Winemaker Ashley Herzberg and I had the pleasure of sitting down in the KSRO studio with Jeff Davis to talk about the Amista Vineyards story and our sparkling wines. We are proud to be the only estate-grown sparkling wine house in Healdsburg, so we were excited to talk about our bubbles.
Turns out Jeff had other plans. He made us wait until the second half of the program! I won’t make you wait. I will save the Amista story for another blog post and dive right into exploring our collection of Amista sparkling wines.
Yes, Ashley and I both adore sparkling wines. There’s something joyous about sipping a glass of bubbles. I don’t believe in saving it for a special occasion. In fact, popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly makes any moment – or meal – more special. I know Ashley shares my love of sparkling wine, although I suspect she loves making it even more.
Ashley talked about making sparkling wine, which she had not done until joining Amista in 2011. “It’s really a unique process. I had never worked with sparkling wines before Amista. It was a learning curve and it’s been great. It’s been amazing.” She admits that there was a bit to learn. “Once I got over the fear of the unknown - when do I pick? when are they ripe? what am I looking for? - once I got over that part, it’s been amazing and so much fun."
Ashley explained that at Amista we use the traditional method, Methode Champenoise, for making sparkling wines and the grapes are picked earlier around 19 brix (a measure of the sugar content in the grapes) which is about 5 brix earlier than for still wine.
Picking earlier means the grapes have a nice acidity, and the lower sugar translates into a lower alcohol level in the wine. This is important because if the alcohol is too high the yeast does not ferment in the bottle – the alcohol kills it. And it’s that reaction of the sugar and the yeast that creates the bubbles in a sparkling wine.
Yes, and that was BA - Before Ashley. We harvested it in 2008. It was a happy experiment that launched our foray into sparkling wines.
Jeff had stopped by our tasting room in Dry Creek Valley the day before our interview to pick up a bottle of our Sparkling Syrah. He had it chilled and waiting to share with his wife when she arrived home. She didn’t show up right away and he just couldn’t wait any longer. "I had to pop the cork (I know the feeling). Sparkling Syrah is such a beautiful wine. It just says holidays."
Yes. Blanc de Blanc was our second sparkling wine. Chardonnay is one of the classic grapes used to make Champagne. Ashley and I conspired to make it only months after she came on board as our winemaker in 2011. That’s when I knew we had a common passion for bubbles.
We also have Rhone varieties, all grown in our estate Morningsong Vineyards, so we make sparkling wines from those grapes. Ashley and I love to use non-traditional grapes. The classic grapes used in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Since we specialize in red Rhône varieties, we decided to try making Rhône sparkling wines. Each one has turned out to be a pleasant and delicious surprise.
Ashley explained, “All our sparkling wines are low dosage (which means they are dry) and super food friendly. We were the first winery in Dry Creek Valley to make estate grown sparkling wines. We’ve been doing it for a long time.”
Jeff asked about our Sparkling Fusión, wondering if it is our version of a Blanc de Noir. The answer is yes, although it breaks with tradition, once again. The classic Blanc de noir is made from pinot noir grapes that are not pressed with the skins, resulting in a white wine made from red grapes, thus the name, which means white from red.
The Amista Sparkling Fusión is a blend made mostly from Chardonnay grapes (usually 80%) with a small amount of Syrah and Grenache. Sometimes we use Mourvèdre instead of Syrah. I suppose we should call it a Blanc de Blanc et Blanc de Noir, but that didn’t fit on the label, so we named it Fusión. Of course, fusion means the process of joining things together. That’s why I love to give it as a wedding or engagement gift or serve it at reunions.
Speaking of Mourvèdre, Jeff was also curious about our Sparkling Mataró, made from 100% Mourvèdre grapes. We first made it in 2016 – just 33 cases. Typically, Mourvèdre is a blending wine but being non-traditional, we made our first single varietal - still not sparkling - Mourvèdre in 2012.
It was quite popular so we thought it would be fun to try as a sparkling wine. Ashley says, “It’s become one of my favorites. It’s intensely fruit toned with nice acidity.” We had it the other night with a seafood paella, and it was beautiful.
Another wine in our collection of sparkling gems is Sparkling Grenache. This was Ashley’s innovation. She first harvested it in 2013 and we both fell in love with the delicate pink color. It tasted even better thank it looked, and Wine Business Monthly selected it as one of 10 Hot Brands from across America in 2017.
Next year, will we have one more sparkling wine to add to our growing portfolio. We will release a Sparkling Tres to our wine club members in February 2022. We have been making a red Rhône blend we call Tres from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre since 2012. We made our first Rosé de Tres in 2018. Making a sparkling Tres was inevitable!
Jeff raved about our tasting room, “It’s just fantastic, such a cool, wide-open space. And right now, it’s so festive, with a Christmas tree in the middle, all the way up to the roof and all those white sparkling lights shining on the bottles so they look like they’re glowing.”
When it’s warm enough, we have a beautiful new solar patio, which is a wonderful place to sip wines surrounded by the vineyards with gorgeous Dry Creek Valley views. The solar covered patio also provides all our electricity, part of our on-going commitment to sustainability.
One of the main reasons our guests seek us out, is our sparkling wine tasting, one of the few in an area best known for Zinfandel. Or you can enjoy a Taste of Amista that showcases a mix of wines, from our estate-grown Chardonnay and Rhône reds to a Dry Creek Zinfandel or Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon. Healdsburg is a popular place to visit and we have something for every palate.
One of the things Jeff highlighted was that there’s always a splash of color in the tasting room thanks to Carole Watanabe whose art hangs on the walls. Carole often joins us for events. She has a glass of wine in one hand and a paint brush in the other, chatting with people the whole time, all while creating an amazing piece of art.
Yes, and it’s extremely popular. We partnered with the Sonoma County Winegrowers to create a self-guided tour of the property, complete with a map and signs at each stop explaining the varieties of grapes we grow, a majestic 200-year-old oak tree and the backwater pond which is another part of our commitment to sustainability.
The Dry Creek Restoration Project redeveloped the habitat for the endangered Coho salmon and Steelhead trout. The walk is free and great for families with kids and dogs to be out in the fresh air and learn about farming in Sonoma County.
Jeff wrapped up by encouraging people to visit dog-friendly Amista Vineyards on Dry Creek Road, just outside of Healdsburg in Sonoma County, California.
Listen to the entire segment on KSRO with Jeff Davis On the Wine Road Live – Amista Vineyards.
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