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Rack & Riddle Announces Release of Chicago Cubs™ 2016 World Series Championship™ Sparkling Wine



Cynthia Faust

707-433-8400 x108


Wine by Design Releases Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship Sparkling Wine

HEALDSBURG, Calif., November 11, 2016 – To celebrate the Chicago Cubs’ historic first World Series championship since 1908, Wine by Design, the exclusive wine licensee of Major League Baseball, is delivering a limited-edition World Series Championship Brut with Rack & Riddle.  Rack & Riddle, one of the largest custom wine operations nationwide specializing in sparkling wine, has created the Cubs World Series sparkling wine. Wine is available online and at select retail outlets. For more information, visit

“Wine by Design has been celebrating World Series champions since 2012 and we’ve had the pleasure of working with Rack and Riddle since 2013,” said Diane Karle, CEO, WBD. “We are fortunate to have a great partner in MLB and have found an amazing wine-making team, specializing in sparkling wine from one of the most prestigious winemaking regions in California.”

The San Francisco Giants (2012 & 2014), Boston Red Sox (2013) and Kansas City Royals (2015) all played their way into history with their recent World Series titles, but this year’s Cubs team made its own special mark, winning the title for the first time in over 100 years. That makes this championship wine truly historic as well.

“This wine is truly worthy of champions like the Cubs, with fine bubbles forming a perfect mousse, aromas of brioche and spiced apple, and nuances of lime zest that linger—begging for another sip or two,” said Rack & Riddle Executive Director of Winemaking, Penny Gadd-Coster. “The beauty of a well-balanced Brut like this is it pairs well with a variety of foods – like World Series-worthy snacks of Nachos and Spicy Wings! It’s perfect for drinking now, and ages well so you can celebrate with bubbly for months to come.”  

The Cubs Championship Brut was crafted in the labor-intensive méthode Champenoise tradition, and showcases premium grapes from California.

With its expansion in 2014 to two new locations in Sonoma County, Rack & Riddle is proudly committed to providing pristine facilities where winemakers craft both still and sparkling wines. Rack & Riddle offers complete grape-to-bottle, base-to-bottle, and private label wine programs, and houses nearly 2 million gallons of stainless steel storage and fermentation vessels. An exceptional winemaking team produces 1.2 million cases of wine annually. For more information, visit

Wine by Design (WBD) is a marketing and management agency, and the leader in delivering wine-based strategic services and premium wine solutions. WBD provides tailored brand experiences, limited wine releases, events and consulting. Founded by Diane Karle, WBD has offices in New York and Napa Valley. WBD has cultivated a network of wine experts, suppliers and grape growers, which results in targeted business solutions.  Visit to learn more. 


Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Rack & Riddle at San Diego Wine & Food Fest

Rack & Riddle poured at the SD Wine Fest in 2015

Rack & Riddle is pleased to be participating as a featured winery at the upcoming San Diego Wine & Food Festival November 14-20, one of the nation’s largest wine and food festivals. Find Rack & Riddle at the VinVillage Radio booth, being poured by our friend and VinVillage host, Rob Barnett. Enjoy Rack & Riddle's award-winning bubbly, plus hundreds of other wines from top wineries across the nation.

Buy tickets for admission to the Grand Tasting on Saturday Nov. 19th with VinVillage’s exclusive 15% off promo code, the best discount out there!

Use promo code “VinVillage” – good for early-entry and general admission.

Rack & Riddle Winery's four award-wining sparkling winesIn the past few years, Rack & Riddle wines have won over 25 top honors! See them all here.

Rack & Riddle's premium, méthode Champenoise wines are aged 18+ months, handcrafted with love - yet priced starting at just $20 a bottle, garnering "Best Buy" in competitions like Tastings World Wine Championships, and No. 1 on "Top 10" lists in prestigious publications like Gayot!

Join the Rack & Riddle Wine Club to save 25% on wines, anytime.



Or, if you're close to Healdsburg, choose "Pick Up at Rack & Riddle" when adding items to your cart, and skip the wait time!

