Fizz, pop, clink, sip. This ritual is one bubbly-lovers hold sacred, and many look to Champagne for their fizzy fix. Made with mainly Chardonnay grapes, Blanc de Blancs from Champagne has enjoyed a lifetime of prestige, so much so that many French Champagne houses have grown to be international brands whose wine is made on multiple continents, including our own.
What few realize is that German winemakers have been making sparkling wine, or Sekt, in an off-dry style, using affordable varieties from more economical regions such as Muller-Thurgau. Most producers of the boozy bubbly beverage use the economical Tank Method (like Prosecco). Larger houses (rarely in Germany) produce their bubbly through the slightly more complex transfer method. Less use high-quality and pricey Riesling grapes and lesser still use the labor-intensive and time-consuming traditional method of production. So what exactly are the differences between the three methods of sparkling wine production? In the first of a three-part series, we’ll break down the three most commonly-used means of production.
Photo Credit: Wine Folly
The Traditional Method of sparkling winemaking goes by many names: Méthode Champenoise, Méthode Traditionelle, Méthode Cap Classique, to name a few. Whatever the alias, the finished products are some of the most celebrated due to the sheer amount of time, labor and money that went into their creation. The most magical part? The entire transformation from still to sparkling wine takes place inside the glass walls of each bottle.
First, grapes are picked (usually sooner than grapes used solely for still wines, to preserve acidity) and fermented to dry as usual. The winemaker blends multiple base wines together to create a cuvée (blend).
Next, the base wine is bottled and a precise mixture of yeast, wine, and sugar called liqueur de tirage is added to the base wine to each bottle, which are capped with a crown cap (like a beer bottle). This triggers the second fermentation.
The second fermentation creates about 1.3% more alcohol and carbon dioxide, and spent yeast cells that remain in the bottle.
The wine is then left to age on these spent yeast cells, or lees (sur lie, or en tirage) to develop texture, complexity, and autolytic character in the wine. This process is entirely subjective and can be anywhere from 9 months to 5 years, depending on quality. Many believe the longer the wine rests on the lees, the better.
Once the winemaker decides the wine is close to finished, it’s time to Riddle! Riddling traditionally takes place in riddling racks; rectangular wooden boards hinged at the top, both sides with holes to hold the necks of bottles. The bottles are placed neck-down into the racks at a 45-degree angle. Every day for several weeks, the riddler rotates every single bottle a few degrees, gently shifting the lees closer to the neck of the bottle. At the end of the process, the bottles are slanted a 60-degree angle and are completely neck-down in their holes, and all the lees are collected in the neck.
This process removes sediment from the bottle without wasting wine or compromising quality. After riddling, bottles are placed upside-down into a freezing solution for several minutes which causes the residual yeast particles to freeze. The crown caps are then popped off which allows the frozen plug of lees to shoot out. The minimal amount of wine lost in the process is replaced with a slightly sweet mixture of wine and sugar, or dosage, which balances the acidity in the wine.
Photo Credit: Wine Folly
The transfer method is identical to the traditional method until the aging process is complete. After aging, the bottled wines are emptied into a large, pressurized tank and filtered immediately to separate the lees from the wine. This method sidesteps the costly and difficult riddling and disgorgement of the traditional method, yet the resulting wines still may have delicious autolytic flavors and textures.
Photo Credit: Wine Folly
Also known as the Charmat Method, the tank method tends to be the fastest and most affordable and uses (you guessed it) a stainless steel tank to turn a still base wine into a sparkling one, rather than a bottle. Finished wine is added together with liqueur de tirage, a sugar, wine, and yeast mixture, triggering a rapid fermentation within the pressure-resistant tank.
As the fermentation goes on, carbon dioxide released from the fermentation causes the tank to pressurize, and the resulting sparkling wine is filtered, dosed with a solution of sugar and wine, and bottled.
Wines made using the tank method are inherently fresher in character as they are not aged at all. Large-volume producers of sparkling wines around the world utilize this method as it allows for the quickest turnaround (approximately 10-12 days from base wine to bottle) of the three methods.
In our first installment of "Amador County Wine...California's Second Gold Rush", we took a stroll through the history of some of California's oldest vineyards, planted during the Gold Rush in the 1850's. When mining became less profitable and surface gold was depleted, many miners abandoned their claims and went on to find greener pastures. With this exodus from gold country, most vineyards were also abandoned and left unattended, some dying away and others going dormant.
It wasn't until the 1960's and 1970's when Amador County saw it's second "gold rush", this time in the form of the wine industry as a whole. In addition to the vineyards, wineries began popping up throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
While not quite the tourist destination at that time, heck, even Napa Valley was still budding, winemakers in Amador County began producing world-class wines to sell commercially and to individuals. Some of the first wineries in Amador County include Montevina (est. 1973) and Story Winery (est. 1973), both of which Scott worked at before and after his winemaking education. Read more about Scott's History. While wineries, such as Cooper, Dillian and Spinetta, didn't open until after the 1980's, these families have been growing grapes in Amador County for decades, thus firmly earning a place in the Amador County wine history books.
