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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
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.

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
Penelope Gadd-Coster
April 15, 2016 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

In The Vineyard: Spring

With the arrival of spring, we winemakers find ourselves in the midst of full-blown prep and maintenance out in the vineyards, barreling toward harvest 2016! Signifying new beginnings, spring is the perfect time to launch the first of my “In the Vineyard” series. In this series of columns, I’ll be sharing my observations and what’s currently happening in the vineyard for my winery Coral Mustang at my home in Cloverdale, where I grow nine different red varietals. As I prep for harvest 2016, I look forward to checking back in with you throughout the year to share photos and interesting occurrences among the vines.

Let me back up to set the stage. Last year Mother Nature wreaked havoc on my vineyards. While yields were low across Sonoma County, I was even less fortunate—my vines suffered from Millerandage, also known as “hens and chicks,” a fruit-set defect where underdeveloped and fully developed berries appear in the same cluster. With only a dozen berries per cluster on my vines—harvest was impossible at Coral Mustang. In my 30 years I’d never seen anything like it. Looking back at bloom I realized there had been two blooms—in my mind it was one very long bloom! This was due to weather conditions and the vines being determined to produce fruit no matter how cool the weather or how little water they had. Survival was the name of the game. After bloom things didn’t look too bad… Then the hens and chicks clusters became more evident with time, and with more chicks than hens.

From the lessons of last harvest, I am leery of saying what 2016 will bring as bloom has not happened yet. This year, I’m hopeful for a 2016 crop, but also in “wait and see” mode. At this point, all nine different varietals in my vineyard have undergone bud break, after a warmer than usual winter. This is about average timing for the vineyard, which sits at an elevation of 800 feet above sea level.

About two months ago I began late-pruning my vines, mainly because I couldn’t get into the vineyard before that due to El Niño—there was muck up to my waist! Full-on leafing was happening on the tips of the vines; I was concerned about extensive bleeding and the risks that can present, like odd molds or microbial issues; special paint can be used, but I’m not a fan. I decided to try a biodynamic farming trick on the recommendation of some of my vineyard workers. We pruned on the full moon—this was during the King tides, when the tides are especially high. It worked! As the vines were being pruned there was little to no bleeding. Even with the full leafing on my Tempranillo vines, there was no bleeding. I thought for sure there was going to be a mess, but with no bleeding, I haven’t seen any mold or microbial growth. I will be remembering this technique for the future.

Last week I started the suckering process as the vines are growing pretty fast at this point and without being diligent they can get out of hand quickly with growth between spurs, extra growth on spurs and growth on the trunks—craziness ensues. For me this will become a biweekly event for the next couple of months. But caution is the key at this point as frost can still occur.

Cabernet Block after 1st suckering. You can see it is not as far along as the Tempranillo in growth.

Tempranillo before 1st suckering.

Tempranillo after 1st suckering.

I wish I had taken photos last year to see what the difference might be at this point due to the increased water from El Niño. But from the snapshot in my head, I do not recall the same vigor that I am seeing today.

All I can say at this point is so far, so good—but then I say that every year! Until the next chapter in the series, cheers and happy grape growing!

P.S. If you’re looking for a home for your grapes this year, 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. Turn-around-time from order to finished case goods is an average of just three months. Email Rack & Riddle or call anytime to discuss your needs: 707-433-8400

Penny, named “Winemaker of the Year” in the North Bay Business Journal’s inaugural Wine Industry Awards, is a renowned winemaker with 30 years of experience in sparkling and still wines. Penny and Rack & Riddle’s team of 80 industry experts are the trusted providers of grape-to-bottle, base-to-bottle and private label shiner offerings to a wide variety of clientele—producers both large and small. If you would like more information, please contact us at 707-433-8400 or visit “Working for R&R has given me the opportunity to be an integral part of a growing company that is being built from the ground up, just like my career.”

Penelope Gadd-Coster
March 28, 2016 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

What to Do in Your Winery Now

With the 2015 vintage tucked away, buds breaking and harvest 2016 looming, now is the ideal time to get prepped for OND, the famous acronym for October, November and December that we in the wine industry have come to recognize as our key selling opportunity. I’d like to outline some processes that small or large winemaking operations can put in place to be ready for the rush—both end-of-year and in future years to come.

Know your grape needs
Get your grape contracts in order; they should be finalized at this point, along with projections. Are you increasing your production or decreasing production? If it’s a bumper crop what will you do with the excess juice if you haven’t planned for it in your program? Contingencies for adding an extra project or bolstering a current one are great to have in place in the unpredictable world of grape growing. Last year was the perfect example—a lot of wineries didn’t have enough grapes, and some wineries had no grapes. If your sales projections hinge on a certain tonnage, a contingency plan and relationships allowing you to go on the bulk market are crucial. Having a conversation early in the year with a wine broker like Turrentine—even if it’s just a backup plan—is ideal.

Craft a plan with short-term and long-term projections
While you adjust your plan for this year’s OND period, always be thinking three and four years down the line to determine your growth and projections; ensure your winemaking team works hand-in-hand with your sales department so you can manage your grape expectations. No pun intended. Populate a spreadsheet with metrics that the whole team shares, with blue sky and black sky scenarios. A simple spreadsheet or project portfolio management program works well. Track and measure how quickly you’re selling products, what the qualities of the wines were, tonnage and juice projections, and compare with past years’ sales and outcomes to make the best predictions, then adjust your bottling schedules accordingly.

As winemakers, we sometimes focus in on our grapes, not always keeping in mind that there are other teams who have to be involved in decisions. If sales and marketing wants to grow by 10 percent, and winemaking is on the other side saying, “hmm, we’re not going to make that,” it’s integral to do away with these separate silos of information, make everything transparent and schedule periodic meetings to keep all teams informed.