Rack & Riddle is located at:

499 Moore Lane

Healdsburg, CA 95448

Hours: M-F 9am to 5pm

◆ 1 -5 Bottles: $10 UPS Shipping Nationwide

◆ 6-11 Bottles: $15 UPS Shipping Nationwide

◆ 12-23 Bottles: $25 UPS Shipping Nationwide

◆ 24 Bottles (2 cases): $40 UPS Shipping Nationwide


Just select GSO shipping at checkout.


Come taste Rack & Riddle wines at San Diego Wine & Food Festival!

Penelope Gadd-Coster
October 4, 2016 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

Traditional Grape Varietals Vs. Untraditional for Sparkling Wine

France set the standard for sparkling wine, establishing the widely-held belief that bubbly should be crafted out of just three stalwart grape varietals — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. But California in recent years is setting a new scene for sparkling winemaking using untraditional grapes.

The most diverse varietals for sparkling are being made by small producers throughout California, and other regions like New York, Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota and Washington are emerging as converts to this trend. We’re seeing Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat and more from many of these states. In fact, we are doing a Muscat ourselves, for the Rack & Riddle Winery brand. These “untraditional” varietals result in wines that are unique, but still quality-wise just as good. Champagne, France is traditionally considered “above” these other regions and wines, but there isn’t really a good reason for it.

We have a limited perception of what sparkling wine should be, because French sparkling wine is what was originally imported to the United States, shaping consumers’ opinions early on. But at the same time that France was becoming renowned for Champagne, bubbly was being made in other countries as well, such as Spain, Portugal and Germany. None of the sparkling wines from those countries are made out of the traditional three varietals. Bubbly can be made anywhere, and out of completely different varietals depending on what grows best in the region.

Tempranillo sparkling wine grapes at Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services
Winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster tends to Tempranillo grapes and crafts sparkling wine at Rack & Riddle

Here at Rack & Riddle, we’ve made sparkling wine out of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, Pinotage, Malbec, Syrah and various Italian varietals like Vecchio. If you have a new varietal you’d like to make into bubbly, contact us!

I’ll talk about two of my favorite sparkling wines made out of untraditional grapes. The first is French Colombard, a varietal that a lot of people pooh-pooh but that makes an excellent sparkling wine. The other is what I like to call the “Bordeaux bubbly” — a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. This was a wine we crafted that garnered an award at the California State Fair. What’s interesting about this blend is there’s something different about it that makes it special, but you wouldn’t necessarily identify it wasn’t made out of the traditional three varietals.

I highly encourage winemakers to experiment with new varietals. Whether that’s researching varietals to plant in your region and picking early specifically for sparkling, or utilizing grapes that don’t ripen — don’t let the grapes go to waste, make a sparkling!

There is really no varietal I would say “no” to for sparkling, unless the vineyard exhibits something you might not want in your bubbly. An example might be Sauvignon Blanc. Out of one vineyard it might be really tropical, which is really nice for sparkling, but out of another vineyard it might have a lot of herbaceousness that you don’t want. Some winemakers use Sauvignon Blanc even with that “herbalness,” — they’re willing to go in that direction, it’s just a matter of opinion.

Good luck with experimenting, and remember, don’t limit yourself. As they say — and what seems especially fitting for sparkling — "Reach for the sky and you'll land among the stars!"


Check out Rack & Riddle’s full-service custom crush programs for both sparkling and still wines. Click to request a custom crush quote. From grape to bottle, to riddling and disgorging to just finishing and bottling your wine, Rack & Riddle offers every winemaking service you may need. For those seeking sparkling or still wine shiners, take a look at Rack & Riddle’s private label wine program of award-winning wines. The shiner program turn-around-time from order to finished case goods is an average of just three months. Contact Rack & Riddle or call anytime to discuss your needs: 707-433-8400


Time Posted: Oct 4, 2016 at 11:00 AM
Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Wine Enthusiast Rates Rack & Riddle Brut 90 Points!

Some big news with a “pop!” Wine Enthusiast magazine has rated Rack & Riddle's Brut a coveted 90 Points!! Shop here.

This Brut is a blend of premium North Coast grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, aged 18-22 months en tirage.

Made in the centuries-old Champagne method—each Rack & Riddle bottle is its very own fermentation vessel. Winemakers added yeast and the magic began… “The bubbles are born in the bottle,” as Rack & Riddle Executive Winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster says.

