This is the question we went round and round about during our most recent dosage trial for our Sparkling Syrah. In fact, this was our second dosage trial for this wine because during the first trial, we all agreed that the color of the wine was too light. The colors of all our sparkling rosé wines vary a little from year to year. Nevertheless, the Sparkling Syrah is typically cranberry in color.
This one was more of a coral color. It’s beautiful in the glass and the flavors are delightful. It just looks different than what we or our members are used to. So, after our first trial, winemaker Ashley Herzberg decided to go back and try adding a small amount of still Syrah to the dosage. She brought a 1% and a 2% addition. We all liked the look of the 2% addition in the bottle. It was still a bit lighter than usual and leaned more toward coral than cranberry, but it was closer to the color we’ve all come to expect.
That was the 2010 vintage, before the other members of our team had joined us. Ashley, Mike and I remember it well. The “dark year” was alluring in the bottle but to our taste, it had just a little too much of the earthy flavor of Syrah. We love that flavor in the red Syrah. In our sparkling rosé we want a brighter, more fruit forward flavor.
OK, so back to the dosage trial. After seeing the colors of the two different additions in the bottle, it was time to pour and taste. We poured the 1% and 2% additions and looked at them side by side. In the glass, the differences in color were more subtle, although all of us preferred the color of the 2%. Now for the tasting. As soon as we tasted I got that hint of earthy Syrah in both samples. I didn’t want to say anything but then Ashley mentioned it. We decided we needed to go back and try the original without any added Syrah.
We were all blown away with how much fresher and fruitier it tasted, with bright bubbles on the tongue. The Syrah addition had weighed the wine down a little. The wind went out of our sails because we loved the taste of the original and preferred the color of the 2% addition.
A lively discussion ensued about how much fun it is to do a tasting for our guests and start with a splash of our Blanc de Blanc, then proceed to one of the lighter rosés and then unveil the cranberry colored Sparkling Syrah. We call it “joy in a bottle” and it brings a festive note to, not only to a tasting, but to any occasion or dinner table.
Then we had an in-depth conversaton about our club members. We have many who have been members for years and they remember the colors of our different sparkling rosés. That is in part because all our sparkling wines are bottled in flint (clear) glass, so the color is visible. The other is that we have several rosés – many sparkling houses have only one. We’ve made a point to craft them so they each have a slightly different color. Now our members have come to expect that. Did something we featured come back to bite us?
From a winemaker’s perspective, achieving just the right color is no small feat. First, you don’t always have complete control of how much time the grapes stay on the skins, which is what imparts the color. Second, sometimes you get just the right color when you press the fruit and then it falls out when you disgorge the wine. You can adjust the color by adding some of the still red wine during the dosage, but that may change the flavor profile.
It was unanimous. Taste wins over color. As much as we wanted the deeper, cranberry color, we just couldn’t sacrifice taste. Perhaps it’s not the cranberry color that makes our Sparkling Syrah “joy in a bottle”. I’m convinced that in a blind taste test, the joy would come from the bright, fresh picked strawberry flavors with a hint of citrus that bursts on the tongue.
Treat yourself to a little "joy in a bottle". Try our sparkling wines and Rhône varieties. Come Taste With Us!
I just read an excellent article titled “How three widows came to rule Champagne” about the women who created some of Champagne’s most lauded empires. Although women were restricted from owning a business without the permission of their husband or father in 19th century France, widows were exempt from this rule.
“Some of the biggest innovations of Champagne came down to the ingenuity of several women…Barbe-Nicole Clicquot-Ponsardin, Louise Pommery and Lily Bollinger – among others – to turn vineyards into empires and ultimately transform the Champagne industry, permanently changing how it's made and marketed,” writes Lily Radziemski in BBC.com's World’s Table.
It is good to be reminded of some of the bold actions of these three Champagne widows such as running the blockade into Russia to beat her biggest competitor to market before the borders opened, dramatically reducing the dosage (residual sugar) in her Champagne from the typical 300 grams per liter to what is now called Brut (12 grams or less) to appeal to the British market, or traveling alone across the U.S. to hand sell her Champagne to the American market.
I’m inspired by these women who ignored what was considered acceptable for women at the time and daringly stepped in to manage and ultimately transform the businesses they inherited. “The independence and creativity of the three widows paved the way for generations of women to come,” explains Radziemski.
The conversations I have with women leaders in sparkling wine prove her point. I continue to be inspired by the women who are blazing new trails in today’s business world. I enjoy the great privilege of having in-depth conversations with some of today’s female leaders in sparkling wine through my new project, Sparkling Discoveries. [We include men as well, but given that March is Women’s History Month, my focus is on women in this post].
Eileen Crane was hired as the winemaker for Gloria Ferrer, the first sparkling winery in Carneros, and discovered that in addition to making the wines, she would be responsible for constructing the winery and visitor center and launching the new brand. She went on to lead Domaine Carneros, starting one of the first wine clubs, pioneering the installation of solar at a winery and practicing “open book management.”
