This morning Amista was featured on the award-winning Sonoma Wine Road podcast hosted by Beth Costa and Marcy Gordon. Marcy and Beth were in a studio somewhere in Sonoma County and I called in to chat with them from Amista Vineyards here in Healdsburg.
The best part was we all got to start our day with bubbles! Beth opened a bottle of Amista Sparkling Grenache, a very special bottle that was signed by our winemaker Ashley Herzberg. She poured the first glass for Marcy, who exclaimed, “The color is beautiful!”
Yes, the iridescent rosy blush color is gorgeous, topped only by the flavors of ripe raspberry and lemon meringue on the palate. This is one of Ashley’s favorites and it was recognized as a Hot Brand from across the USA in 2017 by Wine Business Monthly. We’re very proud of this bubbly.
I popped the cork on a bottle of our Sparkling Syrah since I didn’t happen to have a bottle of the Sparkling Grenache at hand. This was the first sparkling wine we made back in 2008 and Amista was the first winery to make sparkling wine in Healdsburg.
We now have five sparkling wines made using the traditional Methode Champenoise, where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in its own bottle. That second fermentation is what produces the fine bubbles. “I have a license plate that says ‘Got Bubbles’. So obviously, I’m drawn to Amista. There are a variety of bubbles; can’t miss that,” Beth revealed.
I announced that we will soon be adding our sixth sparkling wine called Sparkling Tres in February 2022. We have a highly popular Rhône-style red wine blend we call Tres made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Last year we made a Rosé of Tres for the first time, so making a sparkling Rosé from the GSM blend was inevitable!
“I’ve never had a GSM sparkling,” exclaimed Marcy. Yes, it will be a first. Ashley and I love to experiment. All our sparkling wines, except for our Blanc de Blanc, are made with unusual varieties. Our vineyard is primarily planted to Rhône varieties so that is the focus of our sparkling program. We use only estate grown fruit for all our sparkling wines.
Beth asked me to tell the story of our journey into owning a winery. That is the question I am asked most often. It turns out it was a dream that my husband Mike and I didn’t know we had and didn’t know we shared. We never talked about it. It wasn’t a plan. It just evolved.
It started when we lived in Silicon Valley. Mike saw an ad in a local newspaper for "backyard vineyards". We liked to drink wine so we thought it would be fun to have a vineyard. He planted 150 Cabernet Sauvignon vines on the hillside at our home. Six months later he decided he needed to learn how to make wine and crushed 1/2 ton of Cabernet and made his first wine in our garage. I made sure I was never there to do the hard work!
Six months later I was offered a job in New Jersey. Sadly, we moved before harvesting a single grape from our new vineyard, but we took the barrel of wine with us. After a couple of years of aging, we tasted the wine with friends, and it was great! Mike decided, "I'm a winemaker!" That’s how he got the bug. “The magic barrel!” exclaimed Marcy. Who knew it would eventually draw us into the wine business where we would be making delicious Rhone reds and sparkling wines?
Yes, and we made a second garage wine once we moved to Healdsburg. We called it Garage Syrah. Everybody wanted to buy it and our friends encouraged us to start a winery. So, we did! “Hewlett Packard started in a garage; so, did you,” added Marcy.
In fact, our friends were involved every step of the way. They were with us when we said good-bye to our first vineyard in Silicon Valley. They were with us in New Jersey when we tasted that first barrel of wine. And they were by our side when we looked at several vineyards in Healdsburg. They helped us choose this beautiful vineyard in the heart of Dry Creek Valley in the countryside surrounding Healdsburg. That is why we chose the name Amista, which means making friends.
“That’s the feeling I get when I’m in the tasting room. It’s a lot of friends. It’s a spirited place. You feel like you are part of it when you’re there tasting. That’s what I like about the feeling there,” Marcy confirmed.
Beth was curious to know what’s happening with wine tasting at Amista. I told her we welcome our guests by appointment and all our tastings are seated. Guests have the choice of sitting under our solar powered patio or under the trees, surrounded by our vineyards. If it’s too hot or too cold, they can go inside our large, colorful tasting room with a choice of bistro tables or comfy chairs.
There are several wine experiences to choose from. First is our sparkling flight. We are so excited to have it back. We were sold out of so many of our sparkling wines that we couldn’t do it for a while. We’re thrilled to be able to offer it again.
People can also do what we call a Taste of Amista which is a mix of our red, white, and sparkling wines, and they can add a vineyard tour or a cheese and charcuterie plate to their tasting.
Although we are by appointment, people can call us, or if they happen to be driving by on Dry Creek Road, they can stop in. We will happily welcome them when we can.
Beth asked about the people guests will meet when they visit Amista. They are going to meet an amazing team that is welcoming, engaging, and friendly. My husband, Mike, and I try to take a walk every day around the vineyard with our two dogs (Dylan and Torin) and we stop at the tasting room for a break and a glass of water.
I love to go around and chat with everyone who is there. We are always willing to come down and greet our club members or guests if they let us know in advance. And did I mention that we’re dog friendly?
That’s one of the great things about reservations. I can see who’s planning to visit each day and since we live on the property, I can pop down and say “hi”. Beth explained, “That’s what people love, to meet the winemaker or the owners and hear the story.”
We are proud to be the first sparkling winery in Healdsburg, California, with six sparkling wines, a sparkling wine club and a sparkling wine tasting flight. It was gratifying to hear that both Marcy and Beth enjoy our bubbles and heartwarming to learn that we are achieving our goal of offering a friendly, spirited tasting experience.
We would love to host you for a visit. Make your reservation to Taste with Us!
Can’t visit now? Listen to the Wine Road Podcast featuring Amista Vineyards and go behind the scenes to learn about sparkling wine tasting in Healdsburg, California.
The dosage is added to the finished wine to “top up the bottle” just before inserting the cork. Dosage is just a fancy word for the addition of a sugar syrup or liqueur. A dosage trial is done to determine the level of dosage to add to a sparkling wine to help balance the acidity and showcase the natural flavors. Here’s how we do it.
Assemble a group of tasters who love bubbles (easy). We always gather in our kitchen around our big island.
Prepare five – sometimes six – bottles of one of our sparkling wines, one bottle of the base wine and each of the others with a different level of “dosage”. We leave this to winemaker Ashley Herzberg (hard).
Line up the appropriate number of glasses in front of each taster and pour one of the samples into each glass (easy).
Sniff each sample and make notes about the aromas. This step is supposed to be done in silence (hard). If we’re tasting just one sparkling wine, we pretty much follow the rule. If we’re doing three or four, not so much!
Taste each glass and make notes of the flavors and the way the wine feels in your mouth. Again, in silence (hard).
Winemaker Ashley Herzberg then calls on each of us to share our notes, and pick the sample we think is best, reminding us there are no right or wrong answers (hard).
Then we all discuss the samples and try to come to a consensus on which one achieves the perfect balance of acidity, flavors, and mouthfeel. Surprisingly, we almost always reach agreement (easy). In those rare instances where we don’t agree, we all agree that the final decision rests with winemaker Ashley!
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