No special occasion is necessary to pop this delicious bubbly, but if you prefer to save a bottle for a special celebration, you can—it has aging potential and its long shelf life means you can enjoy this wine for months or even years to come. Another big plus? This Brut is well-balanced, and pairs well with virtually every food.

The winemakers at Rack & Riddle have been “racking” up the awards. More than 20 Best of Class, Gold medals and 90+ point ratings have been awarded to the Rack & Riddle family of four sparkling wines. On top of the latest 90 point rating from Wine Enthusiast, Rack & Riddle’s Brut has also garnered Double Gold and Gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and Gold in the International Women’s Wine Competition.

“Citrus, pear and floral aromas with a hint of yeast. The fine mousse brings forth the light citrus, smooth and round in the mouth. Finish is round, with a note of grapefruit.

VARIETAL: Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier

FERMENTATION: Méthode Champenoise

TIME ON TIRAGE: 18-22 mo.

ALCOHOL: 12.5%

pH: 3.22


Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Ready to Sparkle? Breathless Wines to Open Soon in Healdsburg

Take time to unwind and enjoy a flight of sparkling wine at the Breathless Wines garden patio and tasting lounge opening this fall 2016 in the new Healdsburg Warehouse District, west of downtown and next door to Rack & Riddle.

With over 25 Best of Class, Gold medals and 90-point ratings between its three wines, Breathless has been making a mark in Sonoma County since its founding a few years ago by three sisters.

“Breathless is about celebrating moments in life—big or small—that take our breath away,” says Sharon Cohn, Breathless sister 1-of-3. “We are honoring our mom, Martha, who encouraged dreaming big—‘never take a breath for granted, and live life to the fullest’ was her mantra.” Even when suffering from Alpha-1, Martha led the charge as a teacher, dedicated to helping her community.

In that vein, Breathless donates wine and funds to Alpha-1 and over a dozen non-profits annually. The new tasting room will be used by non-profit partners for educational events open to the public.

With a vintage 1920s feel, Breathless is poised to be Healdsburg’s premier tasting room featuring Champagne method sparkling wines, new releases of still wines, magnum bubblies, and a special new ratafia fortified wine to help you mark the day—no special occasion necessary.

Visitors can expect extraordinarily unique and fun events in the Gatsby style Breathless has become known for, with perfectly paired wine and foods, live music, and even a Polaroid photobooth with props.

The new tasting room will also host outdoor movie nights and cirque-theme events (like the upcoming grand opening). During the day guests can stroll the gardens, enjoy a leisurely picnic, or take lessons in beheading a bottle of sparkling with an authentic Italian saber (a dull-bladed sword that pops the bubbly open in a centuries-old fashion).

The new tasting room, located at 499 Moore Lane in Healdsburg, will be the first of its kind in the area, built entirely out of recycled shipping containers. Well-insulated, of course, to keep cool.

Breathless founders and sisters Sharon Cohn, Rebecca Faust, Cynthia Faust and honorary sister, winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster, invite you to “cross the railroad tracks” and venture just a few blocks from the Healdsburg Square to Breathless’ new home in the Warehouse District.

Until the grand opening in October (add your name to the email list at for an invite) visit Breathless’ pop-up tasting room in nearby Alexander Valley: 4001 Hwy 128 in Geyserville, open Thursday through Monday from 11-5.

Breathless Wines
New Tasting Room Hours:
Effective October 10th, 2016
11-7; 7 days a week
499 Moore Lane Healdsburg CA 95448
(707) 395-7300

Time Posted: Aug 29, 2016 at 1:05 PM
Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Crush Underway for Amista Vineyards at Rack & Riddle

Harvest 2016 at Amista Vineyards

Nearly a decade ago, Amista Vineyards gave Rosé of Syrah to a college winemaking class that wanted to try making bubbly. After tasting a bottle from that project, owners Vicky and Michael Farrow were inspired. When Michael handed over day-to-day winemaking to consultant Ashley Herzberg, a lover of bubbles, their sparkling program really took off. The effervescent stuff has become a mainstay—“the gems in the crown” of Amista’s still and sparkling wines, as Vicky says.Amista's Ashley and Vicky at harvest

Amista, loosely translated as “making friends” in Spanish, has crafted largely estate-grown single varietal wine in the heart of Sonoma County’s renowned Dry Creek Valley appellation since 2003.

