Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Winey Travels: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards - Add A Little Sparkle To Your Day

As part of a significant birthday present trip for the Winey Hubby (significant being any birthday that ends in a "0" and makes the Winey kids tease you a lot), we recently spent a week in the San Francisco area. I had never been, and the last time WH was there he was a passenger in a car driven by his father. Being the second youngest of five children, I do believe he sat on the "floor hump" for much of that trip. This time we made it a bit more comfy for him.

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard
Of course, part of our trip consisted of a stopover in Wine Country. We started out in Sonoma, on a very, very rainy spring day and thanks to a number of winery suggestions, wound up at the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, in the Carneros region of Sonoma, right at the very bottom of Sonoma County. I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to visit because they specialize in sparkling wines. And I have a healthy fear of such wines and the headaches they bring me. Plus, they all seemed sort of one dimensional. But, it was raining hard, we'd been in wine country for an hour and I wanted out of the car (even though I was seated nice and comfy in the front passenger seat and not on the back seat floor hump).

Of course we wanted a tour - they had caves after all! It being a quiet Tuesday, we were the only two people on the tour, which started out with our guide Tammy handing each of us a glass of 2006 Blanc de Blancs (100%  Chardonnay, 12.5%) and ordering us to start sipping. Well, okey dokey - things were looking up! A little history lesson told us that Ferrer was the very first sparkling wine winery in Carneros (wine country has a bunch of different "regions" within its famed counties...this is one of them). They grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes there - and these are the two most important grapes to grow if you want your wine to sparkle. I was learning a lot. And the Blanc de Blancs? It sparkled with tastes of pear and lemon and was almost creamy in my mouth. Definitely NOT one dimensional! Hmm....
Sparkling wine on a riddling rack
A walk to the next building found us in the actual wine making facility. We got the bird's eye view of the entire process, which, when you're talking about Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine, is known as Méthode Champenoise. In a nutshell, this is the wine making "recipe" allegedly developed by Dom (Pierre) Perignon, a Benedictine Monk in the Champagne district of France in the 1600's. (We're talking some major history here!) It centers around blending wines into a cuvee (blend) which is then bottled. Sugar and yeast are added to make the bubbles. Once the bottles are bubbled, they are put on riddling racks so that all the leftover yeast settles in the neck of the bottle. The yeast is then extracted by actually putting the bottles into a freezing solution, freezing the yeast and popping it out, saving the bubbly good stuff underneath it. A “dosage,” (mixture of white wine, sugar and brandy) may be added at this point to increase the sweetness. The wine is then re-bottled with a thick cork, and topped with the famous wire cage to hold up to the pressure of the carbon dioxide trapped inside the bottle. Sparkling wine can have an alcohol content ranging from 12%-14%.

You get to see this entire process in the wine making room - and it's quite amazing. For as much as machines help with the bottling and freezing and corking, there are still some very knowledgeable human eyes down there watching and tasting and testing. At this point though, we were poured another glass of sparkling wine and ordered to sip again! This time, we were tasting a 2004 Royal Cuvee (67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 13%) which had been yeast aged for 5 years (longer than the first wine we tasted). This one was very lively on the front and sides of my tongue. It was much creamier in texture and had an apple, cherry flavor to it. The Winey Hubby really liked this one a lot. I did too, but was still a bit partial to the Blanc de Blancs we'd tasted first.

Next up was a peek at one of the caves. No, we didn't have to climb a hillside and evict a family of bears. This cave was right in the winery, complete with brick walls and stretching WAAAAY back into the hillside next to the building. And then, not to take away from the cave or anything, but Tammy decided that we must taste the wine that has recently come into the spotlight in Sonoma. So we were poured a 2006 Jose S. Ferrer Pinot Noir (100% estate grown Pinot Noir, 13.5%). There was an aroma of smoke and plum, followed by those tastes with a dash of pepper thrown in. Yum. And since hubby is not a huge red wine drinker, I got some of his too!

2000 Carneros Cuvee
Don't you just love the
shape of the bottle!?
I can't say enough about how nice our guide, Tammy, was. I could tell we'd have fun right away when we both started moaning about teenagers for one reason or another. When our tour was "finished", she led us back to the tasting room and told us she'd help if we wanted to buy anything or get something to eat. And then she decided that we really hadn't had enough of an education thus far and told us to sit down and wait a second. Having followed her orders for the past hour, we weren't about to stop then. And out she came with two more glasses. She put them in front of us explaining that she had talked so much about their top of the line sparkling wine, the 2000 Carneros Cuvee (55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay,12.5%) and how you really could taste the difference in a wine aged 10 years and that it won Wine of the Year in the 2012 Winemaker Challenge Wine Competition that she thought we needed to taste some of it. Again, being the intelligent pair that we are, we sipped. And boy was Tammy right! This wine was creamy and soft and tasted of lightly oaked fruits with maybe a hint of smooth vanilla. Wow. Just wow. Away went all my preconceived notions of sparkling wines. This was amazing. And yes, we left with a bottle of it, along with another Pinot Noir that will hopefully appear in a review at a later date.

Our first wine country winery, and it was a good one! The process of making a sparkling wine is fascinating - if you ever get the chance, grab a tour. And if you happen to be in Sonoma, grab it at Gloria Ferrer. The winery had been recommended to me by three different people prior to the trip, and their recommendations were totally and sparklingly justified!


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  1. Thanks so much for the glowing review ..... I really enjoyed your visit and glad you had a great time too!!! Tammy

  2. Tammy you made it so much fun for us! Truly enjoyable! And very very sparkly!! :)


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