Winemaker Ashley Herzberg and I had the pleasure of sitting down in the KSRO studio with Jeff Davis to talk about the Amista Vineyards story and our sparkling wines. We are proud to be the only estate-grown sparkling wine house in Healdsburg, so we were excited to talk about our bubbles.
Turns out Jeff had other plans. He made us wait until the second half of the program! I won’t make you wait. I will save the Amista story for another blog post and dive right into exploring our collection of Amista sparkling wines.
Yes, Ashley and I both adore sparkling wines. There’s something joyous about sipping a glass of bubbles. I don’t believe in saving it for a special occasion. In fact, popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly makes any moment – or meal – more special. I know Ashley shares my love of sparkling wine, although I suspect she loves making it even more.
Ashley talked about making sparkling wine, which she had not done until joining Amista in 2011. “It’s really a unique process. I had never worked with sparkling wines before Amista. It was a learning curve and it’s been great. It’s been amazing.” She admits that there was a bit to learn. “Once I got over the fear of the unknown - when do I pick? when are they ripe? what am I looking for? - once I got over that part, it’s been amazing and so much fun."
Ashley explained that at Amista we use the traditional method, Methode Champenoise, for making sparkling wines and the grapes are picked earlier around 19 brix (a measure of the sugar content in the grapes) which is about 5 brix earlier than for still wine.
Picking earlier means the grapes have a nice acidity, and the lower sugar translates into a lower alcohol level in the wine. This is important because if the alcohol is too high the yeast does not ferment in the bottle – the alcohol kills it. And it’s that reaction of the sugar and the yeast that creates the bubbles in a sparkling wine.
Yes, and that was BA - Before Ashley. We harvested it in 2008. It was a happy experiment that launched our foray into sparkling wines.
Jeff had stopped by our tasting room in Dry Creek Valley the day before our interview to pick up a bottle of our Sparkling Syrah. He had it chilled and waiting to share with his wife when she arrived home. She didn’t show up right away and he just couldn’t wait any longer. "I had to pop the cork (I know the feeling). Sparkling Syrah is such a beautiful wine. It just says holidays."
Yes. Blanc de Blanc was our second sparkling wine. Chardonnay is one of the classic grapes used to make Champagne. Ashley and I conspired to make it only months after she came on board as our winemaker in 2011. That’s when I knew we had a common passion for bubbles.
We also have Rhone varieties, all grown in our estate Morningsong Vineyards, so we make sparkling wines from those grapes. Ashley and I love to use non-traditional grapes. The classic grapes used in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Since we specialize in red Rhône varieties, we decided to try making Rhône sparkling wines. Each one has turned out to be a pleasant and delicious surprise.
Ashley explained, “All our sparkling wines are low dosage (which means they are dry) and super food friendly. We were the first winery in Dry Creek Valley to make estate grown sparkling wines. We’ve been doing it for a long time.”
Jeff asked about our Sparkling Fusión, wondering if it is our version of a Blanc de Noir. The answer is yes, although it breaks with tradition, once again. The classic Blanc de noir is made from pinot noir grapes that are not pressed with the skins, resulting in a white wine made from red grapes, thus the name, which means white from red.
The Amista Sparkling Fusión is a blend made mostly from Chardonnay grapes (usually 80%) with a small amount of Syrah and Grenache. Sometimes we use Mourvèdre instead of Syrah. I suppose we should call it a Blanc de Blanc et Blanc de Noir, but that didn’t fit on the label, so we named it Fusión. Of course, fusion means the process of joining things together. That’s why I love to give it as a wedding or engagement gift or serve it at reunions.
Speaking of Mourvèdre, Jeff was also curious about our Sparkling Mataró, made from 100% Mourvèdre grapes. We first made it in 2016 – just 33 cases. Typically, Mourvèdre is a blending wine but being non-traditional, we made our first single varietal - still not sparkling - Mourvèdre in 2012.