Today, Amista offers five different sparkling wines; each flies out the door so quickly via direct-to-consumer and wine club sales that no distributors are necessary for the brand.

“In 2009, we took a barrel of our already-fermented, existing Rosé to Penny [executive winemaker at Rack & Riddle], and said, ‘help us make sparkling wine.’ It was so good and our customers loved it so much, that the following year we made it ‘on purpose’—picking grapes specifically for sparkling,” said Michael.

Harvest 2016 began mid-August for Amista with Chardonnay for Blanc de Blanc picked and then crushed at Rack & Riddle in nearby Alexander Valley, where Amista makes all its premium, méthode Champenoise sparklers. Harvest started 10 days later than last year, “but coincidentally, three years ago we harvested on this same exact date, August 13th,” said winemaker Ashley.

Amista is often the first of Rack & Riddle’s 150-plus custom crush clients to bring grapes in at harvest. But it’s no race. Determining when to pick sparkling grapes takes precision, and the time from veraison setting in to harvest can go in a flash. Sparkling grapes are picked early, typically between 17 and 20 brix, whereas still wines are picked much later, around 24 brix and up for Pinot. This year Amista picked its Blanc de Blanc at 19.4 brix.
Amista harvest 2016
Ashley pulls samples from different blocks almost daily leading up to harvest, testing sugars, TA and PH for acidity levels. “But it’s still important to go off of flavors. If you just focus on sugars the outcome isn’t great,” said Ashley.

She looks for visual cues as well to determine when to pick: a softer, more see-through green berry; percentage of ripe berries vs. not-so-ripe berries; and signs the vine is ready for picking and done pushing shoots.

Prep work also involves dropping underripe fruit so only the best grapes go into the wine.

Previous years’ stats are taken into account as well. “I reflect on when we’ve picked, the weather patterns, what the fruit looked like, acidity—even if the brix is the same, the acid levels can be completely different,” said Ashley.

While California is still in a drought, Amista’s vines are much healthier this year than the previous three drought-stricken seasons.

“The weather has been more even, with good rainfall, and the crop size is a little higher. Last year a lot of Pierce’s Disease was expressed with the vines being stressed. And last year was much worse for us with hens and chicks,” said Ashley, referring to a fruit-set defect where underdeveloped and fully developed berries appear in the same cluster.

Hand-picking has always been Amista’s preference over machine, which can “squish around the skins… whole cluster by hand is all around better in my opinion,” said Ashley. “Left on the stem, the stems act as a support system—something for the grapes to press against, so you get a better yield.”
Amista Chardonnay grapes ready to press at Rack & Riddle
To pick the Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay, two crews, one all-female and one all-male, arrived in the foggy and cold 6 a.m. hour and picked three-and-a-half acres until 8:30 a.m. for seven tons of grapes. Then after a short trip to Rack & Riddle, the three-hour press cycle began, where Ashley monitored each press cut to make sure the juice tasted delicious (and not too “stemmy” or “woody”).

Throughout the winemaking process at Rack & Riddle, Amista enjoys the open door policy and ability to oversee their project and make key decisions. “But it’s also really nice to have somebody at the facility who’s a great partner—for us to share ideas with, to test ideas with,” said Vicky. “Ashley and Penny have a great relationship and that’s been a really valuable thing. It’s not just a facility, it’s the expertise that you can develop in a much deeper way as a custom crush facility making wines for lots of different clients each year.”

The wine from this particular harvest will be ready to release after about 18 months aging in bottle en tirage at Rack & Riddle. Crafted to be enjoyed right away, this bubbly would also age beautifully, says Ashley, from three to five or more years, especially for higher-acid wines like Blanc de Blanc. “But we can’t keep it on the shelves, so I don’t think we’ll get the opportunity!”

Photo credits: Amista Vineyards & Jolene Patterson

Visit Amista Vineyard’s tasting room at 3320 Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 707-431-9200. Check out the newest experience—a self-guided tour of the vineyards, where you can learn about each varietal, and, if grapes are present, taste test from the vine! For more information about Amista, to purchase wines, or join the Wine Club, visit


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Great Wine - a Family Tradition

If you or anyone you know loves wine, you don’t want to miss the upcoming Family Winemakers of California pouring event in San Francisco on Sunday, August 21st!