Amador County is home to the third oldest winery in the state! The D’Agostini Winery was started in 1856 by Adam Uhlinger. In 1911, the winery and its 125 acres of vineyards were purchased by Enrico D’Agostini, for whom the winery was named for. In 1984, Armagan Champagne Cellars purchased the business and the Amador County vineyard and wine cellar were sold to the Sobon family in 1989. The original wine cellar still exists today, and is now the Shenandoah Valley Museum.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
Today, there are more than 40 active wineries that make up the Amador Vintners Association with faciliites throughout the Shenandoah and Fiddletown AVAs, along with a handful of others outside of those AVAs. Many of these wineries are family owned and operated, and have been for generations. They always welcome you in with a smile and the desire to show off their home grown and hand crafted wines. Visit the Amador Vintners Association website.
Scattered throughout Amador County, you'll find a number of private tasting rooms featuring award-winning gold country wines. Up and down Main Street of historic Downtown Sutter Creek, you'll find more than seven tasting rooms nestled among unique shops, fine and casual dining and top-notch lodging facilites. Visit the Sutter Creek Business Association's website and Wine on 49.
WHAT WE HAVE TO OFFER
While Amador County is known for its tasty, award winning and historical Zinfandels, the rising and shining star in Amador’s vineyards is Barbera. An Italian variety that hails from the Piedmont region of Italy, this grape variety is unknown to many in California and most of the United States; unless of course you’re a Scott Harvey fan, then you've already established your love affair with Barbera. Amador County Barbera has become so popular, it even has it's own event! Learn more here about the Barbera Festival.
Amador’s volcanic soil, made up primarily of sandy clay loam as a result of decomposed granite, is ideal for growing Zinfandel and Barbera, as well as Syrah, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah, among other lesser-known red varietals. While Amador County is not known for its white wines, you’d be surprised to know that it is home to some award winning Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
Just recently, the Sierra Foothills region made headlines when Wine Enthusiast contributing editor, Jim Gordon, wrote about his experience in "The New & Improved Sierra Foothills". Mr. Gordon highlights some of the rustic charm mixed with relaxed luxury as well as some of the old vine gems scattered throughout Amador County and the Sierra Foothills; including a Cellar Selection rating on our Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel.
RETHINKING CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY
Let's revisit our word association game. This time when we say "California Wine Country", maybe you'll think of Amador County. When we say "Award Winning California Wines", you can easily name a handful of Gold Medal winners from the Sierra Foothills. When we say "Barbera", you think "YUM!". As for "Old Vine Zinfandels", you, as a Scott Harvey fan, know first hand that these are must-haves for your collection!
When you're getting ready to plan a trip to “California’s Wine Country”, think Amador County. In addition to the fantastic wines and wineries, you will also enjoy the rustic charm of historical towns such as Sutter Creek, Jackson and Plymouth. Take in all that Amador County has to offer, including fine dining, shopping, gold mine excursions, art events and much more!
Let’s play a little word association game. I’ll give you a word or phrase; you tell me what first comes to mind:
(1) California's Wine Country
(2) Gold Medal Winning California Wines
(3) Old Vine Zinfandels
Now, let us give the conventional answers:
(1) Napa Valley
(2) Again…Napa Valley
(3) Jammy fruit bombs that are high in alcohol
(4) That’s not how you spell Barbara…and what does she have to do with wine?
For those of us who live in California or are familiar with California wines, we know that good wines come from the upper North Coast all the way down to the Southern California border, and everywhere in between.
California is home to some of the best wines in the world, and is only surpassed in production (not necessarily quality) by Italy, France and Spain. While Napa Valley may have solidified its claim to fame at The Judgement of Paris in 1973, there are a vast number of wine regions in California that have been producing award winning wines for decades; many still unknown or thought to be insignificant in the world of wine.
For those who enjoy Scott Harvey Wines, you already know better. Some of the best wine in the world comes from the fifth smallest county (in terms of square miles) in California; Amador County. Within the 600 square miles that makes up Amador County, about 4,000 acres (less than 1%) consists of wine grapes. But the grapes grown within that 1% produce some of the best wines in California, if not the world.
The Making of California’s 2nd Gold Rush:In part one of our two part blog, we visit some of Amador's deeply rooted wine history, including our own little piece of history in the Vineyard 1869 as well as the new shining star, Barbera.
During the 1850’s, California was flooded with prospectors staking claims and digging for fortunes, mining for their pot of gold. The biggest surge of miners passed through Northern California and the Sierra Foothills, home to vast veins of this precious metal. While some succeeded in finding prosperity, most were fooled and left “holding the pan”. But all of the mining, successful or not, made the “49ers” thirsty, thus resulting in the planting, cultivating and fermenting of grapes to make wine to quench their thirst and ease the hard days.
