Celebrating With Napa and Sonoma Bubblies
by Paula Philipps
From the first pop of the cork to the final clink of the glasses during a ceremonial toast, champagne and sparkling wine evoke feelings of well-being, success and happiness. It is said that champagne enhances moods, elevates spirits and unites people who come together to celebrate the most important events in their lives.
The term “champagne” is legally protected to mean only sparkling wine produced in the namesake region. Sparkling wines not produced in the Champagne region of France often have the term “sparkling wine” on their labels. Champagne is a single appellation d'origine contrôlée. Grapes must be white chardonnay, red pinot noir or pinot meunier. Champagnes made exclusively from chardonnay grapes are known as blanc de blancs, and those made exclusively from red grapes are blanc de noirs.
Fermentation occurs when natural sugar in the grapes is converted into alcohol. Carbon dioxide escapes and the base wine product is blended with other wines, yeast and a small amount of sugar. When producing champagne, a secondary fermentation occurs and carbon dioxide is trapped inside the bottle. The amount of sugar added will determine the pressure within the bottle.
After aging for a minimum of one and a half to three years, the bottles undergo riddling, when they are rotated a small amount each day. Sediment collected in the neck of each bottle is removed during disgorgement. Automated disgorgement is created by freezing a small amount of the liquid in the neck of the bottle and removing the plug of ice containing the sediment. A cork is then inserted with a capsule and a wire cage that holds the cork in place.
Bubbles occur after the initial burst of effervescence when the champagne contacts a dry glass. Once thought to be “the work of the devil,” the bubbles are released from the pressure created in the bottle, causing a minor “explosion,” or pop of the cork.
Five premium makers of California sparkling wine that use the traditional French Methode Champenoise are located in the Carneros and Napa Valley regions. They include Mumm Napa, Gloria Ferrar, Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros and Schramsberg. Each of these makers offers a uniquely different view of the Northern California grape-growing region. Each is located in a beautiful setting, most with terraces set among rolling vineyard hills.
Domaine Carneros, located in the Carneros region of Napa, was founded by Champagne Taittinger of France. The Chateau-style winery, with its impressive flights of outdoor staircases is modeled after the chateaus in France 's Loire Valley. Visitors can choose sparkling wines and pinot noir, accompanied by cheese, fruit and seafood plates designed to compliment the wines. Sitting in the Domaine Carneros tasting room, warmed in the winter by a great stone-carved fireplace, is a blissful way to spend an afternoon while enjoying the spectacular Carneros vineyard views. The terrace and tasting area are also available for special event wine tastings, and many newly-married couples have had their wedding portraits taken on the chateau steps.
Mumm Napa Valley , located near the town of Rutherford , offers visitors the opportunity to view changing collections of photographs and artwork in addition to sampling world-renowned sparkling wines. Owned by the French champagne house of the same name, Mumm sparkling wines include pinot meunier, cuvee, blanc de blanc, DVX rose, and brut prestige in a variety of price ranges, along with a listing of recommended “wedding wines.” Mumm Napa also has the distinction of being able to offer a beautiful setting for wine country wedding events. Liz Mercer, special events director, can arrange group tastings and provide activities for out-of-town guests. The online wedding planner concierge service helps couples pair the right sparkling wine with the food to be served at their wedding reception or other special event.
Schramsberg Vineyards, near Calistoga, features miles of wine tunnels, which visitors can tour. Hand riddling is still practiced here. The winery is set on a property that features a Victorian home built in the 1800s and which is designated as a state historical landmark. Jamie and the late Jack Davies purchased Schramsberg more than 35 years ago. It continues to be a family-owned and operated sparkling wine house, producing blanc de blanc, blanc de noirs, brut and others.
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