Use this code to receive 10% off tickets: RRFAMILY2016

Purchase tickets here.

Taste handcrafted wines where the attention to detail and passion for winemaking shines through. This event will feature over 500 wines from 150 small, family-owned wineries from throughout the state!

Rack & Riddle is proud to be among them – we’re excited to share our sparkling wines with you. Come by our table to learn about the age-old traditional method we use to craft superior sparkling wines in our modern, Healdsburg-based winery.

Our winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster has “racked” up over 20 Best of Class and Gold medals in just the past few years for our four Rack & Riddle sparkling wines.

Plus, did you know the FWC Chairman is our very own co-founder, Bruce Lundquist?! Check out VinVillage Radio to hear Bruce discuss all things Family Winemakers – what the organization is about, and how it advocates for small wineries. Listen to segment 1 about advocacy initiatives for FWC winery members, and segment 2 to learn all about Rack & Riddle and our latest news!


Penelope Gadd-Coster
July 5, 2016 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

Grape Picking and Winemaking Tips for Sparkling Wine Production

With harvest nearly upon us, now is the ideal time to start thinking about turning some of your grapes into sparkling wine. Here at Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services, it’s not uncommon for some client winemakers to start planning a sparkling wine project after harvest—sometimes it’s a last-minute decision by winemakers to utilize excess fruit. While late-start projects are fine, it’s always wise to begin planning earlier since picking parameters differ greatly for sparkling wine production.

I recently read an interesting article by renowned wine writer Dan Berger about making sparkling wine, and a few things occurred to me that I wanted to address regarding sparkling wine production and selecting the grapes.

In the article, one winemaker is quoted as saying that for still wines, you pick the grapes and they taste like wine, but for sparkling wine the grapes are sour and taste horrible since they’re picked earlier.

While it’s true sparkling wine grapes are picked much earlier at higher acidity levels, winemakers can actually Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services' Winemaker checking the sugar levels of grapes to check for picking readiness.have a real understanding of the grape profile at such an early stage.

If the fruit doesn’t taste good, it’s not going to make good bubbly. Is the acid high? Absolutely. But there’s definitely still fruit balance to evaluate. I recommend winemakers start tasting the grapes at 17 Brix and when you reach the flavor profile of the grapes that you want, pick them!

Now, the first time I made bubbles, the massive tartness took some getting used to. I definitely had some moments thinking, “Wow, it really takes the enamel off your teeth!” But once you start to learn what you’re looking for and the resulting profile in the finished product, I don’t find it any different from still wine—you’re just going for different parameters. I am still looking for a flavor acid profile just like with still wine grapes. Ultimately you’re going through the same checklist as you would for a still wine, particularly a still white wine, which like bubbly is also elevated in Co2.

Part of the challenge with sparkling wine grapes is evaluating how the bubbles are going to affect the flavor outcome—the Co2 will bring the flavors up in the nose and mouth and make it more aromatic.

Another consideration is how the lees contact will soften the wine a little bit and change the aroma profile with time. It doesn’t change the acidity, but it will change the mouthfeel. How the yeast is perceived in the nose changes with time going from fresh yeast to nutty. This is another reason acidity is important to balance out the creaminess that you will get with long-term yeast contact. Before you pick, consider how long you want the wine on the yeast.Learn when to pick your grapes for sparkling wine, and how to prep the base wine for sparkling wine production.

Be cognizant of So2 levels because of the second fermentation. One of the most common questions I’m asked is, "at what level should the So2 be kept?" Due to the high pH/acidity levels, you can keep those levels low because it protects the wine. The level I recommend is 15 to 20 ppm, as long as the wine is not going to be stored for many months or years before it goes on tirage; the totals should be kept at 50 ppm or below.

With all of these special considerations to make when picking sparkling wine grapes, one big benefit of picking early—as Dan mentions in his article—is many of the common later-harvest problems can be avoided, such as bad weather, mold and possible bacterial issues.

If you decide later in harvest to produce a sparkling wine project, which some people do, you’re not only up against these weather-related problems, but de-alc’ing may also be necessary to remove some of the alcohol—a process that winds up costing time and money.

