Appellation Series

Guest post by WWS member Susan DeMatei – Susan is the owner of Vinalytic, a consulting firm specializing in Direct Marketing for wineries. She is the winner of a Direct Marketing Association Achievement Award, a Certified Sommelier, a Certified Specialist in Wine and has over 20 year’s experience in Direct Marketing in the luxury digital arena. You can read her blog at

An Introduction to Franciacorta Wines

There is no doubt about it, we are a festive nation. In 2011, the Wine Institute reported shipments of sparkling wine and champagne were the highest in the last 25 years, reaching 17.2 million cases, up 13% over 2010. And not just champagne and domestic Sparkling Wine strong sales came from a variety of different producers and regions worldwide. Prosecco and sparkling Moscato were among the winners, and champagnes, other sparkling wines and California methode champenoise wines also experienced gains.

A Quick Primer on Sparkling Wine

Every Country has their Bubbles.  Spain offers Cava, Italy has Prosecco, Germany toasts with Sec, but one of the least known, but most lovely, is Franciacorta.

Paul Wagner, of Balzac Communications & Marketing, recently agreed to speak to Women for WineSense about this little known region.

Also named for the region, Franciacorta is the sparkling wine made from that territory in the Lombardy area of Italy.  It was awarded DOC status in 1967, the designation then also including red and white still wines. Since 1995 the DOCG classification has applied exclusively to the sparkling wines of the area.


In 1961, an ambitious young winemaker names Franco Zilian who was working for the established producer of still wines, Guido Berlucchi, produced 3,000 bottles of a sparkling wine under the name Pinot di Franciacorta. Instant interest allowed the following vintage production to be increased to 20,000 bottles, and eventually the annual production to 100,000 bottles.  By the time the region was granted DOC status in 1967 there were 11 producers of sparkling Franciacorta, although Berlucchi represented more than 80% of the production.  As of 2006, sales of Franciacorta were approximately 6.7 million bottles.

Franciacorta became the first DOC to specify that its sparkling wines must be made by the same methods in the champagne region in France.  In 1990, the Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta was formed, instigating codes of self-regulation with a gradual reduction of yields and elimination of the use of Pinot grigio in the blend. The advent of DOCG status declared vineyards extend only 2,200 hectars (5,400 acres) and the blend permitted is 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Blanc.   This governing body considered responsible for the efficient elevation of sparkling Franciacorta to DOCG status in 1995. Since August 1, 2003, Franciacorta has been the only Italian wine not obliged to declare its DOCG appellation on the label, in the same manner that a Champagne is permitted to exclude from labels its AOC.

Other than the blend, the production process, aging, styles, sweetness variations and wines are similar to champagne.

So, why aren’t Americans toasting with the same wine they do a Milan Fashion Week?  Paul Wagner has the answer; “They drink it all in Italy!”

Paul explains that the Italians love their dolce vita and premium wine so much that very little gets exported.  In fact, so little is available for trial, Paul’s company, Balzac Communications & Marketing, has been hired to introduce “those in the know” to the unknown wine. Thus, he’s scheduled reviews with Sommeliers, Masters of Wines, Educators and enthusiast groups like Women for WineSense to “educate the educators.”

“Our first phase is designed to introduce those palates that will appreciate the wine of Franciacorta, because only with this educated demand will the Italians be persuaded to give up such a treasure.”

So, what to do if you miss Paul’s presentation and tasting?  Try a high-end restaurant, is his best advice.  He says on-premise is more likely to carry Franciacorta than retail.

And, don’t forget that every day is a chance to celebrate.


Women for WineSense will be hosting Be Inspired by Franciacorta Italian Wines at The Valley Wine Shack in Sonoma on August 23rd, 6-8 p.m. Paul Wagner, owner and founder of Balzac Communications & Marketing, will be presenting the Franciacorta bubbly for tasting and speaking to attendees. For more information or reservations, visit our ticket site at:

Appellation Series LogoWith the launch of our first ever Appellation Series event this Thursday, I ran across this blog post (reprinted below), from Ann Reynolds of Wine Compliance Alliance, that seemed highly apropos to our theme.