Here’s a snapshot of a great example spreadsheet that we use at Rack & Riddle, the idea courtesy of Charlie Tsegeletos of Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards’ Director of Winemaking:

Gauging your needs, measuring your outcomes, and having contingencies in place—while keeping your winemaking operations swift and unfettered by meaningless data or meetings—will save you from feeling flat-footed once harvest is said and done. So, let’s raise a glass to getting more organized and prepared in 2016!

P.S. If you’re looking for a home for your grapes this year, remember we offer full-service custom crush for both sparkling and still wines. We also offer a wide selection in our sparkling private label wine program. The beauty of the sparkling shiner program is turn-around from order to finished case goods is an average of just three months. Give me a call anytime to discuss your needs, we’d be happy to help! 707-433-8400

Penny Gadd-Coster, named “Winemaker of the Year” in the North Bay Business Journal’s inaugural Wine Industry Awards, is a renowned winemaker with 30 years of experience in sparkling and still wines. Penny and Rack & Riddle’s team of 80 industry experts are the trusted providers of grape-to-bottle, base-to-bottle and private label shiner offerings to a wide variety of clientele—producers both large and small. If you would like more information, please contact us at 707-433-8400 or visit “Working for R&R has given me the opportunity to be an integral part of a growing company that is being built from the ground up, just like my career.”


Penelope Gadd-Coster
October 28, 2015 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

Harvest 2015 Round-Up

With the sparkling winegrape harvest finished over a month ago, and the still varietals also winding down, it’s time to reflect on harvest 2015. This grape growing season and harvest was unlike any I’ve seen in my 30 years as a winemaker. It started with the unusual weather patterns. First, an unprecedented drought of four years impacted the vines, and then in the spring, a heat spell followed by a cool spell caused the berries to first bloom, then re-bloom. Typically bloom takes a couple of weeks, but this year it lasted a month, a phenomenon I’ve never seen before. One of those blooms didn’t germinate and produce fruit—that may be why it second bloomed, in a last-ditch effort to reproduce, if you will.

Fortunately, the Carneros appellation in Sonoma where we source most of our grapes for the Rack & Riddle brand seemed to weather the changes fairly well. And with few hills, the vines didn’t suffer the same drought issues of other areas; even though the soil in the Carneros region drains well, what rain we did receive was allowed to soak in and not just become runoff as you see with hillside-planted vines. We were still down 20 percent in yields, but with the average for other areas of Sonoma County being 30-40 percent down, we lucked out.

Many other areas of the county were not so fortunate—my own vineyard at my home in Cloverdale, in the Alexander Valley appellation, yielded zero grapes this harvest. Ninety percent of the clusters were green berries that never ripened. A recent article from Wine Spectator shows a perfect example of this phenomenon, known as Millerandage, or "hens and chicks," a fruit-set defect where underdeveloped and fully developed berries appear in the same cluster. The article shows an image of a cluster where about 50 percent is comprised of hard, green berries. In my case, when only a dozen berries per cluster are ripe, harvest is impossible. This is no doubt the disappointing side to farming, when you put so much time, money and effort into your vineyards, but reap nothing.

While the yields were low, overall the quality was good. But if you were one of those who just didn’t have the yields necessary to harvest, this would be the perfect year to dive into the bulk market. As a custom crush facility, we are seeing many people who wanted to bring in a varietal for a special project unable to because of low yields—many of those people are planning some fun blends instead, or taking advantage of the limited-release bubblies we have available in our private label wine program. Custom dosage, differing aging times en tirage and custom packaging/labeling means you can present a new sparkling label unique to your brand in very little time. It’s typically just three months turn-around on average from start to finish—from obtaining label approval and printing, to labeling and packing in cases, ready to ship. This can be a rewarding project to pursue on down years such as this one.

Looking ahead, my hope is that next year picks up. These years tend to flip flop, so the chances are next year is going to be an average crop. Here’s hoping. Meanwhile, good luck to all as you craft this season’s blends, perhaps challenging, but that’s why we do this! I am looking forward to 2016, optimistically better weather, happier grapes, and revitalized winemakers as we may actually have a moment to reflect for a change. We made it through another harvest—cheers!

Check out our photo gallery of Harvest 2015!

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
Penelope Gadd-Coster
December 9, 2009 | Penelope Gadd-Coster

Harvest is Over - And a Great One it Was!

Been far too long without writing, but we have been hoppin' here at Rack and Riddle. Grapes started coming in for sparkling Aug 8, and we finished Nov.13th. In general the grapes looked good and the wines are coming along beautifully. Now the real work is ahead- getting the reds through malolactic fermentation, getting the whites and sparklers cold stable and ready to bottle after the new year, filtering, blending, crafting- there is not down time in winemaking that I know of, there is always something happening.

This years harvest season also included bottling, disgorging of bubbly, and some travel. The bottling line is fully functional- yippee! Screwcaps, corks, burgundy glass, bordeaux glass, tapered glass, the list goes on.

In terms of sparkling winemaking, we have been disgorging the beautiful bubblies that we made here which include a Brut, Blanc de Blanc, and a Rose' - all from Mendocino County. Give us a call if you want some for your tasting room or special event.

Generally travel is not even contemplated during the harvest rush, but this year was the exception. We had the opportunity to represent US winemaking along with Family Winemakers of California in Hong Kong for a huge wine trade show. What an incredible experience and a wake up call that we have a lot of work to do if we want to compete with the European market there.

The wines are calling me back, gotta go for now - Penny, the Mustang Winemaker

Time Posted: Dec 9, 2009 at 10:38 AM