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Amista Vineyards

News from Amista Vineyards

Vicky Farrow
March 23, 2023 | Vicky Farrow

Does Color Matter in Sparkling Wine?

In the Fan Favorite, Sparkling Syrah...

Amista Wine Colors of Sparkling Wine Bottles Near Pool

…will it be color or flavor?

Does Color Matter?

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 Sparkling Syrah Was Not the Usual Cranberry 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.

Always Cranberry, Except for the “Dark Year”

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.

But How Does It Taste?

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.

What Do Our Customers Expect?

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?

Why Is It So Hard to Get a Specific Color?

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.

Amista Wine Sparkling Syrah Dosage Trials

What Did We Decide – Color or Flavor?

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!

Time Posted: Mar 23, 2023 at 8:00 AM Permalink to Does Color Matter in Sparkling Wine? Permalink
Vicky Farrow
February 2, 2023 | Vicky Farrow

Amista Wine - How We Fell in Love with Sparkling Rhône Varieties

Amista Wine - Sparkling Mataró in the Vineyards, Sonoma County, CA

Let’s Start with a Sparkling Syrah!

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.

Sparkling Syrah Pairs Beautifully with Spicy Foods

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.

Bring on More Rhône Varietals

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.

Let’s Make Another Sparkling Rhône

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.

Five Sparkling Rhône-style Wines in Our Collection!

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.






Time Posted: Feb 2, 2023 at 10:00 AM Permalink to Amista Wine - How We Fell in Love with Sparkling Rhône Varieties Permalink
Vicky Farrow
January 5, 2023 | Vicky Farrow

What is the Best Amista Wine?

How We Fell in Love with Red Rhône Wines

Amista Wine - Rhône Varieties - Reds and Sparkling

…but why stop at red when you can make sparkling?

The first wine we made from our Healdsburg property was a Rhône variety, namely Syrah. We had just moved to Healdsburg and the Syrah vineyard we planted was only two years old. We’re not really sure why we planted Syrah except it was supposed to be an up-and-coming variety. That was just before the movie Sideways made Pinot Noir famous. Syrah was relegated to the wings while Pinot Noir took over the starring role in the California red wine show.

Garage Syrah

But I digress. Traditionally, the grapes of a two year old vineyard would be dropped on the ground to allow the roots to take hold without the burden of producing a crop. But husband Mike had other ideas. After having made his first wine almost 10 years earlier in our Silicon Valley California home - before our detour to New Jersey and Nevada - he was eager to make wine again. In 2002, he harvested three tons from the young Syrah vines and made wine in our garage with the help of neighbors, family and friends from Munich and Denver. We called it “Garage Syrah”.

The Launch of Amista

This was the wine that seduced us into starting Amista. The Garage Syrah was a hobby wine, made only for personal consumption. But every time we invited friends to come taste from the barrel, they loved the wine and wanted to know if they could buy some once it was bottled. Our friends eventually talked us into making wine for sale and Amista Vineyards was born in 2004.

Even though Syrah has not (yet) become “the hot variety”, we have fallen in love with it. So have our guests and members. We use it in many of our wines and it was the “gateway” grape that got us into Rhône varieties.

We Want More Rhônes!

In 2011 we decided to replace some of the Syrah vines. We were anxious to experiment with other Rhône varieties. Rather than rip out the 11-year-old vines, we used a technique called T-budding, where a T-shaped cut is made and a bud from the new variety is placed in the graft. We grafted about an acre each to Grenache and Mourvèdre. Another advantage of grafting is that you don’t have to wait four years for the vineyards to produce a crop. By the harvest of 2012, the new vines were producing a small amount of fruit and we made our first Grenache and a blend we call Tres, composed of all three of our Rhône grape varieties, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.

Debut of Our First Rhône Blend

Tres was an instant hit and became Mike’s new favorite. It was the first blend we made on purpose (our dessert style wine was technically our first blend, but it started out as a Zinfandel that would never go dry – a story for another day). A major impetus for doing a blend was winemaker Ashley Herzberg, who had joined us in 2011. Our wines had always been single varietal from a single vineyard. That was what we did. But winemakers love to do blends and Ashley patiently talked us into making a GSM-style blend (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre). Mike was prepared not to like it and it is now his go-to wine.

The Amista Wine Lineup – Focus on Rhônes

We now make four red wines from our estate-grown Rhône grapes: a Syrah, a Grenache and a Mourvèdre, plus Tres, our Rhône-style blend. In addition, we make two Rosés from our Rhônes: Rosé de Tres and Rosé of Grenache.

