WWS Events

Tweet us @WWSNapaSonomaThe Napa | Sonoma WWS chapter’s Bubbles, Brix and Buzz II event, held this year on Feb. 20th, 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. PDT at Gloria Ferrer, invites not only members of WWS chapters throughout the United States to participate virtually but also extends the invitation to the wine-drinking public around the world. Simply buy a bottle of Gloria Ferrer wine at a local wine shop ahead of the event, pop the cork, and tweet along with the rest of us tasting live in their Sonoma tasting room. What could be easier?

To get the most out of this tweet and bubbles fest, here are a few suggestions:

  • Buy and enjoy the same wines we’ll be enjoying at Gloria Ferrer: Sonoma Brut followed by the 2004 Royal Cuvée and 2007 José S. Ferrer Pinot Noir. We’ll tweet when each one is being poured and discussed.
  • Sparkling wine should be shared! Enjoy your Gloria Ferrer bubbly with your friends. Make a party of it!
  • Use the hashtag #WWS-GloriaFerrer to participate and follow along with the global tweetchat.
  • We’ll put the best tweeted questions to our guest speaker, Eva Bertran, Vice President of Marketing, at the event and tweet out her answers.
  • Love their wines?Gloria Ferrer wines will be offering a special, one night only 20% discount to tweeters on wine purchases made on the night of the event online. Use offer code WWBBB13 at checkout on 2/20 to get your discount!


 @WWSNapaSonoma    @GloriaFerrer

Use WWBBB13 to get 20% off online orders at www.GloriaFerrer.com on 2/20 ONLY!

Please contact us at wwscommunications@comcast.net if you have any questions. Enjoy the bubbly and tweetchat.

Our special guest speaker at Bubbles, Brix and Buzz II will be Gloria Ferrer’s Vice President of Marketing (and fellow woman in wine), Eva Bertran. Having left her native Spain in 1986 — where her own family was in the wine business — she is a member of the original team that launched Gloria Ferrer, and continues to oversee the winery as devotedly as if it were her own family business.

Eva Bertran, Vice President of Marketing, Gloria FerrerEva Bertran brings a captivating blend of Spanish style and California charisma to Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards. Complemented by her impressive wine expertise and deep understanding of the Sonoma Carneros region, Bertran is an ideal leader at Gloria Ferrer. Having left her native Spain in 1986 — where her own family was in the wine business — she is a member of the original team that launched Gloria Ferrer, and continues to oversee the winery as devotedly as if it were her own family business.

Bertran holds a master’s degree in international management from Spain’s top business school, Escuela Superior de Administración y Dirección de Empresas University (ESADE). Armed with this education, she has lent her astute intelligence and dynamic energy to every job she undertakes. She is instrumental in fostering the Catalonian traditions through every facet of Gloria Ferrer, infusing the company culture with her own casual elegance, quick wit, and enthusiasm.

A passionate wine educator, Bertran embraces her role as international ambassador for Gloria Ferrer, leading sparkling wine and food pairings for consumers, trade, and media. She is relentless in her understanding of sparkling wine as much more than a celebratory beverage. The cooking skills that Bertran has cultivated throughout a lifetime have led to a dynamic understanding of sparkling wine and its versatility with food. Her presentations at the winery and throughout the world are insightful and profoundly persuasive.

Bertran is equally involved in her local wine community. A past-president of the Sonoma County Vintners, she remains an active member in the association, while also serving as president of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Board of Directors. She also served for many years on the Board of Carneros Wine Alliance.

Away from work, Bertran complements her love of food and wine with her zeal for skiing, biking, yoga, and swimming. Having studied with the famous Catalan Chef Montserrat Segui, she enjoys preparing traditional Catalan dishes inspired by her grandmother, Teresa, for her husband, David, and their sons, Paul and Jack.

We hope you can join us to hear Eva speak at Bubbles, Brix and Buzz II, on February 20th. Our event begins at 5:30 at Gloria Ferrer. Click on the link for ticket information. Cheers!

By Leah McNally

Just a few more days until the Women on Wine event on September 20th, and I’m delighted to be part of the excitement. My friend and fellow WineSense member, Abigail Smyth and I are speaking about the wine education opportunities at Sonoma State University and other schools in the region. The Wine Business Institute at the University has really stepped up its game in the last four years, with the goal of becoming one of the premiere places in the world to learn about the business of wine. Our chapter president, Chris Muller, asked us to participate as recent graduates of the Wine Business MBA program.