I asked Ann a little bit about the Sonoma AVA history, and here’s what she had to say. Enjoy the post.

Q: What was the first AVA to be created in Sonoma County?

A: Sonoma Valley in 1982. It also happens to be the smallest AVA in Sonoma Co at 4,000 acres. The last (most recent) Sonoma Co. AVA to be created is Bennett Valley in 2003. Sonoma County currently has a total of 13 AVAs within its borders.

How An AVA Is Born

by Ann Reynolds

I just read a really good article on a new AVA that has been submitted for the Coombsville area in Napa. If approved it would become the 16th sub-AVA within Napa Valley. Coombsville Get an AVA%3F

AVAs have grown in numbers rapidly in the last 5 years. The process that happens behind the scenes to create them may look simple, but involves detailed research.

Wine Compliance AllianceThere are currently 197 AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas in the US. An AVA is a specifically defined grape growing region that can be used on a wine’s label to offer further background about the wine’s “blood lines” so to speak. The approval of an AVA comes from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau. (TTB) The major step before that approval comes from the submission of a petition from members of the wine industry who desire to see an area they hold dear become the next name on the TTB’s official list. Just what are the required items for this petition that gets submitted to the TTB? A brief list of 4 items.

Item # 1, Name Evidence. It must be clearly associated with an area in which viticulture exists. (Uh, Duh) The name and evidence which supports its use must come from sources independent of the petitioner. Where might that evidence come from? Maps, books, magazines, or road names just to list a few. Petitioners are required to submit copies of the name evidence examples to back it up.

Item # 2, Boundary Evidence. This is an explanation of how the boundaries were decided upon for the parameters of the proposed AVA. This evidence needs to list commonalities within the proposed area as well as how those common characteristics make it different from areas immediately outside of it.

Item # 3, Distinguishing Features. These are the specific details which must be submitted in narrative form that are common to the proposed area which make it unique in the following categories: climate, geology, soils, physical features and elevation. Each of these categories must be described as to how they make an impact related to viticulture and once again how they specifically differ from sorounding areas outside of the proposed boundaries

Item # 4, Maps and Boundary Description. The petitioner needs to submit actual USGS maps clearly marking the boundaries of the proposed AVA. Along with this marked map they must also provide a detailed narrative of those boundaries, designating a starting point and describing the entire boundary in a clockwise direction from that point and leading back to it. This narrative description must refer to easily recognized reference points on the USGS map.

This is not the complete breakdown of the AVA petition and approval process but gives you a basic overview of what they are looking for. Over the last 15 years in the industry I’ve watched as AVA after AVA has been approved. I’m a believer in their role as a guide to the consumer about useful background for wine shopping and appreciation purposes. Wine is a product very much about the “where” of it, so AVAs play (for US wines) a hugely significant role in that.

For more info here is a link to the TTB’s AVA page:

Ann Reynolds is a wine compliance educator and trainer with over 20 years in the Napa wine industry. She instructs courses focused on the nuts and bolts of winery compliance systems and through her business, Wine Compliance Alliance, provides guidance to wineries with on site compliance training and system development. Ann is also the author of The Inside Story of a Wine Label: For Those Who Like To Think While They Drink, available as an ebook and in soft cover.

It’s been nearly 200 years since Russian colonists planted and cultivated grapes at Ft. Ross in 1812, an early settlement in what is now Sonoma County (aka Sonoma AVA – the appellation we celebrate 6/9/11). Appellation Series LogoThen it was those Franciscan Friars who got busy with winemaking at the northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, in 1823. Jump forward two centuries and we’ve got some fantabulous Sonoma County wines to show off Thursday!

