Domestic Sparkling Wine Finds Its Identity

Ana Diago Draper, winemaker for Artesa Winery in Napa, CA. makes sparkling wine using the traditional méthode champenoise.

Winemakers on both coasts of the U.S. describe their processes in producing méthode champenoise wine

By L. M. Archer

While many in the wine trade consider Champagne the “king of wines and wine of kings,” more consumers increasingly regard sparkling wine as its equally regal offspring.

Astute Champagne houses long ago foresaw the future of stateside sparkling wine, with notables such as Taittinger Champagne (Domaine Carneros), Moët & Chandon (Domaine Chandon), G.H. Mumm (Mumm Napa) and Louis Roederer (Roederer Estate) investing in California vine- yards and wineries in the 1970s and 1980s.

Domestic wineries also joined the noble fizz fray. While Ohio lays claim as the first state to see successful American sparkling wine production in the 1800s, California grabbed international attention in the 1970s. Today, U.S. bubble makers abound from Oregon to New Jersey.

This report analyzes six classic and non-traditional sparkling wine producers: three in California, two in Oregon, and one in New Jersey. All winemakers interviewed for this feature follow the méthode champenoise process of sparkling wine production. Unlike Champagne, which must follow strict production guidelines for everything from planting to pressing and aging, American sparkling wine production allows for greater latitude.

A tale of terroir

Champagne views terroir in terms of villages and regions, rather than the Burgundian concept based upon specific lieux-dits (named sites) or climats. The art of the blend trumps individual vineyard expressions. The United States embraces both approaches, according to winemaker inclination. But some wine regions lend themselves to sparkling wine production better than others.

Many view California’s Anderson Valley as America’s grande dame of sparkling wine production. Consulting winemaker and sparkling wine specialist Tex Sawyer said the valley is on the 39th parallel, the same as Spain, but enjoys a significant coastal influence. “This results in grapes with the same pH and total acids as Champagne due to the cool temperatures, but fully ripe grapes at harvest with potential alcohols of 11% due to the long, sunlit days,” Sawyer said. “Pretty spectacular situation, in our opinion.” Read the full article in Wines and Vines Magazine here.

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