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!

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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.


History

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.

Salute!

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

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.