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Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services Blog

Elizabeth Nixon
September 14, 2015 | Elizabeth Nixon

A Day in the Life of a Sparkling Winemaking Apprentice

As sparkling winemaking apprentice to Penny Gadd-Coster, Carolyn Craig joined Rack & Riddle in March to help oversee all sparkling wine processing at our custom crush facility. She chose to come to Rack & Riddle to expand her skill set and expertise in sparkling wines.

Carolyn joins us from an extensive winemaking background, most recently as winemaker at Larson Family Winery, where she held various roles over the course of more than 11 years, becoming Winemaker in 2005. At Larson Family Winery, Carolyn garnered top awards, including Best Cabernet Sauvignon and Best of Region in the California State Fair. She also managed custom client operations.

Rack & Riddle’s media relations specialist Elizabeth Nixon chatted with Carolyn for a Q&A on a day in the life of a sparkling winemaker during harvest-time at our large custom crush facility:

Q: What does a typical work day look like for you?
A: My typical work day starts at 6:00 a.m., and depending on the season—harvest—I start with checking fermentations, smelling, tasting and assessing flavors, aromas and fermentation status. I then prepare work orders based on my morning findings, check on sparkling bottling status and perform daily operations.

Q: What have you learned so far as a sparkling winemaking apprentice?
A: My journey as a sparkling winemaking apprentice has been a new experience every day. There is so much to learn and I am amazed at the amount of technique that goes into this process. What I've learned so far is to ask questions, learn from those around me and to be confident in myself and my passion for winemaking. Those things I've learned far supersede any technical function of making sparkling wine.

Q: Have you learned anything about the sparkling winemaking process that surprised you (or that you just found super interesting)?
A: Everything I've learned so far has kept me so interested and excited to see what the next day holds. I think the most interesting thing has been that although we handle a lot of custom lots, each lot is treated as if it is the only lot we are processing. This requires an extreme amount of dedication and organization. I am proud to be a part of such a well-orchestrated team.

Thank you, Carolyn, and congratulations on your first sparkling wine harvest here at R&R!

Carolyn’s Bio:

Carolyn graduated from Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo with a B.S. in Agriculture Business and a minor in Wine and Viticulture.

“Experiencing the joy and passion from others, sharing wine I had a hand in making is what made me want to have a career in the wine industry… I love the challenge of winemaking and how the wine is ever-changing, creating the opportunity to always learn something new.”

Carolyn lives in Healdsburg and has a dog Charlie. She enjoys spending time with family (especially 1-year-old niece, Trinity), sewing and quilting, and camping, hiking, and playing in the snow.

Read Carolyn’s full bio here.



Time Posted: Sep 14, 2015 at 10:19 AM
Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

How to Launch a New Sparkling Wine Brand by the Holidays

Imagine rolling out your own brand’s méthode Champenoise sparkling wine in time for the holidays. A bubbly with a branded label is perfect for your company’s parties, holiday promotion, customer gifts, or employee gifts. By starting now, you can launch a new bubbly in time for December! Such a fast turn-around time is possible in the private label wine “shiner” program here at Rack & Riddle. Our customizable offerings include a selection of award-winning sparkling wines; differing aging times en tirage and a custom dosage option ensures your wine is truly unique for your brand.

Clients can expect to profit as much as 50 percent or more with a private label bubbly (depending on the retail price they decide upon). With sparkling wine growing ever more popular and sales far outpacing still wine, now is the ideal time to carve your niche in this lucrative market.

Here are some tips and a general timeline to keep in mind when pursuing a private label bubbly project.

Steps to Place Your Order
1). Contact Rack & Riddle to request the latest sparkling wine availability sheet and request samples. When your team has tasted and selected your bubbly, request a quote. Once the quote is signed and deposit made, your wine order is secured! We’ll send you the wine technical data so you can get started thinking about the information to include on your label design, and start writing your wine (or brand) description for your back label. Now is also a great time to start a marketing plan for your new bubbly!
2) Submit your completed New Customer Application (only for customers who haven’t ordered before).
3) Complete our DBA letter template to be added on our basic permit. This is standard procedure for any custom crush/private label order, and required of all clients so you can print labels stating your own business name on the “produced by” line.
4) Submit a completed Shiner Spec Sheet with information like foil color you would like, and any special instructions for your project’s labeling.

Prepping Your Label Artwork
Start your label design process early with a graphic designer, preferably one who is familiar with designing wine labels. Never designed a wine label before? No problem. We have a compliance specialist on-staff who will provide guidelines and get you all set. Check out our Sparkling Label Spec Sheet for recommended label printers.  But remember, don’t get your labels printed until you have a COLA (certificate of label approval), which we will submit for you.