With more than 55,000 acres now under cultivation in the county, Sonoma’s wine industry is so revered it’s generated upwards of 13 sub-appellations – all highly coveted for their unique terroirs and contributions to building fine wine brands — and it commands impressive prices for the fermented juice of the vines.

In but two short hours this coming Thursday, we’ll sample from three of the best. Here are their stories:

Roessler Cellars

From their own websites: Roessler Cellars began in 2000 when long-time restaurateur Roger Roessler and experienced winemaker Richard Roessler merged talents to produce their first vintage of Pinot Noir. Inspired by a winemaking friend to “buy a few grapes” and “make a little wine,” the brothers sourced Sonoma grapes from the celebrated grape-growers, the Sangiacomo family. Over the years, they added new vineyards to their portfolio and grew from 225 cases of the original Sangiacomo fruit, to over 7,000 cases of 17 single-vineyard and appellation designated Pinots and 4 single-vineyard Chardonnays. The simple idea to “buy a few grapes” and “make a little wine” snowballed into the creation of a truly diverse and quality-focused enterprise.

The map of Roessler Cellars’ select growers stretches from the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara to northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Though our label’s wide assortment of vineyards reflects our passion and commitment to the Pinot and Chardonnay varietals, our company was born out of a gamble.

Having spent over 40 years in the restaurant business, Roger Roessler had a natural attraction to winemaking. His restaurants’ wine lists resembled this interest, increasingly emphasizing high-end, single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 1993, his newest location, the Swiss Hotel, was situated in the heart of wine country on the Sonoma plaza. While managing the restaurant, the local Pinot fruit and scenery captivated him, so much so that Roger made Sonoma his permanent home.

Richard Roessler’s business career was in Southern California, but he frequently made trips to Sonoma after his brother’s move to wine country. The culmination of Richard’s regular visits occurred in 1999, when his brother suggested crafting premium wine under the Roessler Cellars label. Richard shortly followed Roger to Sonoma and the work of creating fine wines began.

After their first vintage, Roessler Cellars quickly evolved into one of the premier producers of handcrafted Pinot Noirs in the U.S., sourcing fruit from many of the finest coastal vineyards on the continent. The gamble of relocating and investing in premium grapes was not a timid wager. However, the result of the work, patience and investment has been the cultivation of a library of first-rate Pinots and Chardonnays. The story of their beginning is similar to the story of their outlook toward the future. They have invested heavily in a variety of high-quality grapes to create the best wines possible. But more than anything, they hope your enjoyment of their wine exceeds the pleasure they had creating them!

Roessler Cellars 2008 Griffin's Lair Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

2008 Griffin’s Lair Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($46) – Griffin’s Lair is located in the Sonoma Coast appellation, a few miles north of San Pablo Bay in the Lakeville area. Concentrated and complex, this wine is a blend of Pommard, Swan and Dijon 115 clones, and is a great expression of the unique character of the vineyard.  Complex and dark, our Griffin’s Lair Pinot Noir shows off the classic character of this Sonoma Coast vineyard. The aromatic profile is full of dark, foresty scents and a meaty, savory character with just enough eucalyptus, fennel, and mint to add lift. Bright fruit on the palate joins the darker tones from the nose, providing a broad mouthfeel that stretches through a lingering finish of currant, earth tones, and leather. 269 cases.

Roessler Cellars 2008 Gap's Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($46) – Gap’s Crown sits high up on the slopes of the Petaluma Gap, where cool ocean breezes blow inland from the Pacific to create a terrific climate for growing Pinot Noir. Roessler harvests a classic combination of clones from different sections of the vineyard, with the fruit character of Dijon 667 and the structure and depth of Dijon 115 coming together in a complex expression of the site.

Starting out with low, creamy tones and woody, dusty notes, our 2008 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir opens into a dense, rich nose full of berry-fruit. Deep, dark flavors mingle with a brightening streak of black cherry and raspberry as subtle hints of violets and bay laurel build towards a finish laced with picholine olives. The wine continues to open up over a few days, maintaining its richness and depth with balanced fruit. 248 cases.

