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Amista Vineyards

Sparkling Moments in Wine

I have been asked lots of questions about owning a winery after spending so many years in the corporate world. Here are some of the stories of my journey into wine that have added sparkling moments to my life.

Vicky Farrow
 
August 4, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

What is Blanc de Blancs?

A Sparkling White Wine Made from White Grapes

Amista-Blanc-de-Blanc-Among-Grapevines-Healdsburg-California

…typically, Chardonnay

 

First, I must confess that our Amista Blanc de Blanc is the bubbly I drink most often. It marks the end of my workday and the beginning of the evening. I pour a glass and either head for the back deck where my husband Mike and I throw the frisbee for our dogs and gaze out over the Chardonnay vines, or as we prepare dinner. He does the entrée. I do the salad.

White from Whites

But I digress. Blanc de Blancs, translated from French, means literally “white from whites”. The term originated in the Champagne region of France where the wine is nearly always made from 100% Chardonnay grapes.  This contrasts with most Champagne that is a blend of three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

How Does a Blanc de Blancs Taste?

Typically, a Blanc de Blancs from Champagne will be crisp and clean with a lively acidity and a touch of minerality, and in some cases a yeasty component developed during fermentation. However, the taste varies widely depending on the specific location the grapes were grown, the winemaker's style, the dosage (small amount of sugar added to the finished wine), and the amount of time the wine spends on the lees (the yeast). Wines that spend more time on the lees will have more of the yeasty character.

Is Blanc de Blancs made only in Champagne?

Today, sparkling wines are made around the world in all countries where wine is made and that goes for Blanc de Blancs. You can find lovely examples from elsewhere in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, England, South Africa and of course, here in the U.S. I suppose technically, Blanc de Blancs could be made from any white grape, but they are almost always made from Chardonnay following the French tradition.

Is Blanc de Blanc Sweet?

It’s usually dry. Fine Blanc de Blancs from Champagne and elsewhere in the world are typically on the dryer side, designated as Brut, Extra Brut or Brut Nature. The sweetness is determined by the amount of dosage (a mixture of wine and sugar) that is added to the sparkling wine just before the cork and cage are put on the bottle.

There are several levels of sweetness designated for Champagne and sparkling wines as measured by the number of grams per liter of sugar added.

    Doux - more than 50 grams of sugar per liter

    Demi-sec - 32-50 grams of sugar per liter

    Sec - 17-32 grams of sugar per liter

    Extra dry - 12-17 grams of sugar per liter

    Brut - less than 12 grams of sugar per liter

    Extra brut - 0-6 grams of sugar per liter

    Brut nature – 0 – 3 grams of sugar per liter

Our Amista sparkling wines are typically Extra brut or Brut Nature. We have found that most of our customers (and I) like our sparkling wines dry.

What Foods Pair with Blanc de Blancs?

In my book, almost everything! There are some classic pairings that are always wonderful like briny oysters on the half shell, crab cakes, grilled sea bass, and sole picatta. It is also lovely with hard cheeses – I especially love aged Parmesan – or as a counterpoint to soft triple cream cheeses.

It goes equally well with comfort foods, especially fried foods like fried chicken, French fries and Fritto Misto. It's perfect with grilled chicken, garden salads and light pasta dishes like linguine with pesto or fettucine alfredo.

I recently heard of another comfort food pairing from a friend that I can't wait to try. He had it with creamy potato soup and crusty homemade bread. He said “This totally worked with a glass of Blanc de Blancs. The Blanc was refreshing and balanced the richness of the soup."

For something more casual, pour a glass and take it to the pool with a bag of potato chips and some crème fraîche for dipping and you'll be happy. We like to serve it in our tasting room with freshly popped popcorn with a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of lemon herb salt.

Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible says, “Blanc de Blancs Champagne is the best wine ever for a hot summer night.” I agree with her, except I would not limit it to Blanc de Blancs made only in Champagne.

 

Amista Vineyards Blanc de Blanc with Apples LemonHow Does Amista Blanc de Blanc Taste?

