Client Spotlight: 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.
Bubbly has become a mainstay, as, “the gems in the crown” of Amista’s still and sparkling wines, says Vicky Farrow.
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 (Penny Gadd-Coster, Executive Director of Winemaking here 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 Season with Amista
Amista is often the first of Rack & Riddle’s 150-plus custom crush clients to bring grapes in at harvest time. 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.
“It’s so 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.
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.”
Working Together Throughout the Process
Throughout the winemaking process at Rack & Riddle, Amista enjoys the open-door policy and ability to oversee their project and make key decisions. “It’s 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.”
You can visit Amista Vineyard’s tasting room and try their amazing sparkling wines at:
3320 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.