 On a personal note, my path to a master’s degree meandered through an assortment of community colleges and state and private universities, in the classroom and online, and took me the better part of thirty years. Along the way, I collected a degree here and a certificate there, while I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. Some things got a lot easier- like knowing exactly what was needed to get an ‘A’, or writing a 20 page paper. Some things got more difficult over the years, and I’m not just talking about juggling work and family life. Where did that ability to retain all that information go I used to have when I was in my twenties? How about sitting in a Statistics class with a bunch of nineteen and twenty-something boys, or having that nice young lady standing in line next to me at the campus bookstore ask me if I was a mom of one of students? For the record, I am someone’s mom and I don’t stand in line to buy his books for college.

The occasional indignity of being relegated to “mom” status by my fellow students aside, I DID IT! It took me the better part of four years – a year at community college to finish up the prerequisites I was missing and three at Sonoma State – to get that MBA. If returning to school will help you achieve your goals for a career in wine business, don’t hesitate. We are lucky to live in an area with a growing base of resources that can help you reach your goals. Regardless of where you end up on the path, you won’t regret taking the first step.

Women in Wine is an annual event held by the Napa Sonoma chapter of WWS. Leah McNally and Abigail Smyth will be talking about SSU’s new Sonoma State Cellars program that they helped spearhead. Join us Thursday evening at the Napa Valley Museum. Tickets may be purchased here.

What happens when you get a celebrated winemaker, a viticulture scientist and academic, a journalist, a Master Sommelier and a professional wine judge together at one table? Well, even though they’re all females, we don’t expect they’ll chit-chat away about their latest finds on Zappos.com …unless they’re comparing workboots to walk the vineyards.

If you’re expecting a bit of mud-slinging from the female winemaker who didn’t like a review from the female journalist or a medal score from the female wine judge – all while the female scientist points to the wrong clone in the wrong soil, and the female sommelier identifies an off food and wine pairing – this isn’t “Jersey Shore” or “Jerry Springer.” While it might make for a dramatic evening, the Women for WineSense style is far more akin to “Oprah” than to grand opera.

The State of Women in Wine

Considering that women purchase 75 percent of wine in the United States, you’d think there’d be more women winemakers in the business. But according to research conducted by Dr. Lucia Albino Gilbert, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, less than 10% of California wineries have a woman in the position of lead winemaker. Statistics on the number of women executives working in wineries are even harder to come by.

Why are there so few women in the upper echelons of the wine business? Perhaps we’ll gain greater insight to that question from one of these Women in Wine panelists who’s already attained the pinnacle of success in the wine business:

Dawnine Dyer spent 25 years as Winemaker at Domaine Chandon. Her tenure at Chandon was marked by the introduction of many original sparkling wines and wine styles, taking the best of both a rich tradition and a promising appellation. Along with her husband, Bill, she now consults with Sodaro Estate Winery and is a partner in the new venture, Meteor Vineyard. She is active in the Napa Valley Vintners Association — and most importantly, works on Dyer Vineyard. Now both of them can frequently be found working in the vineyard, topping barrels and finally packing orders of Dyer Cab for shipment. Between the two of them they hold degrees in Philosophy, Biology, and Enology — all three come in handy from time to time.

Dr. Carole Meredith finally left her day job in 2003. For 22 years she was a professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis. She survived the long commute between Napa and Davis by means of books on tape and a lot of cappuccino. In addition to teaching courses, she conducted research in grape genetics. Her research group used DNA typing methods to discover the origins of some of the greatest old wine varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and most recently Zinfandel. She and Steve Lagier now devote their time to their 84-acre Mount Veeder property (only a small portion is planted to vines), tending their 1880’s olive grove, their Lagier Meredith Vineyard and deporting their rattlesnakes. Dr. Meredith is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Chevalière de l’Ordre du Mèrite Agricole. To top it off she was a 2009 Inductee of the Vintners Hall of Fame.

Andrea Robinson is one of only 17 women in the world to hold the title of Master Sommelier and the first woman to be awarded Best Sommelier in America.  She is the author of 4 top-selling wine and food books including Everyday Dining with Wine, which won the prestigious IACP cookbook award.  She is also a 3-time James Beard Award winner, an honors graduate of The French Culinary Institute, and the Sommelier for Delta Air Lines.  In addition, after 3 years of searching, testing and tasting, Andrea has unveiled the Holy Grail of Wine: her ground-breaking wine stemware series called The OneTM: one perfect white wine glass and one perfect red wine glass to optimize all wines. They are beautiful, affordable, break-resistant and dishwasher safe. And since they perform better than even the grape-specific glasses, they solve the problem of needing to add a wing to your house to have the right glasses for your wine. And for Andrea’s picks on what to sip from The OneTM stems, check out her Andrea’s Buying Guide app for the iPhone.