Our Amista Blanc de Blanc (you may notice we use the singular “Blanc” – don’t ask me why), is always crisp, refreshing and bright. Although we don’t vintage date it, we make it from a single vintage, so it varies a bit from year to year. It typically has lemony notes with green apple and sometimes the flavors of Asian pear.

If you want to discover for yourself, please Come Taste with Us. We have several sparkling wines made in the classic Méthode Champenoise, as well as a collection of estate grown Rhône wines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vicky Farrow
 
July 7, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

Amista Uses Méthode Champenoise to Make Sparkling Wines

What is Méthode Champenoise?

 

Amista Vineyards Sparkling Tres  from Healdsburg California

What I’ve learned about it and what makes it special…

We made our first sparkling wine in 2008 and it’s been an amazing process of discovering how sparkling wine is made and how the process differs from making our reds, whites, and rosés. I always loved drinking sparkling wine, at least once I realized it could be dry and interesting and delicate. But I didn’t know how it got to be that way until we started making it ourselves. Today we make six estate grown sparkling wines!

What is Méthode Champenoise?

Méthode Champenoise or Méthode Traditionnelle is the process used to make French Champagne, as well as many other sparkling wines around the world. There are several methods for making sparkling wine and the method thought to produce the best sparkling wines is the traditional method.

In this method, the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in its own bottle. Unlike still wines that are fermented only once in tanks, barrels or other vessels, sparkling wines are fermented twice. The second fermentation is what makes the wine “sparkle”.

What is Secondary Fermentation in the Bottle?

After the initial fermentation, the sparkling wine is bottled with an additional mixture of sugar and yeast, called the liqueur de tirage. The sugar acts on the yeast producing carbon dioxide gas that is trapped in the bottle, thanks to a crown cap (like a bottle of beer). Quality sparkling wines are left on the yeast, or lees, for several months, sometimes years.

Does the Yeast Stay in the Bottle?

No, and this is another distinctive feature of the Méthode Champenoise. The reaction of the sugar and yeast produces carbon dioxide and dead yeast cells. The residual yeast cells are removed by a process called disgorgement.

What is Disgorgement?

I know, it isn’t exactly the most appealing word for such a beautiful wine. It sounds much better in the original French – dégorger. In disgorgement the dead yeast cells are propelled from the bottle when the crown cap is removed.

What is Riddling?

Prior to removal of the crown cap, the bottles are riddled, a process where the bottles are turned on their heads and slowly shifted each day until all the dead yeast cells are in the neck of the bottle. Then the neck is frozen creating an icy plug of the residual cells. When the crown cap is removed, the plug is forced from the bottle by the pressure of the carbon dioxide in the wine. It’s quite an ingenious process.

Riddling Racks in a Cave
Riddling Racks in a Cave

Riddling Cage with Amista Sparkling Fusión
Gyropallete Riddling Amista Fusión

The process can be done by hand by experienced “riddlers” with the bottles resting with the tops down in riddling racks. It’s more common today to accomplish riddling in huge cages that gently shake the wines on a daily schedule. Disgorgement can also be done by hand but is much faster and safer to do by machine. It’s fascinating to watch - providing you have on a pair of safety glasses and are standing behind the safety glass!

Why is Méthode Champenoise Preferred?

Fermenting the wines in their own bottle is what produces the fine bubbles that are coveted in the best Champagnes and sparkling wines. There are other methods of producing sparkling wines that are faster and less expensive, but do not produce the delicate bubbles and more complex flavors of a fine sparkling wine.

Want to treat yourself to our bubbles? Come Taste with Us! In addition to our collection of estate grown sparkling wines we also have a wonderful lineup of Rhône reds

Vicky Farrow
 
June 2, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

Wine and Food Festival Tips - Make It Magical!

My Top Ten Tips

Passport to Dry Creek Valley, Friends at Amista Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA

...based on 20 years of Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the premiere wine and food festival in Sonoma County

I know I’m hopelessly partial, but my favorite wine festival happens right here in Healdsburg, California – where we live.  It’s called Passport to Dry Creek Valley® and even before we lived here and started our own winery, we loved Passport.  Now we are hosts.  I’ve learned a lot about wine events over the years being on both sides and asking the veterans who attend year after year. 

