If Champagne, France is the king of bubbly, then California may be next in line to the throne, with dazzling sparkling wines being produced throughout the state. It’s no surprise that Sonoma tops the list of heirs apparent, since it benefits from foggy mornings, cool misty nights and occasional sea breezes — the perfect climate for growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, two of true champagne’s key varietals.
Sonoma boasts excellent sparkling wine producers and more and more Sonoma wineries are turning out bubbly on a level with their royal French relatives. There are fewer restrictions on California sparkling winemakers, giving them more creative freedom, plus they’ve been able to build upon what has worked well for centuries in Champagne and give it their own innovative twist. Most of their sparkling wines are made in the traditional methode Champenoise and are expressive of distinctive vineyard sites and terroir –the perfect effervescent distillation of time and place.
Here are seven wineries that have especially delicious bubbly – but there are plenty more:
Iron Horse Vineyards – The Cold War Peacemaker
Iron Horse’s sparkling wine gained worldwide attention in 1985 when American President Ronald Reagan served it to Mikail Gorbachev at the summits that ended the Cold War — and their fine bubbly has been served at the White House ever since. But the winery’s casual open-air bar and picnic table-graced terraces overlooking rolling hills of vineyards are about as far from white-gloved formality as you can get. If you happen to miss the oyster bar featuring local Tomales Bay bivalves, you can still feel close to the sea thanks to the Ocean Reserve bubbly they make in partnership with National Geographic – for every bottle sold a donation is made to ocean conservation.
Thomas George Estates – Wine Caves and Vehicle Tours
In 2010, atmospheric caves were built into a hillside to function as a barrel aging facility and additional tasting area. Book a sensuous Library Tasting in the cave or an outdoor Bocce Ball and Wine experience or Wine Safari Tour in a vintage jeep where you sip a single estate sparkling blanc de noirs and picnic on a ridge overlooking the vineyards. Best of all, you can stay on property in one of three Craftsman-style rental cottages. The biggest – a three-bedroom – has its own private swimming pool.
Inman Family Wines – The One-Woman Show
Owner/winemaker Kathleen Inman’s single vineyard rosés and sparkling wines keep getting more and more attention for their quality, and her approach to natural winemaking, careful farming, and environmentally responsible business practices make her one of the most respected winemakers in Sonoma. Try to reserve the “Meet the Ma
Buena Vista Winery — West Coast Winery Pioneer with a Flashy French Overlay
Founded by the father of the California wine industry in 1857, this winery’s new owner, French wine family icon Jean-Charles Boisset, has done an especially artful job of restoring its original stone buildings. From the outside it’s all California-history gravitas, but if you opt for a sparkling wine tasting, you’ll be a world apart inside their Bubble Lounge, where Liberace glitter and Versailles excess meets a steam-punked Salvadore Dali style. It’s a flashy new-world take on a tasting room but the winery’s outstanding bubbly is all old-world delicious – and some of it is true champagne made in France.
Gloria Ferrer Caves and Winery – Spanish Flair Meets Cali style
The Ferrers came from Barcelona to Sonoma in 1987 and built a winery and tasting room inspired by a classic Catalan farmhouse, only bigger. Part of Spain’s Freixenet cava family, today their California sparkling wines have won hundreds of awards. You can book tastings and tours, enjoy their bubbles by the glass, or sign up for fizz and food pairings like Bubbles and Bites or Tapas on the Terrace.
Benovia Winery – Small Footprint, Big Wine Impact
A treasure of a small winery, Benovia is known for its stellar chardonnay and pinot noir, but recently its classy sparklers – first a 2012 blanc de blancs and then a 2015 blanc de noirs – have been so well received that sparkling wine is in regular production and their 2017 blanc de blancs is the latest to be released. As you study your glass of tiny bubbles in the tasting room you’ll look out at the very vineyards where the grapes used in their sparkling wine are grown.
J Vineyards and Winery – Fine Fizz and Fresh Food
Book a food and fizz pairing in the Bubble Room so you can enjoy a few of the 20 different kinds of sparkling wines J produces. The winery’s executive chef and winemaker have combined forces and created a sumptuous five-course meal paired with five perfect sparkling accompaniments.