Penny Gadd-Coster became a sparkling winemaker after two previous careers – one in research and the other in hospital emergency rooms. She was told countless times that she could never become a winemaker because, “People didn’t think women should be in the cellar. The work was too physical,” explains Penny. She went on to be the Executive Director of Winemaking at Rack and Riddle, a custom wine services operation that produces wines for hundreds of sparkling wine houses.
Joy Sterling, owner of Iron Horse Vineyards, had a successful career in broadcast journalism until on her 10th anniversary she abruptly quit her job and moved to Sonoma County with no plan and no experience, to join her family’s sparkling wine business. She has become a master at creating new sparkling wines, often contributing part of the proceeds to causes that are dear to her heart such as the Marine Mammal Center (Ocean Reserve) and Redwood Empire Food Bank (Gratitude).
And speaking of close to the heart, I am fortunate to work alongside our woman winemaker at Amista, Ashley Herzberg, for the last 12 years and counting! She a trailblazer when it comes to winemaking, being the first woman to make a “grower sparkling wine” in Dry Creek Valley. She also manages to juggle being a busy winemaker, harvesting from multiple vineyards, working in several production facilities, making still and sparkling wines and attending numerous wine events, with being a dedicated mom to her two children. I am especially inspired by how she weaves together her work, her family, her friends and her community into a seamless life of constant learning, passion and delight.
Ashley and I are honored and proud to be part of a growing community of wineries in Sonoma County that are female led with female winemakers.
Read “How three widows came to rule Champagne”
Check out more Sparkling Conversations with other interesting people from the world of sparkling wine.
The very first sparkling wine we made was from a Rhône grape – a Sparkling Syrah – and we’ve been making it since 2008. Technically it is a rosé of Syrah because it spends only a few hours on the skins before being pressed off. It is a gorgeous cranberry color. It’s festive. It shimmers in the glass. I call it ‘joy in a bottle’.
But Winemaker Ashley Herzberg wasn't so sure. She received two bottles as a gift from my husband Mike before she became our winemaker. She stuck it in her closet thinking it would be icky and sweet. One night she pulled it out to serve to her girlfriends - a good way to get rid of it. They immediately started raving about it, so she took a taste. She became a convert and has been making and sipping “joy" ever since.
Our current release has aromas of black cherry, roasted strawberries and cream, toasted almonds and a hint of ruby red grapefruit zest. The front palate is bright and filled with berry notes. The finish has great acidity and balance with a slight savory character that makes it deliciously food friendly. The finish is beautiful and lingering.
One thing we’ve learned about Rhône-style wines is that they pair beautifully with a wide array of foods. The Sparkling Syrah is a perfect example. It is especially at its best with spicy foods, from Thai, to Indian to Mexican. It is also right at home on a holiday table because it has enough body to stand up to the vast assortment of flavors that are part of the feast and provides a refreshing counterpoint to the rich dishes that are typical of holiday celebrations.
Winemaker Ashley says the most interesting pairing she has had with a sparkling wine was the Sparkling Syrah with Peking duck roasted in a wood burning oven. “I was surprised because I don't love duck. It's not my cup of tea, but the Sparkling Syrah cut through the richness of the duck and just sort of brought it to another level and I was like, oh, duck needs something acidic to brighten the flavors,” explained Ashley.
Syrah was among the first wines we made when we launched Amista Vineyards. It has always played a big role in our wine program. We planted Syrah on our estate Morningsong Vineyards in 2000, and although we didn’t have much experience drinking Syrah, we quickly fell in love. It is a very drinkable wine without the heavy tannins of a Cabernet or the big jammy flavors or a Zin.
In 2011 we added two more Rhône varietals to our estate vineyards, Grenache and Mourvèdre. That enabled us to produce a Grenache, a Mourvèdre and a Rhône-style blend we called Tres, to stand beside our flagship Syrah. Tres was our first blend and it quickly became my husband Mike’s favorite, and my second favorite after anything sparkling! Tres is the wine I would take to a dinner party knowing that it would please any palate and drink well with nearly any dish.
So, you can see that we came to plant, make and love red Rhône varietals. But winemaker Ashley and I love bubbles and she wanted to make sparkling wine from the Grenache. I was all in! I can still remember the first taste of the still Grenache rosé that would eventually become a sparkling wine. Ashley took it right from the tank and the wine was gorgeous in the glass – a pink blush color – and even more gorgeous to taste. We both knew immediately that this would be an incredible sparkling wine. Wine Business Monthly agreed, selecting it as one of 10 Hot Brands the year it debuted.
Today we have five sparkling wines made in whole or in part from Rhône varieties. In addition to our Sparkling Syrah, which has become a cult favorite, and our Sparkling Grenache, which sells out every year, we have Sparkling Mataró (made from 100% Mourvèdre grapes), Sparkling Tres (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) and Fusión (a blend of Chardonnay – which is not a Rhône grape – with Syrah and Grenache).
Treat yourself and explore our Rhône-style sparkling wines.
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