Deborah Parker Wong, AIWS, is Northern California editor for The Tasting Panel magazine where she reports on the global wine and spirits industries with an emphasis on domestic trends. In addition, she contributes frequently to Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, Cheers magazine, Sommelier Journal and writes a lively drinks column for Examiner.com. Deborah holds a marketing degree from San Francisco State University and was awarded the Wine and Spirits Education Trust’s Diploma in 2009. She lectures for SOPEXA USA and is a professional wine competition judge. Her affiliations include the Wine and Spirits Education Trust as an Associate of the Institute of Wine and Spirits (AIWS), the London-based Circle of Wine Writers and the Wine Media Guild of New York.

Moderating the discussion of these Women in Wine will be Tina Caputo, Editor-in-Chief of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine. Before joining the magazine in 2008, Caputo spent five years as the managing editor at Wines & Vines magazine. She began her career at the Wine Institute, and went on to work in public relations/communications for international wine importer Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. Throughout her career she has written about wine as a freelancer for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, Harpers Wine & Spirit (UK) and Decanter. Since 2007 she has been a monthly columnist for Wine Review Online.

Advantages for Women and Wine

Do these women, who have achieved great success in their wine careers, believe they have an edge over their male counterparts in the wine industry? (You’ll have to attend WWS’ Women in Wine event on Sept. 20 to hear what they have to say.)

We’ve heard the claims that women have a better palate than men. In Lettie Teague’s recent Wall Street Journal article, Men Are From Cab, Women Are From Moscato?, she recollected “the wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr., he told me something that I have never forgotten. ‘My wife, Pat, has a much better palate than I do,’ he said. (Was it really possible that the most influential wine critic of the modern age was a mere runner-up to a woman named Pat?)” She also delved into a few more facts about women and wine in recent research: “Women tend to prefer less carbonation in their wines and are usually more sensitive to bitter flavors than men. They also prefer slightly sweet wines. I’d certainly heard that last one often enough—and seen the sort of wines that marketers created in response.”

Wines such as Mommy Juice and Mommy’s Time Out are two such brands that have seen great commercial success by targeting women consumers. Further, rather than create a whole new second label targeting females, Chateau Ste. Michelle recently kicked off a marketing campaign targeting women, as described in Andrew Adam Newman’s recent article for the New York Times, “Marketing Wine as a Respite From Women’s Many Roles.” Fans are encouraged to participate in a Facebook competition, What’s Your Chateau?, recounting specifically how each associates a “time or place during the day where you’re able to become You again” with Chateau Ste. Michelle.

With all this targeting of female wine consumers having resulted in their collective purchasing power of 75 percent of the U.S. market, you’d think we’d find more women in the wine industry itself! The good news is that women in the industry are making great strides in their careers.  In Wines & Vines’ “More Women at Acclaimed Wineries” by Kate Lavin, she reported in July that “half of the graduates of California’s top enology programs are women.” As any woman with more than a few vintages under her belt will tell you, there weren’t many women in formal wine studies programs a mere two decades ago.

In April, Tom Wark looked at the Status of Women in Wine, and recounted this from WWS’ co-founder and winery owner Michaela Rodeno, “I was lucky and got my first real wine job with a man whose management style was so hands-off, bottom-up, and free-wheeling in the startup of Domaine Chandon that I did get a chance to do just about anything/everything, learning as I went. Such fun! When it was my turn to be the boss (at St. Supery), I was grateful for the open-ended opportunities I’d had and carried on by hiring smart people who didn’t necessarily already know how to do the job I had in mind for them.”

For Rodeno, however, all does not necessarily look perfectly rosy for women in the industry. She went on to forecast, “With the increasing consolidation taking place now at the producer level, I fear that wine industry opportunities, especially for women, are shrinking.  Large corporations tend to (a) have male-dominated leadership, (b) stratified organizations that make advancement challenging and even formulaic, and (d) prefer to hire proven executives.  All of these make it harder for women to rise to the top — though some do.”

