Few things speak levity like Champagne or sparkling wine. How better to raise ones spirits than with a glass of effervescence? Since we are all in need a lift right now, let’s talk bubbles.

Marie Gewirtz

Marie Gewirtz

How are so many small bubbles captured into the bottle? Méthode Champenoise, the traditional French method of producing Champagne, creates effervescence in each individual bottle. The process begins in early fall when grapes reach a precise balance between natural sugar and acid. Grapes are picked in wee hours of the night or at the break of dawn to benefit from cool morning air, and rushed to the winery to be gently pressed. Yeast is added and the juice begins its first fermentation.

To achieve finesse with this delicate art of transformation, sparkling winemakers are among the most skilled of winemakers. They create a cuvée, or blend, and this secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle with the addition of more yeast and a small amount of sugar.

After a few months, the trapped CO2 (bubbles) become part of the wine. But here’s the tricky part, the yeast needs to be removed from the bottle. To do so, bottles are placed in riddling racks, turned and tilted daily, until the spent yeast, or sediment, collects at the neck of the bottle to then be removed. Most modern Champagne or sparkling wineries have automatic Gyropalette riddling machines. Cellars using manual riddling still exist, where a skillful ‘Remueur’ can turn up to 50,000 bottles a day. Dosage occurs just prior to corking when a little reserve wine and sugar are added as a finishing touch.

Working with Gloria Ferrer, the first sparkling winery in Sonoma Carneros, I came to appreciate the diversity of this centuries-old delicacy. Most people aren’t aware that sparkling wines are a perfect complement to a wide variety of foods and occasions. Sparkling wine paired with popcorn is as delicious as it is with oysters. My favorite pairing is thinly sliced toasted baguettes, crème fraiche, smoked salmon and capers. Enjoy sparkling wines with your favorite foods on these warm summer nights.

Just remember that sparkling wine is under great pressure, so uncork with caution. Remove the foil, loosen the wire cage holding the cork with a towel, point the bottle away from yourself and others and slowly twist the bottle, not the cork. Ease the cork gently from the bottle preserving the precious bubbles rather than having them wasted with a huge pop and overflowing wine. Voila, magic in a bottle.  

Have you ever wondered why all sparkling wine isn’t called Champagne? With an 1891 treaty, the European Union protected the term Champagne making it illegal to label any product Champagne unless it comes from the Champagne wine region of France, and is produced under the strict rules of that appellation. Champagne can be a blend or single varietal wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes. In America we call wine with bubbles sparkling wine. In Spain it is called Cava. In Italy, Prosecco from Veneto in Northern Italy is made from Glera grapes.

Regardless of what it is called, sparkling wines lift spirits and enliven the palate. Tonight when I pop the cork of a Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs I will offer two toasts.

The first is a toast of gratitude to the University of San Francisco for recently hosting NBA champion and Eat.Learn.Play Foundation Co-Founder Stephan Curry for a conversation with Dr. Clarence Jones. Jones, director of USF’s Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice was also a speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He penned much of the “I Have a Dream” speech. Please listen to this inspiring conversation.

Lastly, join me in welcoming new Healdsburg City Council member Ozzy Jimenez. The recent city council majority vote appointment signals necessary change. In Healdsburg’s 153-year history, Ozzy is the first council member of color since 1992, in a city where at least 30% of residents identify as Hispanic.

Ozzy’s hard work, diligence and skill in becoming a respected business owner and community leader put him now in a position to bring insight and experience to our local government. Cheers.  

Marie Gewirtz represents wine and food clients with marketing and communications in Sonoma County and throughout the world. She can be reached at winewords@sonomawest.com.

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