Wine festivals can be magical weekends shared with a special person or a whole group of friends.  Here are my tips for how to make them remarkable.  But first…

 

What is a wine festival?

A wine festival is an event featuring wine tasting from many wineries all included for a single ticket.  The event often showcases a wine growing region or varietal.  I am partial to the ones that also include food.  And I love the chance to meet the winemaker and owners.

There are two main formats.  The first takes place all in one location. The second enables participants to travel from winery to winery. 

Wine & Food Festival, Passport to Dry Creek at Amista Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA

The focus of this post will be on events where participants visit the wineries.  This is my clear choice since you can discover the personality of each winery by seeing it in its natural habitat – whether it be a warehouse, an urban storefront or surrounded by vineyards and breathtaking views. 

 

Festive Passport to Dry Creek Valley at Amista Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA

So Why Go to a Wine Festival?

The logical reason is that it’s an opportunity to visit and taste the wines of many wineries with just one ticket.  But for me, the real draw is that these events are elevated from the everyday and have a festive atmosphere, which makes the perfect inspiration for a memorable getaway weekend.  

Most festivals also include something you won't find by visiting at other times, special wine and food pairings, entertainment, education, barrel tastings, opportunities to meet the winemakers and owners, or access to wineries not generally open for tasting.

 

Here are my Top 10 Tips

1. Choose the event that’s right for you.

Small event or large?  Do you want an event with many wineries or something more intimate?  If it isn't specified, call the organizers and ask the number of wineries and the typical number of tickets sold.

Where and what time of year?  You might want to explore a region you've never visited.  Wine festivals are held in all parts of the world.  On the other hand, we know people who have fallen in love with a particular wine region or event and return every year.
 
What’s your focus? - a specific varietal? food & wine? themes and entertainment? education?

What matches your style and budget?  Some events include inspired food pairings by acclaimed chefs along with entertainment.  Others are laid back and offer small bites or encourage you to bring a picnic.
 

2. Leverage your wine club memberships.

Take advantage of preferred wine club access.  Many events require you to choose a starting winery where you check in to get your logo glass and event ID, usually a wristband.  I suggest you start at a winery where you are a wine club member.  You'll usually get special attention and a warm welcome. At our winery we invite club members to come early for a private hour.
 
Ask about early access to tickets. Sometimes wineries have access to tickets before they go on sale to the public.  If you want to attend an event that usually sells out, this is a good way to guarantee your ticket.
 
Visit your wine club wineries before or after the event.  Your wineries love to give you special attention, so take advantage of this while you're in town.  It's a great time to arrange a private tasting, barrel sampling or a vineyard tour with the owners or winemaker.  You'll most likely get to taste more of their wines since most wineries limit the number of wines they open for large events.  This is also the best time to purchase - a quieter time where the staff can help you choose what wines you want take home.  Of course, stop by during the event as well!
 

3. Go with people you really enjoy.

Some people like to attend with one special person - a spouse, a partner, a best friend. We have one couple that comes from New Jersey every year. Others like to get a group of friends or family together and make it a special occasion weekend. A group of seven couples comes every year for their annual wine buying weekend. You're going to be spending a lot of time together, so be sure you're compatible traveling companions!

Friends at Passport to Dry Creek Festival at Amista Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA

4. Book your lodging early.

Event weekends bring thousands of people into the area and lodging is booked well in advance.  Our regular Passport guests usually book next year's lodging while they're in town for this year's event.  The event organizers often provide a list of local lodgings or if you're a club member of a participating winery, they can generally recommend places to stay.

5. Take advantage of ancillary events.

Some festivals have events before and after the main event.  These are often more intimate and tailored to special interests. Passport to Dry Creek Valley offers vineyard tours, winemaker dinners and lunches.  This provides a great chance to meet growers, winemakers and chefs and ask questions.  Some events offer a reserve or library tasting prior to the event - an exclusive opportunity to taste wines that wouldn't otherwise be available.  Special seminars on such topics as wine glasses, food pairings or blending wines may be available.  Of course, my favorites are the winemaker dinners and luncheons that are sometimes a part of wine festivals.
 