Submitting for Label Approval
Once your label artwork is finished, you’ll email us the jpegs to submit for the COLA on your behalf. Keep your eye on the TTB’s processing times, as they vary. Right now, as of this publication, it’s taking the TTB 23 days to review and approve wine labels. Let your label printing company know the expected COLA date – they can get you scheduled for printing as soon as you have the COLA.

Printing Your Labels
When your COLA comes through, we’ll email it to you. Now you can print your labels! It often takes a label printing company two weeks’ turn-around, so it’s wise to get on their production schedule early.

Labeling Your Project
After your labels are printed, ship them to us and we’ll get your project on our production schedule for labeling. A sparkling private label project is typically scheduled for labeling within two to four weeks after we receive your labels. If you want to label and/or foil off-site and take your wine as “shiners” (unlabeled) you certainly can! There’s a spot to let us know that on your Shiner Spec Sheet.

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services hand-labeling a clients' private label sparkling wine.

Watch Your Order be Completed
Once you have your production date for labeling, you can contact us if you’d like to come to the facility to watch the magic happen! Next, your labeled bottles are placed in sturdy upright white wine cases, ready to ship. Congratulations on your new sparkling wine brand!

We hope this information is helpful as you consider launching your own branded bubbly. For more information about Rack & Riddle’s programs or to schedule a tour for a behind-the-scenes look at our production facilities, please don’t hesitate to call us at 707-433-8400.

Pictured: Rack & Riddle's business development team members hand-labeling advance cases for a clients' private label sparkling wine.



Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Harvest 2015 Update: Video and Photos of Sparkling Winegrape Pressing!

Harvest is in full swing at Rack & Riddle! Take a look at some of the pics from the crush pad this week:

Sparkling winegrapes (Chardonnay) being delivered for crushing at Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services!

Bins of sparkling chardonnay grapes being emptied into the press at Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services in Sonoma County.

Beautiful Pinot Noir grapes await the press. These will one day be an outstanding sparkling Blanc de Noirs wine!

Grapes being racked into the press to crush juice out and then begin fermentation to create sparkling wine.

Check out our video below of grapes being pressed:

 The grape destemmer in action to prep the sparkling winegrapes!

And finally, after being destemmed and pressed, the process of fermentation begins:

And the process of first fermentation begins! Sparkling wine will go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

If you're interested in a sparkling (or still) wine project this harvest, there's still time! Give us a call at 707-433-8400 with any questions or to receive a quote! Happy winemaking!

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Sparkling Winegrape Harvest Off to a Great Start in Sonoma County!

It’s the first week of August and already harvest is in full swing here at Rack & Riddle! The last week of July saw the very first sparkling grapes picked and brought to the facility for crushing and making into a lovely bubbly.

Meanwhile, in Rack & Riddle’s vineyards, our winemakers checked the grapes that will become the next vintage in our Rack & Riddle brand, as well as the grapes destined for Rack & Riddle’s private label (shiner) program.

Penny and Carolyn are checking the grapes (which should be picked in the next week or so) for disease, size of clusters, evenness of ripening, size of the crop and if any housekeeping issues need to be addressed, like thinning or attending to from now until picking.

The photo top left below shows the Rack & Riddle grapes at 20 percent veraison off of Skaggs Island. The bottom two photos show grapes at 70-75 percent veraison in another Sonoma vineyard:

July 30th saw Benovia Winery’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sparkling grapes arriving at Rack & Riddle for pressing. Crush is just the first step in the long labor of love involved in traditional method champenoise winemaking.

Yesterday, Amista Vineyards’ Chardonnay sparkling grapes went into the press – the first step in creating the next vintage of Amista Vineyards Sparkling Blanc de Blanc!

While harvest is already underway, there is still time to secure space for your bubbly project. Rack & Riddle has space for sparkling or still wine grape-to-bottle or base-to-bottle projects. Contact us today to request a quote! 707-433-8400

View our slideshow album of Harvest 2015 photos! Check out our video of Amista's sparkling grapes being pressed at our facility!