Why Stop at Red When You Can Make Sparkling?

Becoming the first sparkling winery in Healdsburg wasn’t part of our plan, although to be honest, in those days we didn’t really have a plan. It all started when we made our first sparkling wine in 2008, just five years after our first Amista harvest in 2003. Once again, Syrah was the star of our show.

Our first Rosé was made from Syrah and had become a big hit. In 2007, Chris (our consulting winemaker at the time) asked if he could have some of the current vintage of our Rosé of Syrah to use to teach his class at the junior college how to make a sparkling wine using the classic Methode Champenoise. This is the method used to make fine French Champagne. We immediately said yes, on the condition that we got to try the finished product.

When we tasted it, we knew we had to make more for ourselves and our friends. We sent one barrel each of our 2007 and 2008 Rosé of Syrah, to a custom crush winery specializing in sparkling wines. This is where the second fermentation in the bottle was done, transforming a still wine into a sparkling wine. We released it in 2009 at our first Sparkling Holidays party. Mike celebrated the occasion with what has now become a tradition at this party of opening the bottle with a saber.

Sparkling Wines from Non-Traditional Grapes

Our first sparkling wine was made with a grape that is never used in classic French Champagne, Syrah. Traditionally, Champagne and sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The Australians make a bubbly called Sparkling Shiraz from the Syrah grape, but it is a very deep red color and slightly sweet. Our Sparkling Syrah is a rosé, glittering cranberry in color and quite dry.

Most of the grapes we grow on our own vineyards are Rhône varieties – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Using those grapes rather than the classic Champagne varieties, is one of the ways we innovate. The other non-traditional approach we take is to produce sparkling wines from single vintages. Although we don’t vintage date them, each bottling comes from a single year (except that first Sparkling Syrah). Most Champagnes and sparkling wines are blends from several vintages. We have the luxury of beautiful California weather, so we don’t need to save the “good years” to blend with the bad.

We now have three sparkling wines made from single Rhône grapes: Sparkling Syrah, Sparkling Grenache, Sparkling Mataró (made from 100% Mourvèdre), plus two blends that are made in whole or in part from Rhône varieties: Sparkling Tres and Fusión (a blend of Chardonnay, Grenache and Syrah).

So, what is the best Amista wine? There is no one answer. We have fallen in love with Rhône wines, and we love them all. As a friend is fond of saying, “My favorite Amista wine is the one I have in my glass.”

We invite you to put some in your glass. Come Taste with Us.

Time Posted: Jan 5, 2023 at 10:00 AM Permalink to What is the Best Amista Wine? Permalink
Vicky Farrow
December 1, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

Why Grenache in Dry Creek Valley?

It Started with Syrah and Led to More Rhône Varieties

Grenache Vines at Amista Vineyards, Healdsburg, California

…and now we use Grenache in seven still and sparkling wines!

Planting Syrah, Our First Rhône Variety

The first varietal we planted after we purchased what we came to call Morningsong Vineyards was Syrah. The entire vineyard was planted in Chardonnay when we bought it. Shortly thereafter we killed off the vines in the back of the vineyard. This was not the plan. Unfortunately, we were still living in New Jersey, knew nothing about growing grapes and hired a vineyard manager who wasn’t familiar with our vineyards. It turns out the soil in the back half of the property is very gravelly, being near Dry Creek, and needs more water than the front. It didn’t get enough water, which weakened the vines and made them susceptible to disease.

We had to rip them out. But what should we plant? We drank wine in those days, but our favorites were Cabernet and Zinfandel. We were advised that those varieties were not well suited to the valley floor, where our vineyards are located. Syrah was supposed to be the next hot grape variety at that time, so we planted Syrah. I’m not sure we had ever even tasted a Syrah. Even though Syrah has not (yet) become “the hot variety”, we have fallen in love with it. So have our guests and members. We use it in many of our wines and it was the gateway grape that got us into Rhône varieties.

We Want More Rhônes!

In 2011 we decided to replace some of the Syrah vines. We were anxious to experiment with other Rhône varieties. Rather than rip out the 11-year-old vines, we used a technique called T-budding, where a T-shaped cut is made and a bud from the new variety is placed in the graft. We grafted about an acre each to Grenache and Mourvèdre. Another advantage of grafting is that you don’t have to wait four years for the vineyards to produce a crop. By the harvest of 2012, the new vines were producing a small amount of fruit and we made our first Grenache and a blend we call Tres, composed of all three of our Rhône grape varieties.