Women and Leadership

With these challenging circumstances, is there any good news for women wishing to carve out their own careers free of the encumbrances described by Rodeno? Over at the Careerist, Vivia Chen reported in April that “It’s Official—Women Trump Men on Leadership.” In her article, Chen states that in “a study of over 7,000 leaders in an array of occupations, women outperform men across the board, from forepersons to senior managers. In the category of top management (including executive and senior members), for example, women got a 67.7 percent rating for being effective leaders versus 57.7 percent for men.”

Will that news open more doors for women? Hard to say. Others, like Amelia Ceja, commenting in Tom Wark’s report, see positive signs for women building careers in the wine industry: “As president and marketing director of Ceja Vineyards, I travel throughout the United States, and I’m asked frequently ‘What do you do at Ceja Vineyards?’ No one ever thinks I own Ceja Vineyards because I’m a Latina woman! There’s still so much to be done! There are more women working as viticulturists, winemakers, wine marketing directors, and presidents of wineries than before! Opportunities are opening up in these fields!” She notes, however, that the story is different for female minorities: “There are no barriers to the advancement of women in the wine industry today as long as you’re white! If you’re a Latina vintner, you have to work twice as hard!”

Mapping a Woman’s Road to Success in the Wine Industry

Navigating a route to a successful career in the wine business for women is often far more hazardous than their male counterparts’. From taking a break to raise children (equivalent to a stuck fermentation to your career) to the gender gap (reduced yields per paycheck), women face a number of challenges rarely encountered by men.

In 2010, a woman was still earning only 77 cents to a man’s dollar in the United States, according to the most recent statistics. In California, it was closer to 85 cents to a man’s dollar.

Second, while women have outperformed men in leadership skills, far fewer of them have attained the positions of rank to use them! Why? As Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman report in their Harvard Review Blog post, “Gender Shouldn’t Matter, But Apparently It Still Does,” they concluded that “when it comes time for promotion, some — many — highly qualified women are being overlooked.” The reason? Males still dominate the upper levels of management and don’t promote them. Further, in their original post, “Are Women Better Leaders than Men?” they stated an influencing factor: “chauvinism or discrimination is an enigma that organizations (and the business culture) should work hard to prevent.”

Piling on the challenges to those faced in the workplace, many women seek to have it all, from successful career to happy home life with family. Most of our panelists either are currently or have already juggled child-rearing duties alongside wine career duties.

It was, in fact, our other co-founder’s daughter (then also Frog’s Leap co-founder, Julie Johnson) who asked her mother after school one day: “Mommy, why are you poisoning Daddy?” that spurred both Ms. Johnson and Ms. Rodeno to found Women for WineSense to dispel this rumor being promoted by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) at that time.

Not only did Ms. Johnson have to face an uphill climb as a rare woman in the upper ranks of the wine industry, but she had to explain her choices (and correct mis-perceptions) about wine to her children (as if raising them wasn’t hard enough!)

Can Women Have It All?

Clearly, from the many multi-generational family wineries that now dot the North Bay, many women in the wine industry have successfully juggled the demands of career and family. Recently, however, women at or near the glass ceiling have begun to wonder if they really can have it all.

In Ann-Marie Slaughter’s recent Why Women Still Can’t Have It All for the July/August 2012 issue of Atlantic Magazine, the former first woman director of policy planning at the State Department discusses candidly her angst over pursuing such a high-profile career while her teenage sons clearly needed more attention from her. Juggling family and career was a double-edge knife which, on one side, brought about the derision of colleagues wondering if she lacked commitment to her career when she chose a child’s ballgame over a weekend business conference. On the other side was her concern that she was short-cutting her career when she took time for family.

Vintage Rules!

In the wine industry, the ebb and flow of family and work moves around harvest, for which the timing isn’t always perfect. Nevertheless, unlike most other non-cyclical industries, eventually both harvest and the school year can both dovetail and clash depending upon the weather conditions and children’s ages, making for a routine women in the wine industry can juggle with greater dexterity.

Do the competing demands of a career and home squelch women’s dreams of making it big in the wine business? Are the sacrifices women make to obtain their personal and professional goals too laden with obstacles to have it all? Can she go from cellar rat-ess to Mistress of the Cellar with finesse?

Stay tuned! You’ll have to attend Women for WineSense’s Women in Wine event on Sept. 20 at the Napa Valley Museum to learn how our panelists and moderator answer these questions and many more about their own careers and lives in the wine business!

Last Thursday members and guests of Women for WineSense gathered for a relaxing evening of bubbly from Franciacorta.

Who? Where? What?