Roessler Cellars 2008 Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir2008 Shea Williamette Valley  Pinot Noir  ($50) – Originally planted in 1989, the Shea Vineyard holds 135 acres of some of the finest Pinot Noir in Oregon. Dick and Dierdre Shea farm the vineyard with an eye toward sustainability and take great care in providing remarkable fruit that is a pleasure to vinify. At 400-600 elevation in the heard of the Yamhill-Carlton district, the vineyard boasts sedimentary soils, sloping terrain, and a variety of clones, all contributing to the final complexity and nuance of this wine.

A layered perfume of red raspberry, violet and rosemary leads to an interweave of ripe red fruit, earth, mineral, and spice.  The generous mid-palate surges within a balanced frame, transcending to a long finish of vanilla and black cherry. 143 cases.

Great interview with Roger Roessler on YouTube.

Review here and here.

P.S. The Tasting Room was built in the 1920s by the Sebastianis.

Adobe Road Winery Logo

Renowned sports car racer and entrepreneur Kevin Buckler and his wife, Debra, own adobe Road Winery. Adobe Road Winery produces award winning Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Meritage, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel and Dessert Wines exclusively from Sonoma and Napa County sources. The tasting room is located in Sonoma, California.

In 1992 Kevin founded The Racer’s Group (TRG) and grew it into an internationally prominent manufacturer and distributor of performance Porsche parts, while simultaneously building a career as a successful endurance sports car racer and team owner. Kevin’s accomplishments as a driver include class wins at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (2002) and the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans (2002), an overall win at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (2003), and the title of Porsche World Cup Champion in 2002. As a team owner, Kevin has directed the growth of The Racer’s Group into an internationally acclaimed racing team.

With friends, the Bucklers started making “garage wine” which, after prodding from enthusiastic friends, started commercially bottling under the Adobe Road label in 1999. Through Kevin’s good connections, he has acquired grapes from some very prestigious vineyards, which he handcrafts into extremely limited-production wines. The awards that followed inspired the all out effort to make Adobe Road Winey the premier small lot winery of Sonoma County. With the goal of producing exceptional wines by handcrafting small lots of red and white varietals exclusively from Sonoma and Napa Counties, the Bucklers have dedicated themselves to seeing their vision through to reality, and the results are paying off.

Adobe Road 2006 Cabernet Franc Knights Valley2006 Cabernet Franc Knights Valley Bavarian Lion Vineyard ($40) – The Knights Valley has always produced a classic, velvety varietaly correct Cabernet Franc and this was achieved again for this vintage. True to form, this well-balanced wine is loaded with earth tones and bright cranberry on the nose. The cigar box base with nutmeg tendencies will echo on the palate. 275 cases.

Complex and inviting, with a generous mix of ripe plum, black cherry and berry fruit that’s supple, balanced, deep and persistent, picking up a nice black licorice note. There’s wonderful persistence on the finish, with firm, integrated tannins. 
- Jim Laube, Wine Spectator, 10-7-09; Wine Spectator – 91

Video here on their website, and a review here.

Hawkes Vineyards and Winery

The Hawkes family has been growing grapes in the Alexander Valley for more than 30 years. Today they own and farm three vineyards, all planted on sparsely soiled hillsides, and all yielding small amounts of highly intense fruit. When launching the Hawkes label, their aim was to translate their extraordinary standards for the quality of the grapes into extraordinary wines.

Their newest vineyard, planted on Chalk Hill Road in 1996, is named the Pyramid for the extremely sharp, often terraced hills on which it grows. The entire Pyramid Ranch is nearly 120 acres, only 18 acres of which are planted, all in Cabernet Sauvignon. By having chosen and developed this ranch for the sole purpose of producing Cabernet Sauvignon, and by limiting cultivation to such a small area, not only are they able to guarantee ideal conditions for farming, but are also able to leave the vast majority of the ranch as wild land.