Debut of Our First Rhône Blend

Tres was an instant hit and became Mike’s new favorite. It was the first blend we made on purpose (our dessert style wine was technically our first blend, but it started out as a Zinfandel that would never go dry – a story for another day). A major impetus for doing a blend was winemaker Ashley Herzberg, who had joined us in 2011. Our wines had always been single varietal from a single vineyard. That was what we did. But winemakers love to do blends and Ashley patiently talked us into making a GSM-style blend (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre). Mike was prepared not to like it and it is now his go-to wine.

What About Grenache?

The Grenache started out more as a well-kept secret. We didn’t put it in the wine club shipments because we made only 44 cases the first year. It was a lighter body wine than any of the other reds we were making at the time. In fact, we referred to it as our Pinot alternative. For Pinot lovers, Grenache was a welcome discovery. For Mike, who thinks most Pinots are too thin, it wasn’t a wine he was prepared to like.

Mike Discovers Grenache

One night I served it with dinner and much to his surprise, he liked it. After dinner we moved to our chairs to watch TV and have another glass of wine. The bottle was sitting on the table between us, and I noticed Mike pouring himself another glass. A while later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him reach over, grab my glass and pour my wine into his glass. Do you suppose he thought I had gone to sleep? That’s when I knew that he had made a new friend in Grenache.

Seven Reasons to Love Grenache

Grenache has also become one of the stars of our winemaking program. It became so popular that when we replanted some of the aging Chardonnay vines, we replaced them with Grenache. In addition to making a red Grenache, we now make a Rosé of Grenache and a Sparkling Grenache, and we use it in four blends, Tres, Rosé de Tres, Sparkling Tres and Fusión.

What Foods to Pair With Grenache

Mike has gone from a Grenache skeptic to a fan, and it is frequently the wine he chooses to have with a meal. And speaking of meals, I want to share a recipe for something we had the other night that was perfect with the Grenache. We often have Grenache in the summer, slightly chilled with light dishes – grilled salmon, pastas with fresh picked tomatoes or grilled vegetables. I was delighted that is also paired beautifully with a winter stew that I crave. It’s nothing fancy, just one of those heartwarming, comfort dishes that makes you feel cozy.

Here is my recipe for White Bean Stew with Kale and Crispy Prosciutto



Time Posted: Dec 1, 2022 at 10:00 AM Permalink to Why Grenache in Dry Creek Valley? Permalink
Vicky Farrow
November 3, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

Let's Build a Sparkling Wine Community

Interest in sparkling wine is booming...

Sparkling Discoveries Community Launched by Amista Vineyards

...and the time is right to come together.

Have you heard the news? I am excited about the launch of Sparkling Discoveries, a brand-new community for sparkling wine producers, enthusiasts, and leaders. We went live on Global Champagne Day, which fell on October 28 this year. This is my latest project and like most things in my life, it started as a seed of an idea that germinated, blossomed and grew with the help of friends and colleagues.

I’ve been writing this blog, Sparkling Moments in Wine, for the last several years to answer the frequently asked questions about my experiences as I moved from the corporate world to becoming a winery owner and advocate for sparkling wine.

Learning the Stories of the People Behind Sparkling Wine

Anyone who knows me, knows I love bubbles, but I am equally fascinated to discover how others got involved and the twists and turns in their journeys. Sparkling Discoveries started as an idea to tell the stories of those people. Initially I was thinking of winemakers and owners of sparkling wine houses in Sonoma County.

It's a Sparkling Wine Boom!

As I kicked around the idea with friends and colleagues, we realized that we are experiencing a sparkling wine boom, made up not only of those who make sparkling wine, but other thought leaders and enthusiasts. And it isn’t just happening in Sonoma County. There are fascinating stories from all over the country and all over the world.

Let's Build a SparklingWine Community

This needed to be something more than a blog. We decided we wanted to build a sparkling community. And it needed to go beyond Sonoma County. We also realized there is no single site dedicated to sparkling wine that is brand neutral, providing information and resources on everything from what’s happening in the world of sparkling, to how it’s made and what foods pair with different kinds of sparkling wines.

So, we created a section called Sparkling 101 with some basics on the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine, how and where sparkling wines are made, and different styles and types of sparkling wines. As we get questions and ideas, we’ll add more resources. In the future we’ll add sections on wine and food pairings and events.

