I was more than a little surprised to learn that when the Ferrers came for a visit to Sonoma in the 1980s there were no sparkling houses in Carneros. Really?

We forget today that what is now vast tracts of vineyards was once prime cattle and sheep ranching land. In fact, you can still see quite a bit of cattle and sheep grazing in Napa and Sonoma counties. But it is a little shocking to register the transformation from livestock land to mature vineyards in little more than two decades.

José and Gloria Ferrer knew a good thing when they first saw it more than two decades ago, however. The Carneros region bore a sublime resemblance to their Catalonian roots in Spain. It had the Mediterranean climate, sloping hills, and maritime influences that were so familiar to them. Could a light bulb not go on in their heads during their visit?

With the land before them seemingly perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (the key varietals to make sparkling wine), they snapped up 160 acres of cattle ranching land and promptly planted most of it to Pinot Noir vines with the remaining converted to Chardonnay acreage. That was 1982. It wasn’t until a year later before the region was given its official designation as an American Viticultural Area (AVA), recognizing for the first time an area for its unique soil and climate conditions – and not political boundaries.

In 1986, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards opened their doors. Now bear in mind how very new this was to the Ferrers. Their family had been winegrowers in Spain since the 1500s and was the family behind La Freixeneda—a 12th century farming estate. The Ferrer family founded Freixenet, producing their first cava in 1915, and eventually becoming the world’s largest producer of méthode champenoise sparkling wine. So building a new winery at the end of the 20th century was a whole new adventure in which they could invest centuries of knowledge and experience.

Of course, when you’ve come so far from your homeland, it’s natural to pay homage to your roots. They designed the winery to look like a Catalonian farmhouse (also called a masia). It is situated far from the entrance off Arnold Drive (Rt. 121), nestled against the foothills in the Carneros region of Sonoma County.

The journey up the very long driveway provides an extensive view of the winery, making you more and more curious about what awaits you behind the front door. Fulfilling its promise, there’s nothing quite like relaxing and slowly sipping a glass of Gloria Ferrer’s award-winning sparkling wine after gaining entry. Better yet, enjoy your glass with the panoramic view afforded by the winery’s Vista Terrace.

The Beginnings of Bubbly

A quarter century ago, Gloria Ferrer launched their winery with just one sparkling wine. But today they offer more than a dozen wines, focusing on several sparkling wines as well as their Estate varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

by Will Chubb Photography

Of course, developing a new winery in a new country (to the Ferrers) involved a significant investment in research and experimentation. In the Old World, winemakers and growers had the advantage and expertise of family members and colleagues passing down their knowledge over many centuries. But starting from scratch on what was once Carneros ranch land required a whole new learning curve to determine which vines thrived best in the New World.

Over the past 20-odd years they have studied more than 40 different clones to determine the best suitability for each vine to the various growing conditions in their many different growing blocks. (In many cases these heirloom vines spent years in quarantine at U.C. Davis as research continued before they could utilize the vines on their land.)

With their estate now expanded to 335-acres, dedicated mostly to Pinot Noir, all the fruit for Gloria Ferrer’s varietal wines and a portion of the fruit for their sparkling wines are cultivated on their two Sonoma Carneros estate properties. Both the 207-acre Home Ranch and 128-acre Circle Bar Ranch are planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

When You’ve Been Growing Wine Since the 1500s…

Having a long and rich cultural history as stewards of the land, the Ferrers continue this practice at Gloria Ferrer. It is among the first wineries in California to implement the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices (a joint effort of the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers).

Sustainability covers a multitude of practices to maintain the good health of the land and environment. Here are just a few of them they’ve put into action:

  • Cultivating seedlings in the estate nursery from indigenous seeds gathered throughout the property.
  • These seedlings are then replanted to establish riparian corridors for local wildlife.
  • Native grasses are planted to control erosion on the surrounding hillsides.
  • Legume cover crops are planted between rows in the valleys to replenish the soil with nitrogen and provide habitat for beneficial insects.
  • Wastewater from wine production is reused for vineyard irrigation.
  • Bluebird nest boxes have been installed throughout the vineyards to attract nesting bluebirds.
  • Bluebirds act as natural pest control, feeding on insects harmful to the vines.

Gloria Ferrer is not only a steward of the land but partners in the community with Sonoma Valley’s WillMar Center for Bereaved Children. The vineyard crews actually build the bluebird boxes for the children at the center to paint themselves. These one-of-a-kind, hand-painted bluebird boxes are available for purchase in their tasting room, with 100% of sales going to the WillMar Center.

About Their Wines

And the wine? We’ll have much more about Gloria Ferrer’s wines in the upcoming weeks. (Stay tuned!) Suffice it to say they’re doing nicely: The Gloria Ferrer 2006 Blanc de Blancs won the Sweepstakes at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January.

If you’d  like a glimpse beyond the winery doors and the patio, the folks at Something About Sonoma snapped this lovely shot of their caves this week.

Be sure to join us on Thursday, March 1st at 6:00 p.m. for our first annual member meeting at Gloria Ferrer. We’ll be celebrating their 25th anniversary as well as winding up Women for WineSense’s 21st birthday celebration.

To learn more, enjoy this 4-minute video celebrating Gloria Ferrer’s 25th anniversary.

You can view other Gloria Ferrer videos on their winemaking, harvest and Catalan Festival on their YouTube channel or on their website. Find them also on Facebook and Twitter.