Elizabeth Nixon
July 22, 2015 | Elizabeth Nixon

30 Things to Do in Sonoma County This Summer or Fall

Winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster enjoys flyfishing in Sonoma County


As a lifelong, third generation Sonoma County resident, this list features my very favorities among all of the hundreds of wonderful things to do in Sonoma County! While you may not be able to cram all 30 of these activities into one weekend, this list will give you a reason to keep your summer and fall weekend itineraries jam-packed with fun. There are just so many fantastic things to do in our beautiful county that appeal to locals and visitors alike, beyond the ubiquitous wine tasting, hiking or cycling. Experience everything from botanical gardens and river kayaking, to ziplining through redwoods, to learning how wine is made. These are among the most fun things to do in Sonoma County!


1) Tour Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services – call to schedule a facility tour to learn how sparkling wine is made in the age-old French tradition, and how your business can make its own bubbly via the private label program 707-433-8400

2) Lounge poolside at the beautiful Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville

3) Kayak on the Russian River

4) Go fishing on the rivers or lakes of Sonoma County

5) Walk the trails of the lovely 25-acre Asian botanical garden in Glen Ellen, Quarryhill

6) Visit Breathless Wines and learn how to saber sparkling wine with a sword – truly the most breathless way to pop the cork – tasting room open 11-4 daily at 4001 Hwy 128 in Geyserville

7) Zipline through the redwoods

8) Catch the traveling, bilingual theater in Sonoma County’s parks (free), The Imaginists

9) Relax after a day at the beach or redwoods by taking a soak in the thermal waters of Sonoma County’s hot springs

10) Experience the Sonoma Serengeti on an African wildlife safari at Safari West

11) Play bocce ball at Healdsburg’s Campo Fina restaurant 

12) Catch the Wine, Women & Shoes event benefitting healthcare access, featuring fine wines, food and fashion July 25

13) Attend a yoga retreat at the gorgeous Mayacamas Ranch 

14) Take workshops at Shed in Healdsburg, like the upcoming free workshop, “A Zero-Waste Life”

15) Learn about cheese making on the Cheese Trail 

16) See the fall colors on a drive through Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley in October

17) Take floral design or herb classes at Dragonfly Farms in Healdsburg

18) Attend the Cigar BQ fundraising event featuring great wine, food and cigars, all to benefit Meals on Wheels Aug. 8

19) Visit local artists’ open studios during Sonoma County Art Trails Oct. 10, 11, 17 and 18

20) Drive along Coleman Valley Road for outstanding views of Bodega Bay

21) Take in local food, wine and art every Thursday night at the Barlow Street Fair in Sebastopol through Sept. 24

22) Go apple picking at Ratzalff Ranch in Sebastopol, Sept.-Oct. 707-823-0538

23) Experience a “Broadway Under the Stars” concert in the open-air winery ruins of Jack London’s State Historic Park and support the arts

24) Take in “Friday Night Live” in Cloverdale for live music, food, farmers market and activities every Friday evening from 5:30-7 p.m. through Sept. 4

25) Enjoy a wide array of food vendors and live music in the park with “Tuesdays in the Plaza” in Healdsburg from 5:00-8 p.m. through August 25

26) Windsor’s “Summer Nights on the Green” features kids’ movies on Tuesday nights, and live concerts Thursday nights through Aug. 27

27) Enjoy 12k/5K runs, grape stomps, parade, food and live music and other festivities at the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival in the Sonoma Plaza Sept. 25-27

28) Experience Sonoma’s beauty from above with a hot air balloon ride

29) Visit the Gravenstein Apple Fair Aug. 8-9 for a weekend of old-fashioned fun: local food, live music, vendors, farm arena, apples and much more

30) Savor Sonoma County’s fabulous wine and food flavors at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, the area’s largest wine charitable event Sept. 4-6

Time Posted: Jul 22, 2015 at 9:15 AM
Penelope Gadd-Coster
July 7, 2015 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

Make Your Wine Sparkle – Basics on the Three Main Methods of Sparkling Wine Production

Making your wines sparkle can be accomplished by winemakers in different ways, using either centuries-old techniques or much newer technology in sparkling wine production. But the resulting bubbles are far from equal! At Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services, we prefer méthode champenoise because of the fine bubbles and yeast notes that come with that process. Though this process may take longer than some other methods, the quality and presence of the wine is unsurpassed.