We are also inviting sparkling wine lovers, wine professionals, and the community at large to nominate those who are making an impact on the growth, promotion, and future of sparkling wine. Nominees can be winemakers, marketers, social media influencers, hospitality workers, winery owners, and beyond. The nomination period will be open through December 31, 2022, and individuals nominated will be celebrated online, through social media channels, a promotional campaign, and a signature event in 2023.

We’re building a community one sparkling wine enthusiast at a time. We already have nominees from Napa, the Finger Lakes region of New York, Michigan, Oregon, Paso Robles, Sacramento, Healdsburg, and a U.S. based family member representing a grower Champagne house in France.

Fascinating Stories from the People of Sparkling Wine

The centerpiece of the platform is Sparkling Conversations, in-depth profiles of sparkling wine makers, thought leaders and advocates. I’ve had the privilege to tell some remarkable stories - all different, all fascinating.

Sparkling Conversations with the People Behind the Sparkle

Owner and CEO Joy Sterling, Iron Horse Vineyards, talks about what living in Paris as a teenager taught her about life and how it ultimately led her back to joining the family sparkling wine business. She revealed her inspirations - from the creation of unique bottlings of sparkling wine, to her favorite food pairings to the way she leads her team.

Entrepreneur Bruce Lundquist, co-founder of Rack & Riddle, describes the long and winding road to founding a sparkling custom wine services business and recounts the lessons he learned in his career and what he hopes his six kids learned from his experience.

Winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster of Rack & Riddle, Breathless Wines and Pénélope Wines, describes how she eventually became a sparkling winemaker following two surprising previous careers, her unique approach to sparkling winemaking, her favorite pairings and the best and worst moments in her sparkling career.

Our own Amista Vineyards Winemaker Ashley Herzberg reveals her goals for making sparkling wines, how she hopes people will feel when they pop the cork and her fascination with grower Champagnes, including the ones she has in her fridge right now.

Kathleen Inman, Owner and Winemaker of Inman Family Wines, talks about how two continents, two degrees, two careers and a series of positive omens led her to sparkling wine.

Retired CEO and Winemaker Eileen Crane of Domaine Carneros describes her determination to make sparkling wine that started with her first taste of Champagne at a family Sunday supper and her happiest moments - the best pairings with sparkling wine, open book management and the most rewarding time in her career.

If you love sparkling wine, we invite you to join us. Here are some options:

And next time you’re in Healdsburg, come Taste With Us and explore the sparkling wines of Amista Vineyards.

Time Posted: Nov 3, 2022 at 4:00 PM Permalink to Let's Build a Sparkling Wine Community Permalink
Vicky Farrow
October 6, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

Winemaker Ashley Herzberg Discovers Sparkling Wine

Winemaker Ashley Herzberg Harvest Syrah for Sparkling at Amista Vineyards

I Fell in Love with Sparkling Wine & Now I Make It!

This year marks winemaker Ashley Herzberg’s 12th harvest at Amista Vineyards. She has been a sparkling wine trailblazer! She was the first to make a “grower sparkling wine” in Dry Creek Valley.

At the time, most sparkling wines in California were made by large producers with grapes purchased from multiple vineyards in the tradition of Champagne. In France, grower Champagne has become the rage in the last two decades with small, family-owned houses making Champagne from their own grapes.

Grower Champagnes are treasured because they are limited and hard to find. People love to discover hidden gems! And that’s what Ashley is making right here in Sonoma County.

We had a conversation recently about her sparkling discoveries.

How I First Discovered Sparkling Wine


I know you love Champagne and sparkling wines. I’m curious to know what first drew you to sparkling.


I actually really didn't like sparkling wine at first. My parents are the ones who introduced me to wine, and they didn't drink a lot of sparkling wine. My only exposure was to really bad sparkling!

I didn't know what was possible in the world of sparkling. I don't know what the exact catalyst or the exact wine was, but I think it was a Champagne and I realized how complex it could be. It can be toasty and yeasty, fruit driven and acidic. It can be so many things all in one glass and I just loved it.


So, the first time you finally had a good sparkling wine, you fell in love?


The very first time! Before that I thought very sweet sparkling wines were the only things that were available.  Even when I was a child, I did not have a sweet tooth. I had an aversion to sugar. The only thing I knew was sparkling wine is sweet. And it's gross. It's not good wine.

“The only thing I knew was sparkling wine is sweet. And it's gross. It's not good wine.”