The Home Ranch Vineyard, which is bordered to the north by a forest of Douglas Fir and oak, and to the south by a tributary of the Russian River, is planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

The Home Ranch itself takes the shape of a small valley, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot planted in the thin chalky soils of its surrounding hills and Chardonnay growing in the slightly richer soils of the foothills below. As a result of this layout, the Cabernet and Merlot receive the benefit of greater exposure to the elements and exceptional drainage, while the Chardonnay often spends much of the day shrouded in the fog flowing off the Pacific Ocean and through the Russian River Valley.

The Home Ranch Vineyard’s unique geography, together with minimal irrigation and a program of aggressive thinning in the Spring, ends with the red grapes in loose clusters of thick-skinned, densely flavored berries. This is particularly true of the Cabernet Sauvignon, where the upper hills often yield less than two tons to the acre.

In 2002, when they decided to launch their own label, they asked Herman Froeb, an old family friend who has been making wine from our grapes since the early 1980s, to be their winemaker. He accepted. Herman’s intimate familiarity with our farming philosophy and the character of our grapes produce wines that show a knowledge and respect for the particulars of each vineyard and variety. Each year they choose a small percentage of the grapes they grow for their own wine. They preserve the quality of this fine fruit by harvesting it when it is ripe, not over-ripe, and by giving it the oak aging it demands to be its best, no more. Hawkes wine is made exclusively from fruit they grow, with both farmer and winemaker involved in every stage of the wine’s evolution, from the vine, to the barrel, to the bottle.

Hawkes Vineyards and Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) – Estate grown and produced in the Alexander Valley. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in barrel for 20 months, 40 percent new French oak. A blend of fruit from two hillside vineyards: 40 percent from our Pyramid vineyard, 30 percent from our Stone Vineyard and 30 percent from our Red Winery Road Vineyard. Black Cherry. Plum. Currant. Elegant. Balanced. 800 cases. 14.1% ABV, bottled June 2008.

The Red Winery Road Vineyard, 22 acres in all, is planted in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is a long, narrow rectangle, running from the floor of the Alexander Valley, up to the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. The Hawkes Family have been working this farm for more than 30 years now, searching for root stocks to match the field’s unusually varied soils. That they chose the Red Winery Road Vineyard for the source of their inaugural vintage is a testament to the fine results of this long effort.

Hawkes Vineyards and Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Pyramid2006 Hawkes Pyramid Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) – Volcanic soils. Dark Fruits. Showy. Huge. Estate grown and bottled in the Alexander Valley. 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in barrel for 30 months, 50 percent new French oak. From the best of fruit on our rugged Pyramid Vineyard, located in the hills between Chalk Hill and Knights Valley. Just 150 cases produced. 30 Cases available.

2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Library Wine ($40) – Leather and spice aromas give way to blackberry flavors, along with balanced tannins and acidity.  The fruit is ripe enough for instant gratification, but the wine’s structure makes it suitable for aging.  Yum.

Learn more from this YouTube video on Hawkes.

Reviews of their tasting room here and here. (Click logo above to visit Hawkes’ website.)

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Sonoma AVA Map

Sonoma AVA

The Napa/Sonoma WWS chapter is kicking off its first annual Appellation Series by celebrating the wines of the Sonoma AVA.

What is an “AVA”? An American Viticultural Area is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States that is distinguishable by geographic features, and has its boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), United States Department of the Treasury.

Appellation Series Logo

Why group wines by AVA? There are many answers, but let’s start with the fact that traditionally, in old world wine-growing countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, the finest wines came to be known from the locations in which the grapes were grown. Knowing that the wine you are about to consume is from Sonoma provides greater confidence in the bottle’s contents than a wine from, say, Timbuktu!