Franciacorta is not only a wine-growing region in Italy (in Lombardy, specifically), but “Franciacorta” also defines the production method as well as the wine. Saluté!

It’s near the Alps, east of Milan.

Enjoying a lovely glass of Ca del Vent Saten, attendees watched Paul Wagner’s presentation on this little known (in America) wine region. Paul, founder and CEO of Balzac Communications, explained that Franciacorta is a region of many “firsts” in Italy’s wine business.

It is the first wine produced in traditional method to obtain Italy’s highest appellation award of DOCG.

He also explained their strict standards for style of non-vintage, vintage and riserva wines. For example, the first wine we sampled was produced in the Saten style (which can be vintage or non-vintage). Other requirements for this style in Franciacorta include use of 100% Chardonnay with a minimum of 24 months on the lees. It can be produced in the Brut flavor profile only with bottle pressure less than 5 atm.

Throughout Paul’s presentation the group nibbled on spectacular charcuterie and cheese platters paired to perfection by Valley Wine Shack proprietor, Windee Smith.

Other Franciacorta bubbly we enjoyed sampling included Contadi Castaldi Rose, 2011 Il Mosnel, Ricci Cubastro Brut and the fabulous Bellavista Cuvee Brut. Each was unique, representing different flavor profiles and production styles.

For comparison, Paul showed us a chart depicting the various yields per hectare, irrigation and maturity period permitted across much of Europe from Cava to Champagne. This was followed by food pairing suggestions for Franciacorta’s bubbly flavor profiles, from the Undose to Demi Sec styles.

Ironically, although Franciacorta has been producing still wines since the 16th century, it has only been in the last fifty years producers have organized to create fabulous sparkling wines as well as establish strict high standards for the region’s products.

To learn more, visit their Franciacorta tourist site or download Balzac Communications’ slide presentation (now in PDF) shown last week.

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 vinalytic.com/blog.

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: http://wws-franciacorta.eventbrite.com.

By Leah McNally

Did you join us for the 2012 Women for WineSense Grand Event in Napa Valley May 4th -6th? This year’s line-up officially started with The Grand Tasting at Mondavi Winery on Friday Evening. Fifteen individual wineries, Volcanic Mineral Refresher of Ashland, Oregon and a selection of Washington wines presented by Washington winemaker, Judy Thoet were featured along hors d’oeuvres and chocolate. Grand Dame Margarite Mondavi welcomed us in conjunction with National President Rebecca E. Moore. The evening was mild and the wines were fantastic, and the colorful light-up rings, compliments of Stella and Dot Jewelry that came with the welcome bags made everything more glamorous.  There is nothing like a group of women, dressed to the nines with glasses of wines and twinkling lights on their fingers to set the mood.

Some members took advantage of Friday morning as well for pre-event tours and tastings and those lucky ones (who didn’t have to be at work like I did on Friday) visited some of the most exclusive wineries in the valley- Harlan Estate, Peter Michael, Rudd and Joseph Phelps. Saturday was devoted to more winery tours, and vintner dinners at Idell Family Vineyards of Sonoma, Linked Vineyards in Santa Rosa and Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

Sunday featured the Grand Event Educational Seminars. I attended three that focused on wine and food pairing, including a chocolate tasting and an overview of the wines of Texas. There were two panel discussions – Making Wine a Women’s World that focused on the new generation of millennial women winemakers and Career Ambitions/Career Transitions: Making Wine Your Industry.

My favorite moment of the day was the luncheon and an inspiring awards ceremony. The WWS Hall of Fame award went to Ramona Nicholson of Nicholson Ranch in Sonoma, who spoke to us about the challenges and rewards of raising a family and a winery at the same time. The Rising Star awards featured several notable women. Kathleen Inman is the winemaker and owner of Inman Family Wines in the Russian River Valley, and creates Pinot Noir from her vineyard and winery which is entirely powered by solar energy. Kathy Johnson and Stacy Lill created O Wines in Woodinville, Washington. O Wines gives 100% of its net profits to fund educational scholarships and mentor low income youth. We also recognized our own Professor Liz Thach of Sonoma State University, who was awarded the title Master of Wine in 2011- one of only seven women in the U.S. who hold that title. The Lifetime Achievement award recognized Lorraine Helms of Rochester, New York. With 30 years in the wine industry and as a certified Sommelier, Lorraine founded the Rochester WWS chapter and is currently the head of the Wine Education department at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Thank you to all the volunteers and sponsors who put so much effort into making The Grand Event a reality. You did a great job! If you didn’t attend this year, I hope you can make it in 2014 for the next Grand Event. Cheers!