It was quite popular so we thought it would be fun to try as a sparkling wine. Ashley says, “It’s become one of my favorites. It’s intensely fruit toned with nice acidity.” We had it the other night with a seafood paella, and it was beautiful.
Another wine in our collection of sparkling gems is Sparkling Grenache. This was Ashley’s innovation. She first harvested it in 2013 and we both fell in love with the delicate pink color. It tasted even better thank it looked, and Wine Business Monthly selected it as one of 10 Hot Brands from across America in 2017.
Next year, will we have one more sparkling wine to add to our growing portfolio. We will release a Sparkling Tres to our wine club members in February 2022. We have been making a red Rhône blend we call Tres from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre since 2012. We made our first Rosé de Tres in 2018. Making a sparkling Tres was inevitable!
Jeff raved about our tasting room, “It’s just fantastic, such a cool, wide-open space. And right now, it’s so festive, with a Christmas tree in the middle, all the way up to the roof and all those white sparkling lights shining on the bottles so they look like they’re glowing.”
When it’s warm enough, we have a beautiful new solar patio, which is a wonderful place to sip wines surrounded by the vineyards with gorgeous Dry Creek Valley views. The solar covered patio also provides all our electricity, part of our on-going commitment to sustainability.
One of the main reasons our guests seek us out, is our sparkling wine tasting, one of the few in an area best known for Zinfandel. Or you can enjoy a Taste of Amista that showcases a mix of wines, from our estate-grown Chardonnay and Rhône reds to a Dry Creek Zinfandel or Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon. Healdsburg is a popular place to visit and we have something for every palate.
One of the things Jeff highlighted was that there’s always a splash of color in the tasting room thanks to Carole Watanabe whose art hangs on the walls. Carole often joins us for events. She has a glass of wine in one hand and a paint brush in the other, chatting with people the whole time, all while creating an amazing piece of art.
Yes, and it’s extremely popular. We partnered with the Sonoma County Winegrowers to create a self-guided tour of the property, complete with a map and signs at each stop explaining the varieties of grapes we grow, a majestic 200-year-old oak tree and the backwater pond which is another part of our commitment to sustainability.
The Dry Creek Restoration Project redeveloped the habitat for the endangered Coho salmon and Steelhead trout. The walk is free and great for families with kids and dogs to be out in the fresh air and learn about farming in Sonoma County.
Jeff wrapped up by encouraging people to visit dog-friendly Amista Vineyards on Dry Creek Road, just outside of Healdsburg in Sonoma County, California.
Listen to the entire segment on KSRO with Jeff Davis On the Wine Road Live – Amista Vineyards.
Ashley Herzberg (Amista Winemaker), my husband Mike and I love our Sparkling Holidays Soiree and look forward to it every year. The holiday season is a time for gathering with family and friends, enjoying special treats, and proposing toasts to health, happiness, and friendship. Sparkling wine goes with an extensive array of dishes and occasions, but it’s a must for the holidays. For the past eleven years, we have hosted a sparkling holiday party with superb local chefs who have created some incredible sparkling wine and food pairings.
These pairings wowed our guests, and they are sure to wow yours. I am excited to share my eleven favorite pairings of Amista sparkling wines with delectable dishes. But first I want to tell you how our sparkling soiree came to be. Or you can go directly to the pairings.
We hosted our first holiday party in 2007, having just opened our tasting room that August. We were excited to finally have a place to have a party. We decided on an afternoon open house and did the same thing the following year.
When we were ready to release our first sparkling wine, we decided it would make its debut at our holiday party. But an open house just didn’t seem to have the right sparkle. No more mundane open houses for us. We wanted something special for our club members and their guests. We introduced Amista Sparkling Holidays in 2009, an early evening soiree with live music, passed hors d'oeuvres and a massive tree with glittering lights in the middle of a festively decorated tasting room. It’s the one time a year we trade in our jeans and vests and get all dressed up. Mike can often be seen in his tux!