On June 9th, we will be tasting wines from three of Sonoma’s finest wineries with tasting rooms on the historic Sonoma Plaza. We’ll have more in a future post about wine history and current production in Sonoma County, but for now, here is more on the three wineries (cribbed somewhat liberally from their own websites, linked below):

Roessler Cellars

Roessler’s Estate Vineyard is located 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the northernmost area of Sonoma County and was planted in the early summer of 2003. Founder Roger Roessler is joined by his brother, Richard Roessler, and renowned winemaker Wells Guthrie in developing some of the region’s finest vintages.

Roessler Cellars has made it a mission to make the finest single vineyard and appellation Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since 2000. They produce the highest-quality single-vineyard and appellation designated wines from the best wine growing regions in the United States. Their growers cultivate the grapes according to their strict farming criterion, and they carefully craft their wine to represent the best and breadth of America’s wine country.

Roessler primarily focuses on single-vineyard Pinot Noir, but have also added small lots of premium Chardonnay, which they feel are in keeping with their Burgundian roots. By searching out grapes from the premier grape growers in areas best suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they are able to show unique and distinctive character arising from these specific sites. Working with the growers to maintain quality is paramount to ensuring the highest-quality fruit, and they tirelessly pursue precision in their production facility and in the vineyards.

Great interview with Roger Roessler on YouTube.

Review here and here.

P.S. The Tasting Room was built in the 1920s by the Sebastianis.

Adobe Road Winery Logo

Adobe Road Winery produces award winning small lot Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Meritage, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Zinfandel and Dessert Wines exclusively from Sonoma County vineyards.

Owners Kevin and Debra Buckler have a driving passion for wine. (He is a professional racecar driver and team owner.) They opened the Adobe Road Winery in southern Sonoma County to create wines that capture the essence of the vineyard. “We work hard to make sure each bottle of Adobe Road wine is handcrafted to showcase the best of each individual vineyard in each appellation we make wine from,” says Kevin. “We choose the best parts of Sonoma and Napa Valley for our elite Cabernet Sauvignons, Dry Creek for our hedonistically rich Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, the Russian River and Petaluma Gap for our ethereal Pinot Noirs and lavishly flavored yet sleek Chardonnay.”

It is this passion to be the best and share his wines with the rest of the world that drives Kevin. With his wine team, he spends countless hours in the vineyard and the winery to perfect the flavor of each wine so they reflect the unique terroir and the passionate grower who farms the land. It is this attention to detail that brings out the personality and character of the wines and has garnered so many awards at major competitions around the country.

A new boutique wine facility was created in 2008 to make wines in small lots with uncompromising control. There isn’t always a need for speed. The winery is specifically designed to allow Kevin and his world-class winemaking team to spend time with each lot. Carefully monitoring each barrel, taking the time to make the right decisions, time to fully understand and manage the variables that go into crafting the perfect wines. You take one look at the winery—with its pristine state-of-the-art winemaking equipment and shiny, spotless floors—and you know there is a desire to make the best.

Video here on their website, and a review here.

P.S. Kevin’s racing company is an internationally prominent manufacturer and distributor of performance Porsche parts!

Hawkes Vineyards and Winery

The Hawkes family has been growing grapes in the Alexander Valley for more than 30 years. They own and farm three vineyards, all planted on sparsely soiled hillsides, and all yielding small amounts of highly intense fruit. When they launched the Hawkes label, they aimed to translate their extraordinary standards for the quality of their grapes into extraordinary wines.

Hawkes’ Alexander Valley wine is made exclusively from fruit they grow, with both farmer and winemaker involved in every stage of the wine’s evolution, from the vine, to the barrel, to the bottle. 

Growing100% varietal grapes for over forty years, and bottling under the Hawkes private label since 2002, father-and-son winemakers Stephen and Jake Hawkes produce handcrafted wines from their family-owned vineyards in the Alexander Valley. Visitors can taste Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay indoors or on the patio. The winery’s vintages are sold from the tasting room or online only.

Learn more from this YouTube video on Hawkes.

Reviews of their tasting room here and here. (Click logo above to visit Hawkes’ website.)

Still haven’t registered for this fabulous event? Register Now!