Lastly, here at Rack & Riddle when clients bring their base wine in to start making bubbly (typically base wine is brought in around January or February), they can opt to bring it in cold-stabilized, or we will cold-stabilize it for them. Because sparkling winemaking is a process involving second fermentation in the bottle, we always recommend ultra cold-stabilizing the wine since the chemistries are going to change in the bottle. Once the wine is a finished product and sold, it’s likely to be stored in a refrigerator—another reason it’s important that the wine is stable—zero- minus two centigrade.

Consider these parameters for prepping your sparkling wine, and you’ll be on your way to creating an incredible bubbly—and we can all raise our glasses in a toast to that! Have questions about sparkling winemaking? Give Penny and the Rack & Riddle team a call at 707-433-8400 or email us. We’re happy to help.

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Sparkling Wine Custom Crush Webinar

Thanks to all who joined our webinar, Custom Crush Demystified. Below find the full, 30-minute recording including the live question and answer session, so you can learn about custom crush processes for still wine and méthode Champenoise sparkling wine custom crush. Get expert advice and insider tips from Rack & Riddle's Executive Director of Winemaking, Penny Gadd-Coster, and launch your next winemaking project at a custom crush facility without a hitch!

Here are a few of the topics covered in this webinar:

• The differences between grape to bottle, base to bottle, and private label wine (shiner) programs
• Capabilities for small or mid-to-large range producers
• Grape picking tips for sparkling wine grapes
• Marketing: Ways to take your winemaking/production story from the custom crush facility back to your tasting room
• How compliance works: From the DBA filing and required paperwork, to being able to state your DBA name on your wine label’s name and address section (this allows clients to state “Produced and bottled by XYZ winery, Healdsburg, CA” on wine produced at Rack & Riddle)

We decided to call this webinar Custom Crush Demystified because there are several ways custom crush facilities can serve their clients. For example, some offer crush and storage, and some have bottling lines that take you all the way from grape to bottle. At Rack & Riddle, we’re a little bit different in that we offer full-service, customizable capabilities for grape to bottle, base to bottle or private label wine programs, or services a la carte. We’re one of the most comprehensive custom crush providers because we not only offer programs for still wine, we also specialize in méthode Champenoise sparkling wine custom crush.

With the sparkling wine segment growth far outpacing still wine, now is the ideal time to explore bringing your grapes or base wine to Rack & Riddle to make it into bubbly. Contact us today to discuss your project, or request a custom crush quote online. 707-433-8400


Penelope Gadd-Coster
June 2, 2016 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

How Sparkling Wine Is Made in the Méthode Champenoise Tradition

The refreshing and invigorating sparkling wine is becoming increasingly popular across the United States. Everyone from Millennials to Boomers are reaching for the bubbles. With people indulging on the everyday and not just for special occasions, wineries today recognize that serving a glass of bubbly to patrons as they walk through the door creates the ultimate sense of celebration and welcoming. Sparkling wine, with its fine mousse and finish that begs for another sip, is especially appealing to consumers because it pairs well with virtually any food. My personal favorite is pairing bubbly with caviar on potato chips with crème fraiche—yum!

With the production of bubbly ramping up at wineries nationwide, so are sales. In fact, bubbly sales are driving the growth of the U.S. wine market. The sector outperformed still wines for the seventh consecutive year in 2015, as Shanken News recently reported.

One of Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services’ Paso Robles-based customers explained the impetus behind venturing into the world of sparkling wine. “We started our sparkling program due to the demand created when we began doing weddings at the estate winery. The feedback to our Mooney Family Blanc de Noirs has been great, particularly from the ladies,” said Michael Mooney, owner of Mooney Family Wines.

While sommeliers and wine buffs have still wines seemingly figured out, there is still some mystery in sparkling wines. The time, labor and specialized processes behind sparkling winemaking dwarf that of still winemaking—and so few people specialize in it—that sparkling winemaking remains a rather enigmatic category of wine. In fact, it took me a couple of years being a winemaker before that “ah hah” moment when I didn’t have to figure out how and when the bubbles came to be! I remember as a winemaker early in my career taking a bottle fresh off the disgorging line and worrying, “Are the bubbles going to be there?” The answer is of course, yes—the bubbles are born in the bottle when you put the yeast in, and they remain there in the bottle.