Mike performed his first sabrage at that inaugural event, opening the bottle of bubbles with a saber. It only took six tries! How do you perform a sabrage, you ask? After carefully removing the foil and wire cage from the bottle, you hold the bottle in one hand by its end and the saber in the other.
The trick is to find the seam in the bottle and quickly run the saber along the seam from the end of the bottle to the neck. If successful, the lip of the glass and the cork come out with a pop! Be sure to point the bottle away from everyone because the glass lip and cork come out at lightening speed. The glass cuts cleanly making it possible to safely pour the wine and our guests always line up to get the first taste of those festive bubbles.
Our sparkling soiree and the sabrage ceremony have become traditions over the last 11 years.The tradition has become so important that we even found a way to have the party during COVID. We moved the tree outside under our new solar covered patio and set up small bistro tables, six feet apart for our guests.
It was a very chilly evening and the heaters we ordered had not yet arrived because it seemed everyone was buying heaters at the time. Our club members were undaunted and dressed up for the affair complete with face masks and multiple layers of clothing plus scarves, gloves, and hats. Everyone was thrilled to be out after spending so many months cloistered at home and the mood was celebratory.
That night we introduced another tradition, a sparkling cocktail! Our friend Tara Jasper, founder, and chief distiller at Sipsong Spirits, created a signature cocktail just for the occasion. Freshly squeezed orange juice, Tara’s hand-crafted Indira gin, Amista Sparkling Syrah and a garnish of fresh thyme and cranberries served as the welcome for a truly, madly sparkling evening!
One year I decided it was time for me to try the sabrage. I was nervous. Maybe that was the problem. I’m not sure exactly what happened but instead of the glass lip and cork flying out, the whole bottle kind of exploded. I was surprised but relieved that everyone was safe…except me. I eventually noticed a chunk of glass in my index finger. Fortunately for me, we had three club members who are surgeons attending the event that night. They escorted me into the back, removed the glass, washed, and bandaged the wound and declared me ready to party on! It was a good reminder to be extremely careful when performing a sabrage. I know they say you should get right back on the horse that threw you, but honestly, I haven’t tried a sabrage since. So, I stick with my bubbles and bites. Here are my eleven favorites.
Blanc de Blanc with Tuscan calamari crostini
Sparkling Syrah with caramelized onions, blue cheese, and fig pizzettas
Sparkling Syrah with mushrooms stuffed with Italian fennel sausage
Sparkling Syrah with French cheesecake and raspberry coulis
Blanc de Blanc with lemon chive risotto cakes
Sparkling Syrah with seared ahi on a crisp wonton drizzled with wasabi aioli
Blanc de Blanc with Dungeness crab, marinated artichoke, and gruyere tart
Sparkling Grenache with lobster and brie mini puff pastry cups
Sparkling Syrah with cranberry-brie bites in mini pastry shells
Sparkling Mataró with mini brioche, Laura Chenel goat cheese, roasted pear, and pomegranate glaze
Sparkling Fusión with yellowtail sashimi, avocado, pickled red onions, pomegranate, and quinoa
We are looking forward to our 12th sparkling soiree this Saturday. I can’t wait to see our friends, try new pairings, taste the latest cocktail Tara is creating for us and watch someone (else) as they perform the traditional sabrage ceremony.
Cheers to a joyous holiday season filled with good food, good (sparkling) wine and good friends.
We are excited to be featured in Sonoma Magazine as a sparkling house to visit for the holidays. The article, by Linda Murphy, covers several fascinating points about sparkling wine. OK, they are fascinating to me. I hope you agree!
I’m sure you know my vote on this one! I enjoy a glass of bubbles before dinner and my husband, Mike, and I quite often have a sparkling wine with our evening meal. Amista makes six different sparkling wines, so there is something to go with everything. Have you tried Blanc de Blanc with fried chicken? It’s a match made in heaven. We always talk about how well our Sparkling Syrah goes with the Thanksgiving feast, but did you know it is also wonderful with a simple taco salad? We enjoy Amista Fusión with a spicy chicken stir fry.