The Sierra Foothills nearly fell off the map, with regard to wine production, when gold mining ended with the 19th century and the initiation of Prohibition started in the 1920s. The miners deserted their camps and vineyards were left to wither and die. It wasn’t until the 1960s when new “prospectors” started the second “Gold Rush” of Amador…winemaking!
While numerous vineyards were planted in Amador County during the 1850’s, the oldest documented vineyard is one of our very own; the Vineyard 1869. A land deed from an 1869 U.S. Geological Survey notes a fully established vineyard on the property that is home to our historical Old Vine Zinfandel grapes (as well as some Barbera). LEARN MORE ABOUT VINEYARD 1869 HERE.
Today, of Amador’s nearly 4,000 acres of wine grapes, over 600 acres are over 60 years old, and several date back to the 19th century. These older vines are often non-irrigated and must rely on their roots to dig deep for water. These stressed grapes produce bold, complex and multi-faceted wines that you won't find anywhere else. These wines are often produced in the Old World style with low alcohol and balanced pH, making them perfect to pair with food.
More recently, Amador County has unearthed another piece of California gold by cultivating Barbera vineyards. Hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy, this variety was first planted in Amador County in the 1880s, but didn't really gain traction as a known variety until the late 1990s. Barbera vines are adaptive to a variety of soils, but thrive in decomposed granite and volcanic soils, and enjoy a little heat during the summer days with cooler evenings. This describes Amador County perfectly. Originally used as a "blending" wine, Barbera is now taking Amador County, California and the nation by storm. Barbera is a versatile, food friendly wine that goes well with Italian style meals, vegetarian meals and a variety of cheeses. READ MORE HERE ABOUT AMADOR'S SHINING STAR
Let's revist our little word association game now. I’ll give you a word or phrase; you tell me what first comes to mind:
(1) California's Wine Country
(2) Gold Medal Winning California Wines
(3) Old Vine Zinfandels
Here are your new answers:
(1) Amador County, California
(2) Again…Amador County
(3) Complex, balanced and multi-faceted
(4) Sure to be your new favorite wine!
Just how many grapes does it take to make up Amador's "liquid gold"?
Download our Free Vineyard to Bottle Sheet to find out!
"Tickle My Belly Day" all started when our wine club manager, Monica, had one her famous "shower" ideas. What's a "shower" idea you ask? A great idea you have in the shower and hope you remember it by the time you get out! Her thought..."We have a wine called Tickle Me Pink and dogs like to have their bellies tickled...how can we combine the two...and maybe benefit the animals?" We don't even want to know what else goes on in her head, but we love her anyway. Being that she is a big animal lover and advocate, as well as a wine lover, the idea for
"Tickle My Belly Day" was born, and boy did it take off!
With months of planning and teamwork, on October 28, 2017, it all came together. The event, hosted by Scott Harvey Wines, the Amador County Animal Control Shelter, Goin' Postal and The Feed Barn in Jackson, featured a special wine tasting menu, including our Tickle Me Pink Rosé, hot dogs, chips and sodas, a photo station with props and the best volunteer photographer, April, swag bags with goodies for both people and pups, and a doggie (temporary) tattoo artist from Country Clippers in Lockeford, CA. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Tickle Me Pink benefited the Rusty Fund at the shelter.
Seeing that the event day was so close to Halloween, we encouraged people and their pets to come in costume for a chance to win some great prizes...and they did not disappoint! Jazz the Pitbull (1st Place in the Pet Costume Contest) came as a Chick Magnet. Grommet dressed as The Cat in The Hat (2nd Place) while his sister Annie was a Sweet Witch. As for people in costumes, we had royalty, kitty cats, angels, and even couple dressed as a mermaid and merman (their dog Walter, was a shark). They took 1st Place inthe People Costume Contest.
The main focus of the day however, were the adoptable dogs that were on site from the Amador County Animal Control Shelter. Volunteers from the shelter brought out Roxy, Ruby and Toby to show them off with the hopes of them finding forever homes. We are very happy to announce that both Ruby and Toby have been adopted! In addition to the adoptable dogs, ACART (Amador County Animal Rescue Team) was onsite to pass our information on how to keep your pets safe during natural disasters along with other resources for pet safety.
At the end of the day, it was so rewarding to see the results of our hard work and planning. Everyone who attended had a great time tasting wine, enjoying food, having their pictures taken, going home with a bag full of goodies all while supporting the animals at the Amador County Animal Control Shelter. A big THANK YOU to everyone who helped put this together as well as to all of those who attended. We look forward to doing this again in 2018.
Visit our Facebook Page to see all of the pictures from the event.
Tips & Tricks to Keep Pets Safe Over the Holidays
Sign up for our mailing list to keep in top of news, new releases, events, and promotions.