And then discovering that there was this whole other world, was so exciting. I realized there’s so much to learn about sparkling wine and so many wines to try. And there are so many different varietals you can use to make it.

Making My First Grower Sparkling Wine


Clearly you developed a fascination with trying sparkling wines but when you joined us in as our winemaker in 2011, you had not yet made a sparkling wine. Did you even know we made a sparkling wine?

Winemaker Ashley Herzberg of Amista Vineyards Sabering Sparkling SyrahAshley Herzberg Performing a Sabrage on a Bottle of Sparkling Wine


Yes, because Mike (co-founder of Amista) had given me a couple bottles of your Sparkling Syrah as a Christmas gift. I assumed it was going to be sweet. I said to myself, “I’m not drinking that.”  Many months later I pulled it out for my girlfriends, and they loved it. I had my first taste and was so excited.

Then two years passed between me tasting your sparkling before I came to you and said I wanted to work with you as your winemaker. In that time, I had already begun my exploration of sparkling wines and realized how much I loved them.

“The challenge and excitement of making a sparkling wine was enticing.”

I wanted to work with you because I had familiarity with your still wines. But the challenge and excitement of making a sparkling wine was enticing.

Lessons I Learned About Making Sparkling Wine


Aside from being a lover of sparkling, I know you are also a lover of learning. What would you say are your biggest lessons learned about making sparkling wine?


When I made that first sparkling wine, I knew how to pick for still wines, but I was so worried about when to pick for sparkling wines. How do you maintain the acidity and not have too high a sugar level? Penny (Gadd-Coster, consulting winemaker) at Rack and Riddle said, “you just still pick for flavors. You're shifting what you're looking for in those flavors. But you're still picking for flavors.” And I was like, oh, OK, I know how to do that!


OK, so learning how to pick the grapes for sparkling wine was a big lesson learned. What else?


Since I was starting from scratch on making sparkling wine, I didn't have any base of knowledge, so everything was something new to be learned. Penny was very important, especially that first year.

She was a ball of wisdom. Little things would come up in conversation. Penny had this very chill attitude about it, the way I had come to feel about making still wines. What I learned is that it’s just winemaking.

People say, ‘I’ve never made sparkling, and I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s so different than making still wine.”  But it’s not. If you know how to make wine, you can make sparkling wine. Yes, there are some different processes for sparkling, but it is basically just the same as making still wines. That was really helpful to learn - you're just making wine.

Time Posted: Oct 6, 2022 at 10:00 AM Permalink to Winemaker Ashley Herzberg Discovers Sparkling Wine Permalink
Vicky Farrow
September 1, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

Chardonnay Four Ways from Amista Vineyards

Including the First Sparkling Blanc de Blanc from  Dry Creek Valley!

Chardonnay Grapes for Sparkling Blanc de Blanc Amista Vineyards Healdsburg-CA

…and we didn’t think we liked Chardonnay!


We have always grown Chardonnay grapes on our estate Morningsong Vineyards, and we have come to love creating new wines from it. Today we offer four ways to enjoy Chardonnay and another coming in 2024 for our 20th anniversary.

Amista Vineyards Chardonnay Collection

Amista Chardonnay

  • 100% chardonnay
  • Harvested every year since 2004

Amista Sparkling Blanc de Blanc

  • 100% Chardonnay
  • Methode Champenoise
  • Harvested every year since 2011

Amista Sparkling Fusión

  • A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% red Rhône grapes - Syrah, Grenache or Mourvèdre
  • Methode Champenoise
  • Harvested every year since 2013

Amista Cristalina Chardonnay

  • 100% chardonnay
  • Fermented in a concrete egg imported from France
  • From the Chardonnay Clone 4 block
  • Harvested first in 2021

A New Sparkling Chardonnay Coming Soon!

On August 17, 2022, winemaker Ashley harvested Chardonnay from the "Lemonade Block" to make a special sparkling wine – yet to be named. We will release it in 2024 to celebrate Amista’s 20th anniversary.

Chardonnay in Dry Creek Valley

We found our Dry Creek Vineyard in 1999 – on the internet! We were living in New Jersey at the time and my husband Mike was yearning to return to California where he had made his first wine in our garage. We have always loved the town of Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley, which we first discovered when we visited from our home state of Colorado back in 1983. So, finding a vineyard here was a dream come true.