Interestingly, the first stages of this traditional French method do not differ greatly from that of still wine production. The primary fermentation in the méthode champenoise process is like that of still wines, though a sparkling wine yeast may be used. My favorite yeast to use is prise de mousse – it keeps the fruit flavors with slightly floral notes and all but guarantees that the fermentation is going to complete. This is when the wine makes its departure from being treated like a still wine, and the processes unique to sparkling wine production begin to unfold.Sparkling wine production information and advice from award-winning winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster

The yeast culture is introduced to the wine as well as an adjuvant (the riddling agent bentonite) – the cuvee containing yeast and adjuvant is “tirage bottled,” and the bottles are placed into wooden bins where the wine then rests on its side in the bottle.
Secondary fermentation in the bottle gives the sparkling wine its signature “bubbles” – the gas trapped inside the bottle creates high pressure that is released in the form of bubbles when served. Secondary fermentation takes anywhere from one to three months to complete. The wine then ages on the lees for usually at least six months, to many years. The chemical processes while the wine ages en tirage allow the wine to develop – diminishing fruitiness as the yeast takes on more nutty characteristics. Textures become smooth and creamy, while the effervescence develops smaller bubbles that are subtler than those of tank-fermented or carbonated sparkling wines.

What I have described may sound easy, but it is not without its challenges, just as with any winemaking. Stabilities, riddling and color are all factors that can add challenges to the final product. It does take patience and many times a leap of faith that the bubbles will appear. The special challenges are part of what makes it a worthwhile and exciting process.

Below are the main processes and terms that you’ll encounter when talking bubbles – cheers!

The Three Main Methods of Sparkling Wine Production

Méthode champenoise/Méthode Traditionelle/Traditional Method: This method is the most cost- and labor-intensive, producing bubbly via secondary fermentation in the bottle. Rack & Riddle specializes in this method because it produces a more elegant sparkling wine with small bubbles.
Charmat Method: This method ferments in a pressurized stainless steel tank – fresh yeast and sugar is added to the wine, triggering a rapid fermentation. This method of making sparkling wine does not allow the wine time to develop smaller bubbles.
Bulk Method: This method does not involve secondary fermentation, but instead the injection of Co2 (carbonation) into the wine. This is the same method used in making fizzy sodas. The resulting large bubbles are short-lived.

Sparkling Winemaking Glossary of Terms

Cuvee: After fermentation the resulting base wines blended together are called a cuvee.
Tirage bottling: Base wine is bottled where it will age and undergo secondary fermentation.
Lees: The yeast added to the wine for secondary fermentation. Aging on the lees lasts at least six months to years, depending on the style desired.
En tirage: The wine bottles age on their sides “en tirage” in tirage bins; the wine is said to be “aging on its lees.”
Riddling: The process of shifting or “riddling” the lees until they rest in the neck of the bottle. Riddling – from transferring the bottles to riddling bins, riddling, and resting – takes 3-4 weeks.
Disgorging: The lees are frozen in the neck of the bottle and popped out, or “disgorged.” Dosage (optional) – a sugar mixture comprised of either water or wine – is added to the bottle at this time.
Mouthfeel: The sensation of the wine in the mouth.
Nose: Another word for “aroma,” this is the character of the wine detectible by smell.
Mousse: The frothy, small bubbles that rise to the top of a glass of bubbly. Premium sparkling wines have a fine mousse with continuous strings of bubbles that rise in straight lines from the bottom of the glass.


Penelope Gadd-Coster
July 1, 2015 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

The Benefits of Custom Crush as Your First Wine Venture

It’s no secret the time commitment and financial investment of starting up one’s own wine brand is daunting. The list of investments needed is a long one: expensive equipment, overhead for the building including light, water, and insurance; not to mention employees, fruit costs, supplies, etc. After crunching these costs, you may realize the area where funds should really be focused—in marketing your new wine—will be eaten up before your first bottle is produced.

But owning a winery is a dream many hold, and creating a special wine, whatever the intent—for the traditional winery, for personal enjoyment, for widespread distribution, as a marketing/branding effort for your non-winery business, for a special event such as a wedding—should not be out of reach. I have two words for you: custom crush.

The milieu of “legacy” wineries—those who have passed their operations down from generation to generation—dominating the winemaking scene, is now being challenged by new business models, as the promulgation of custom crush has eased the burden of start-up costs and allowed “newbies” onto the scene. Or perhaps you’re a winemaker with many, many years of expertise. You’re by no means a dilettante—you simply don’t have the liquidity to start an entire winemaking operation!

For me, personally, custom crush was the answer for my brand of Tempranillo wines, Coral Mustang.

It allowed me the funds and time to market my wine, while outsourcing the crush, fermentation and bottling to another source. I understand the desire of wanting to be able to say: this is my winery, my tanks, my bottling line. But when starting out, it’s wise to focus on building your brand, while keeping the dream of building a winery a long-term goal. You’re still the owner of the wine when you go the custom crush route—your winemaking protocolsand desires are followed—and the label has your business name on the “Produced & Bottled By” statement.

