Highway. A fellow named
Robert de Vogue was running Moet and he was instrumental in coming to
California. He had tasted some Napa wines and found them to be
promising. Later he'd hired a fellow named John Wright to head their
Chandon project in Napa and it turned out to be the Wright
Moet sent over a soon-to-be-retired enologist to taste and his assessment
was valued by Monsieur De Vogue. Renaud Poirier came over in
December of that year, just
- months after the Napa Valley harvest and he insisted upon tasting
freshly-fermented wines as this would give him a clue as to the 'raw'
materials which might be available or possible in California. Wright
was able to round up some fresh samples from his neighbors; people
such as Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, Brother Timothy at Christian
Brothers, Bob Travers (of Mayacamas) and Mirassou all gave Wright numerous
samples of all sorts of freshly-fermented tank samples.
Poirier came and tasted and his report must have been good, since Moet
then commissioned Wright to proceed. The Trefethens were
instrumental in assisting their neighbors, providing fruit and winery
space for early experimentation. We recall a small batch of wine
hitting the market from the 1973 vintage...it was called the "MV Wine
Company" and there was a Chardonnay and Pinot (I think). And
the Trefethens vinified the first vintages of Chandon's base wines through
the 1977 vintage, if we recall correctly.
Later Moet send over another, somewhat younger gentleman to oversee the
winemaking at Chandonnay. His name was Edmond Maudiere. He
really seemed to do a fine job in over-seeing their sparkling wine
production and he was quite a sharp fellow. Maudiere was interested
to produce "Napa Valley Sparkling Wine," not try to imitate the
bubblies of Champagne. And he realized there were differences in the
growing conditions and grape varieties of his home 'base' and that of the
New World. Further, he was a big fan of employing Pinot Blanc in the
Napa sparklers as well as Pinot Meunier, though little of each was
available when they first started.
Assisting Maudiere was a local winemaker, Dawnine Dyer. She had
gotten a biology degree at UC Santa Cruz before attending the University
of Robert Mondavi (Oakville campus) in 1974. Two years later she
joined Chandon and eventually she "ran the show" as far as
winemaking went. In the 1980s Dawnine assisted in setting up
Chandon's Australian sparkling wine project. We think she
"retired" from Chandon in 2001, or so and she and her husband
Bill have a little Cabernet vineyard in Calistoga.
Under Maudiere and Dyer, Chandon made really good sparkling
Some years ago, though, we've seen some slippage in quality and the wines
seem to be made with economics in mind and/or marketing. The wines,
to our taste, have been "dumbed down". The entry level
wines used to be quite good and these days they're merely fizzy wines with
higher priced bottles called Etoile had been worthy of the
"reserve" connotation and today they are certainly superior to
the entry level bottles, but we don't find them as exciting as they once
- The Etoile is said to be their "no holds barred" bottling of
Still, we have Chandon's Brut and Blanc de Noirs in stock at competitive
price levels, but these wines are brought to the counter by customers who
are comfortable buying them. That is, these are wines we carry for
the convenience of customers, but are not wines we'd recommend.
Currently in stock: CHANDON BRUT 750ml SALE
CHANDON BLANC DE NOIRS 750ml SALE $14.99
fellow named Kevin Kelley grew up in Santa Clara County and made the
"mistake" of reading wine historian Charles Sullivan's book,
"Like Modern Edens," chronicling the wine industry in the nearby
Santa Cruz Mountains.
Kelley was intrigued by this and attended UC Davis to learn
winemaking. And then he and Mrs. Kelley, who's also from the San
Jose area, packed up and moved to France. He got a job of sorts with
the famous Burgundy domaine of Meo-Camuzet and that's when things got out
of control. They also were friendly with Christian Gouges whose
family owns the historic Domaine Henri Gouges.
After too many dinners featuring snails and Beef Bourguignon, the pair
returned to California and Kevin worked at a custom crush facility, spying
on famous artisan winemakers who produced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
In 2006, the couple established their own brand, Salinia and
they're interested in making exceptional wines. The main focus, as we
understand it, is in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from cool climate Sonoma
vineyards, but they've dabbled in a Rhone-styled red blend, Syrah and Pinot
They've made a really interesting fizzy wine...it's a far cry from being a
Imagine producing a bubbly of Sauvignon Blanc which has some herbal and citrus
notes and is moderately bubbly and quite dry. We find this sort of wine a
delight, as it's the work of someone who's given it great thought and paid
attention to the details. Another nice facet of this little effort is the
price tag, which is quite attractive.
Here's a page from Kevin's "winemaking notebook":
Currently in stock: TWENTY FIVE REASONS Petillant
Sauvignon Blanc $22.99
J WINE COMPANY
- The "J" is
Judy Jordan, whose Papa founded a nice little cellar in Sonoma's Alexander
Valley back in the 1970s. Jordan.
Judy, like her old man, has a background in geology and earth sciences, so
she has a clue about terroir. She founded this little venture
in 1986, just a decade after the Jordan winery opened its
J was initially a sparkling wine specialist. Now they've gotten
side-tracked with all sorts of table wines, too. Ten years after
launching "J," she purchased the old Piper Sonoma winemaking
facility in between the towns of Healdsburg and Windsor.
The winery owns more than 270 acres of land and most of it is planted with
vineyards. They claim to farm "sustainably."
Winemaker George Bursick takes care of the enology and blending. He
worked at Beringer, McDowell Valley and made his name at Ferrari
Carano. When he's not in the cellar, he's in the garage making what
they claim is music with a band called Private Reserve...his fellow
musicians include Michael Martini of the Louis Martini winery and Ed
Sbragia, former Beringer winemaker who now has his own little winery in
the Dry Creek Valley.
flagship bubbly from J is called Cuvee 20. It's roughly equal parts of
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a tiny percentage of Pinot Meunier. The
wine is made of Russian River Valley fruit and it spends, they claim, three
years en tirage. We don't find it to be especially toasty or
yeasty, though. The wine is right at the upper limit for a sweetening
dosage, so this is not especially austere.
They make a vintage-dated bubbly and an extended-aging single vintage sparkling
Currently in stock: J "CUVEE 20"
750ml SALE $21.99
J "CUVEE 20" Magnum (List $90) SALE $74.99
J Rose 750ml $26.99
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