By Leah McNally

One of the most fascinating processes in winemaking is the method that produces Sparkling wine, but its true origins are obscured by a haze of bubbles and romance, and wrapped up in the beginnings of the modern day wine trade.

Thanks to Moët and Chandon, the French monk, Dom Perignon, gets all the credit for discovering Champagne in the late 17th century, but historical evidence suggests otherwise. Historians point to records that suggest Sparkling wines were being created as early as 1531 by monks in the south of France.  Historical records also suggest the English (Mon Dieu!) developed the process of reliably creating Sparkling wine by adding sugar as part of fermentation in 1676 per the archives of the Royal Academy. We also have those clever English wine drinkers and inventors to thank for perfecting wine bottled with the modern version of a cork around the same time period and patenting the first corkscrew a hundred years later in 1795.

But meanwhile back in the Champagne region of France, around the beginning of the eighteenth century, Dom Perignon, and a host of other names you might recognize – including Tattinger, Clicquot, and Heidsieck – were experimenting with perfecting Sparkling wine production. There was only one problem. The tiniest and most delightful bubbles that tickle our senses are created by secondary fermentation in a small container. Glass bottles were considered ideal for the process, but their use was against the law in France prior to the early 1700s. Bottles were blown by hand and the irregular sizes made it impossible to guarantee the amount of liquid any given bottle contained. Then – voilà! A factory process was invented that made creating uniform glass bottles a piece of “gateau.” Something tells me there was plenty of Bubbly involved with the sudden change in French law in 1728.  The use of glass bottles was legalized and many of the problems with creating and transporting high quality Champagne were resolved. Méthode Champenoise was officially established.

Méthode Champenoise starts with still wine which has been through an initial fermentation. Wine may be blended from a multitude of years and grape varietals, creating a “cuvée.” The primary reason for blending is to keep the flavor profile consistent by smoothing out any yearly vintage variation in flavors. This is considered the most difficult part of the sparkling winemaker’s job.  Chardonnay and pinot noir grapes are the stars of the blend, but other whites may be used as well. The cuvee usually starts with alcohol content around 10%.

Once the blend is created, a mixture of sugar and yeast known as the “liquer de tirage” is added to the cuvée. The blended wine is then bottled in heavy glass and sealed with a metal cap. The bottles are then stored “en tirage” while the secondary fermentation takes place. The best quality Sparkling wines and Champagnes often lay en tirage for up to several years or more while the yeast consumes the sugar and the resulting carbon dioxide is trapped in the liquid.

Once the secondary fermentation process is complete, the bottles are placed upside down at a 75˚ angle and turned 1/8th of a turn each day, to force the sediment from the dead yeast cells into the neck of the bottle. This process is known as “riddling” and can take several weeks or more. The French call this “le remuage.” Originally this was done by hand but now machines are used to turn the bottles in precise increments to achieve the desired results.

Quelle surprise! I discovered we have Madame Barbe Clicquot to thank for inventing this process in 1816. A savy business woman who took over the winery after her husband’s death, the Widow Clicquot is also known for supplying the Russian Court and Catherine the Great with gallons of Champagne. I bet she would have been an enthusiastic WWS member if the organization had existed in the early 1800s, but I digress.

Once the riddling process is complete, the neck of the bottle is chilled in a salt and water bath that freezes the lees in the neck of the bottle. When the cap is removed, the pressure ejects the frozen yeast plug, leaving sediment-free, sparkling wine behind. This is the process known as disgorging. A “dosage,” or mixture of white wine, sugar and brandy may be added at this point to increase the sweetness if desired. The newly re-blended cuvee is then re-bottled with a thick cork, and topped by a wire cage to hold up to the pressure of the carbon dioxide trapped in the liquid. The finished sparking wine may have an alcohol content ranging from 12%-14%. Of course, you can only call it “Champagne” if it is made from the Champagne region of France. Similar wines from other locales have to be content with being called “Sparkling,” which I think has a certain “je ne sais quoi” of its own.

Á votre santé to Madame Clicquot, and to Gloria Ferrer Winery for hosting us at the next WWS event on Thursday, March 1st for bubbles and the latest WWS buzz. Ticket sales end at 9pm on February 27th. Don’t miss it, mes amis. I will see you there.

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.

Our holiday event, held at Grgich Hills Estate on Thursday, December 8th, was a smash! Thank you, one and all, for attending. Here some pics from this event:

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