No. There are several methods for making sparkling wine.
Amista wines are made using the traditional method, the same process that is used to make fine French Champagne called Methode Champenoise. This involves a second fermentation entirely in its own bottle that produces the fine bubbles and is the most appreciated method for making sparkling wines.
In addition to Champagne, which must be made exclusively in the Champagne region of France, other sparkling wines made using the traditional method include Methode Cap Classique, Cava, Crémant and Sekt.
There are other less time consuming and expensive ways to make sparkling wine. The article explains, “There are pétillant naturels, or pét-nats, which are bottled while still undergoing a first fermentation and closed with a crown cap instead of a cork. The French call this process méthode ancestral, with the yeast staying in contact with the wine until the cap is removed. Out gushes a fruity, slightly creamy and easy-to-drink sparkler that lacks the complexity of Champagne-like wines yet is crowd-pleasing for its simplicity.”
We haven’t tried a “pét-nat” at Amista, although I suspect our winemaker, Ashley Herzberg, has a plan to use one of our estate-grown varieties so she can give it a try.
Another way to make sparkling wines is called the Charmat or tank method. According to the article, “some wineries apply the charmat method to carbonate their wines in large steel tanks, adding carbon dioxide to create the bubbles. Like pét-nats, these wines are all about the fruit; they are non-fussy yet satisfying, ready to enjoy soon after bottling and typically cost half as much as méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines.” Lambrusco and the popular prosecco are made using the charmat method.
Champagne must be made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes. The finest French Champagnes are typically made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Most sparkling wine houses around the world follow the Champagne tradition.
A few adventurous sparkling houses, like Amista Vineyards, use other varieties “expanding the aromas and flavors beyond the more traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir," says Sonoma Magazine.
Here at Amista, our first sparkling wine was completely non-traditional, a Sparkling Rosé of Syrah, a unique and gorgeous bubbly that has developed a cult following. The article says it was “a relatively bold move in Sonoma yet a long-established tradition in Australia.”
It came about because of a class project at our local junior college. Our consulting winemaker at the time taught winemaking at the college and asked if he could use some of our very popular Rosé of Syrah to teach his class how to make a sparkling wine using the Methode Champenoise process.
As soon as I tasted it, I knew we had to make it for Amista. Mike introduced it with a flourish, performing the traditional sabrage (removing the cork with a saber) at our Sparkling Soiree party in December 2009, marking the debut of our first Sparkling Syrah.
When winemaker Ashley Herzberg arrived on the scene in 2011, the idea of making more sparkling wines was inevitable. She and I both love bubbles and Ashley is a voracious learner always looking for a new challenge. She had never made sparkling wines, but she was eager to learn.
Only months after she arrived, we conspired to pick some of our estate Chardonnay grapes to make a Blanc de Blanc, a more traditional variety. Her first try was a success, scoring 91 points and earning a gold medal at the “Best of the Best” North Coast Wine Challenge.
It didn’t take long for Ashley’s adventurous spirit to lead to making a sparkling wine from one of our other Rhône varieties, Grenache. I fell in love with its beautiful blush color. I tried the still version shortly after its first fermentation. If the still wine was this pretty, I knew the sparkling version would be a sensation - and it was! It was honored as one of 10 Hot Brands in 2017 and sells out every year.
We have since added several new sparkling wines to our collection, all made from grapes grown in our estate Morningsong Vineyards. In February 2022 we will release our first ever Sparkling Tres, a rosé of our popular Tres, a red wine blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
We are proud to be featured alongside what the article describes as “the power players in the local sparkling wine scene” from the iconic Korbel, which was established in 1882, to those that emerged in the 1980s, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Iron Horse Vineyards, and J Vineyards & Winery.
Check out "9 Sparkling Wineries to Visit in Sonoma this Holiday Season" in Sonoma Magazine.
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