Our love affair with Sonoma County and Healdsburg continued after we moved from Colorado to Silicon Valley. Perhaps our frequent visits were what inspired Mike to plant a backyard vineyard on a hillside at our home in Saratoga, California, and then to try his hand at making wine in our garage. Back then, making wine and growing grapes were brand new hobbies for Mike.

But the hobbies were cut short when I got a job offer in New Jersey. We never saw our vineyard produce grapes because the vines were only a year old when we left. Fortunately, the wine Mike made in the garage was in a barrel that we took with us to New Jersey and aged in our basement. After a few years, the Cabernet Sauvignon was ready to drink. We shared it with friends who declared it to be delicious and Mike’s secret dream of becoming a winemaker was fortified.

That is what prompted him to start looking for properties near Healdsburg and led us to this beautiful 28-acre vineyard located in the heart of Dry Creek Valley. At that time, the entire vineyard was planted in Chardonnay. Over the years, we have replanted every vine and replaced some of the Chardonnay with Rhône varieties.

Why Chardonnay?

Ironically, we didn’t even make Chardonnay during our inaugural year in 2003 because it wasn’t one of our favorites, even though over half the vineyard was planted in Chardonnay at that time. We were persuaded to make our first Chardonnay in 2004 by two of our club members and we have made it ever since. We decided to make an unoaked Chardonnay (fermented in neutral oak barrels) which was unusual for California Chardonnays of that era. We much preferred it to the big oaky Chardonnays and we’ve continued to make it in that style throughout the years.

Chardonnay – Making it Sparkle!

We made our first sparkling wine in 2008 from our estate Syrah grapes and it quickly became a cult favorite. When our winemaker, Ashley Herzberg, joined us in 2011, the two of us immediately conspired to make a Blanc de Blanc from our Chardonnay because we both adore sparkling wines.

I am especially delighted that we started making it because Blanc de Blanc has become my “go-to” wine! A glass of “Blanc” marks the end of my workday and a time to throw frisbees for the dogs as we sit on the deck and enjoy looking out over our Chardonnay vines. Often, we enjoy the Blanc de Blanc with our entire meal.

Fusión - Our First Sparkling Blend

It didn’t take long for Ashley to add more sparkling wines to our collection. Every wine we made during our early years was from a single variety (except Ilusión, a port-style dessert wine, but that’s a story for another time).  Although making single varietal wines requires skill and has its own set of challenges due to the vagaries of weather and water with each vintage, winemakers love to do blends.

So, it was no surprise that Ashley wanted to make a sparkling blend and created a wine we call Fusión, made from Chardonnay with a kiss of Grenache and a bit of either Syrah or Mourvèdre.

Cristalina from a Concrete Egg

I have also fallen in love with Cristalina, our newest Chardonnay, fermented in a concrete “egg”. The idea of making a second Chardonnay emerged in a conversation about how we could use more of our estate fruit in our Amista wines. Winemaker Ashley threw out the idea of fermenting a Chardonnay in concrete, which sounded intriguing.

Concrete Egg Fermenter for Cristalina Chardonnay from Amista Vineyards, Sonoma CountyShe went off to research concrete fermentation vessels and came back with a proposal to acquire a concrete egg. She knew exactly the one she wanted, called an “Oeuf de Beaune”, a concrete fermenter in the shape of an egg imported from France.

Ashley describes how the egg shape creates a natural circulating effect while the grape juice is fermenting on the yeast and exposes the wine both to air at the top of the vessel and to the concrete, which heightens the sense of minerality that is naturally present in the wine from our rocky vineyard soil.

Want to learn more about "the egg" and its affect on the wine? Check out  the "Concrete Egg" video from Ashley. 

Come Taste With Us and discover Chardonnay Four Ways from grapes harvested in our Morningsong estate vineyards, or treat yourself to our Rhône reds and sparkling wines.

Time Posted: Sep 1, 2022 at 10:00 AM Permalink to Chardonnay Four Ways from Amista Vineyards Permalink
Vicky Farrow
August 4, 2022 | Vicky Farrow

What is Blanc de Blancs?

A Sparkling White Wine Made from White Grapes


…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.









Time Posted: Aug 4, 2022 at 8:00 AM Permalink to What is Blanc de Blancs? Permalink
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

Time Posted: Jul 7, 2022 at 1:14 PM Permalink to Amista Uses Méthode Champenoise to Make Sparkling Wines Permalink
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!

Time Posted: Jun 2, 2022 at 6:40 PM Permalink to Wine and Food Festival Tips - Make It Magical! Permalink

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