6. Know what you like and plan accordingly.

Are you the type that likes to get in the car and see where it takes you, in other words, "the best plan is no plan"?  Then that's the plan!  If you'd rather have an itinerary, take a look at the maps and printed event materials and lay out your game plan in advance.  If you have members of both camps in your group, let the planners do one day and the "play it by ear" types be in charge of the other. You might want to choose a focus for the day - just whites or reds or sparkling wines - our speciality! 
 

7. Explore - go to some wineries you've never visited.

One of the wonderful benefits of these events is that you have access to many wineries for just one price.  So there's no risk in trying a few wineries you've never visited.  If you don't like the vibe or the wine, you can cut short your visit and move on to the next winery.  The prize is that you might discover a wonderful gem.
 

8. Ask for suggestions.

Before the event, ask friends who’ve been before.  Don’t hesitate to call the organizers.  They are usually very well informed and helpful.  You can also call the participating wineries to ask questions or get advice.  During the event, guests often plan their second day based on recommendations from other participants on day one.  We frequently hear people asking other guests about their favorite stop and we often have people come on Sunday who said we were recommended by someone who had visited us on Saturday.
 

9. Pace yourselves.

Eat something before and along the way.  Wine on an empty stomach is not a great pairing. 
 
Don't try to visit every winery (unless it's a small event).  

Minimize driving time by optimizing your route. Either plan it out in advance or drop in to several wineries in the same area.
 
Take a break.  Many wineries have places to sit, relax and enjoy the wine, the food and the beautiful setting.
 
Taste responsibly. Those little tastes can sneak up on you.  If you visit 8 wineries in a day and taste 5 wines at each, you'll consume eight glasses of wine!  So don't feel compelled to taste every wine or to finish every taste.
 
Wineries provide “dump buckets” to pour out any wine you don’t want.  Some people think we are offended if you pour out part of your taste.  On the contrary. in fact,  we are not allowed to pour wine for anyone who appears to be intoxicated - even if they're not driving. 
 
Finally, drink lots of water. You'll find water at every winery and it's also a good idea to bring some along to have between stops.
 

10. Book a driver.

You may want to treat yourself to a limo for the weekend.  The drivers (usually) know the area so you don't have to worry about finding your way.  Everyone is free to relax and take in the beauty of the area.  You'll also be delivered to the front door of each winery and the driver will take care of the parking.  The other option is to designate one member of the group as the driver.  Many wine events offer a designated driver ticket at a reduced price so the driver can enjoy the food and entertainment while abstaining from the wine.
 
 

Hunk of Parmesan to Pair with Grenache from Amista Vineyards

2022 Passport to Dry Creek Valley

We were overjoyed to host Passport this year after a two-year hiatus. The guests seemed even more ecstatic to be back. The mood was festive and friendly. We featured two of our estate-grown Rhône inspired wines, a 2020 Grenache and 2018  Syrah. They were both big hits. A huge “hunk” of Parmesan, aged 24 months, made a great partner with the Grenache. And the Syrah was the perfect match for braised shortribs with polenta, from our wood fired oven.  

For our club members and declared sparkling lovers, we offered entry to the “bubble lounge” where our guests could try the newest addition to our collection of sparkling gems, Sparkling Tres. It is made from three Rhône varieties, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. 

 

Amista Vineyards

Amista means making friends. Our family-run, boutique winery showcases estate grown sparkling wines and Rhône varieties paired with a friendly welcome.
 
Wine festivals give us a chance to welcome lots of new friends to Amista. It’s all hands on deck – every member of our team and lots of extras.  Despite the hard work, we have our own magical weekend!
 
Vicky and Mike Farrow
 

Vicky and Mike Farrow, Proprietors, Amista Vineyards, Healdsburg, California

If you come to any of the wine events in our area, we invite you to visit Amista just outside the charming town of Healdsburg, California. We’ll be standing out front welcoming you or meandering through the crowd.

Or come Taste with Us any time!

Become a friend of Amista!

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