Plus, nobody has to know you’re using custom crush. You can still have a tasting room in town, and keep confidential that part or all of your winemaking operation is conducted at a custom crush facility. Such businesses are extremely good at keeping clientele anonymous.

Ready to investigate whether custom crush is a good fit for you? Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Ask to see some resumes. Request a consultation and tour, and get to know the backgrounds of the team. Uncover whether they have the necessary education and enough years in the business to have gained a high level of knowledge.
  • Have they worked with your type of wine? At Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services, we have the experience and equipment to handle any project—small and large, still reds or whites, to sparkling wines. You want to know that the team you work with understands your goals. It’s sometimes difficult for winemakers to follow other wishes and styles—be sure that is not the case with the team. They should also keep you in the loop, vs. a situation where a protocol is handed off and you aren’t involved until the wine is on the pallet, ready to be picked up. That may be an easy way to do custom crush, but it may not be in your best interests. Being involved with your custom crush winemakers throughout the process ensures the best is brought out in the wine and for your target customer.
  • Are they equipped for different scenarios? If it’s a custom crush facility that only has large clients, do they have systems in place to work with a smaller client? Smaller clients may only want 140 gallons per ton, for a $65 bottle of wine, whereas a larger client may want 175 gallons per ton, broken into several different lots. These two scenarios need to be treated a little bit differently and protocols are going to differ as well.
  • Is there flexibility? Are the contracts and costs well laid-out—is everything one-lined or is it a complete package? Ask whether there’s flexibility to take on extras to improve the wines, for instance if you want another six months of aging time on tirage, or a change in additions as far as oaks, settling agents, or different types of yeast.

Consider these questions, and you’ll be well-equipped to pursue custom crush wisely and develop a strategy to grow your brand’s market share. Now is the golden opportunity as demand for still and sparkling wine continues to skyrocket. Cheers! Here’s to finding your niche.

Time Posted: Jul 1, 2015 at 9:14 AM
Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Double Gold Medals for the Best Sparkling Wines!

We are honored to announce the San Francisco International Wine Competition has recognized Rack & Riddle as producing some of the very best sparkling wine available on the market by awarding top medals and rankings to our bubbly! 

The Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blancs was awarded 94 points and the Double Gold Medal, while the Blanc de Noirs won a Gold Medal and received 93 points! Congratulations to our incredibly talented sparkling winemaker, Penny Gadd-Coster and the rest of our winemaking crew!

Visit our online store to purchase or read more about our award-winning sparkling wines! Take advantage of our new low shipping rates, and for a limited time, shipping is included when purchasing a four-pack of bubbly.



Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

The Meaning Behind Rack & Riddle’s Name and Logo

We are often asked to tell the story of how Rack & Riddle’s name came to be. It originated during the planning phases of R&R, with a few of the original eight team members (most of whom are still with us today, eight years later) brainstorming and coming up with the ingenious “Rack & Riddle” – a nod to the fact that we specialize in both still and sparkling winemaking.

“Rack” alludes to the process of removing sediment from still wine while “riddle” is the counterpart process for sparkling wine. The Rack & Riddle brand logo reflects this in its imagery of a historic French riddling rack, and we have a few of these historic racks around the facilities—a nice, constant reminder of the history behind the age-old méthode champenoise sparkling winemaking method employed here at R&R.

Today, riddling is not as laborious a task as twisting each bottle incrementally on a wooden rack. But the process is just as involved and complex.

Check out this video of riddling taking place in one of our very own, custom-designed VLMs (which stands for “Very Large Machine” which periodically shifts the bottles over a period of three to seven days until the lees rest in the neck and are ready to be disgorged:


Each of these machines is able to riddle 8 cages each holding 576 sparkling wine bottles. So, each riddling machine can riddle 4608 bottles at once! At approximately four pounds per bottle, that's 18,432 pounds.

We’d love to share more of our story and let you experience the magic of sparkling winemaking firsthand. Click to contact us and request a winery tour!

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Watch the ABC7 Segment on Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Calling all wine enthusiasts! You won't want to miss this ABC segment all about Rack & Riddle's custom crush winemaking facility, processes and a tasting with our winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster!

We enjoyed touring the winemaking facilities, showing Days with Zahrah the involved process behind sparkling winemaking. Together we visited Breathless Wines' tasting room in Alexander Valley, where winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster led an educational tasting of a flight of sparkling wines.

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services was featured on ABC7. We toured the custom crush facilities and discussed our private label wine program.