The short of it: sparkling winemaking is a true labor of love. The movies make it look simple, with someone quaintly twisting the bottles on an old wooden French riddling rack, but the answer is, well, it’s not quite that easy—there is so much hard work behind every bottle. Each process of sparkling winemaking has its own intricacies, such as disgorging—the process of freezing the lees (sediments) in the neck, and having it pop out of the bottle. Disgorging isn’t used in still winemaking at all. Tiny details must be monitored, such as how big the ice plug is, making sure it’s not concave, and mitigating gushing when the crown cap is pulled off and too much wine pours out of the bottle (much like when you pop the cork on a bottle that is still too warm, and the wine overflows out of the neck).

If you’ve ever been curious about what’s behind your glass of bubbly, here’s a practical guide to sparkling wines crafted in the traditional French method:

First thing’s first—look at the label. When sparkling wine is produced in the traditional method, sparkling wine houses will want to tout the age-old methodology to their customers. The wine label will typically state “Methode Champenoise,” “Methode Traditionelle,” or “Traditional Method.” They cannot state “Champagne” unless it is made in the Champagne region of France.

1). Sparkling wine grapes are picked earlier than their still wine grape counterparts to maintain high acidity and low sugars—typically at 17-20 brix. Traditionally in France, sparkling wine grapes are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay—this is what most of the United States follows. Many other varietals can be blended to create bubbly as done in other areas of France and the surrounding countries. Many sparkling wines are non-vintage. This blending of different varietals from different years allows a sparkling wine to maintain a consistent profile year after year, regardless of what the last harvest produced quality-wise.

2). In the vineyard, certain data is collected at harvest time: total tons, yield per acre, average clusters per vine and average cluster weight—just as one would do with still wine grapes.

3). The grapes are whole cluster pressed. Different fractions are taken—cuvee, taille, rebeche—at certain pressures during the pressing cycle. After the grapes are pressed, additions like SO2, Bentonite and for non-organic wines, enzymes may be added to the juice, which then goes into settling tanks. Analysis occurs along the whole process: Brix, TA, pH, and So2 levels.

4). After the juice is racked and ready for the fermenting tanks, pre-fermentation analysis takes place; once fermenting, daily checks are taken of brix and temperature.

5). Once the first fermentation has occurred, the wine undergoes post-fermentation analysis, including tests of TA, pH, F/T, So2, Malic, residual sugar, VA, and alcohol. Wine goes through centrifuge or is settled and racked then into storage tanks. So2 additions are made, though at lower levels than many still wines. Free and total So2, and VA monitoring are monthly.

6). Assemblage blending (if being blended with other wines) now takes place to blend different varietals and fractions—cuvee and taille—together. The wine is cold stabilized and crossflow filtered. Additions at this point include sugar and yeast nutrient, possibly tannin or gum for retaining color in rosé. Then the wine goes through a final membrane filter at 0.45u.

7). Here is where the wine goes from being treated like a still wine and goes into sparkling mode. A yeast culture is introduced to the wine as well as an adjuvant (riddling agent bentonite). The wine with yeast and adjuvant is ‘tirage bottled’ into wooden bins where it then rests on its side in the bottle.

8). The second fermentation occurs in the bottle, taking anywhere from one to three months. This is when the bubbles are created. Aging on the yeast (lees) takes place and lasts at least six months to years, depending on the style desired.

9). The wine is transferred with shaking (to release the yeast from the bottle) to riddling bins where it settles. Bins are put into the riddling machines where riddling takes place from three to seven days. This is where the yeast ends up in the neck of the bottle along with the bentonite. The bottles are allowed to rest as they are active (just like shaking up a soft drink can). This entire process takes three to four weeks.

10). The bottles are then placed in a neck freezer and then disgorged. Disgorging is the process of the yeast lees being released out of the bottle in the frozen ‘plug’. Dosage (optional) can be added at that time. The dose can be anything from sugar water to sugar and brandy or in some cases color can be added to the wine via a wine sugar mixture.

11). Wines are then corked, wirehooded, foiled, labeled and ready to ship! Remember though that the bottles have been through trauma and should be allowed to rest before consuming.

The sparkling process may take a little longer, well maybe a lot longer, than many still wines, but it is well worth it to have and share the bubbly experience!

Time Posted: Jun 2, 2016 at 2:28 PM