Sonoma County’s signature grape varieties are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Those also happen to be two of the predominant grape varieties grown in Champagne, so it makes perfect sense that this coastal region should produce traditional-method sparkling wine.
Sensing the promise of California viticulture, many Champagne companies descended on Napa County in the mid-20th century to try their hand at American sparkling wine. Sonoma didn’t get quite as big of an influx, but there is a European sparkling-wine presence here nonetheless: The Champagne house Piper Heidsieck founded Piper Sonoma in 1980, and in 1986 the Spanish cava company Freixenet arrived on the Sonoma side of Los Carneros to launch Gloria Ferrer.
The county’s two other dominant bubbly houses — Iron Horse and J Vineyards — are all-American, and date back to the 1970s and ’80s, respectively. While J sold to Gallo in 2015, Iron Horse remains owned by the family that founded it. A handful of other notable Sonoma County-based bubbly brands — Ultramarine, Under the Wire, En Tirage — do not operate tasting rooms.
But plenty of other Sonoma wineries dabble in sparkling wine production, with delicious results. After all, the preponderance of two of Champagne’s favorite grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, make the prospect nearly irresistible for a winemaker. –Esther Mobley
California Champagne-method sparklers tend to use traditional Champagne grapes, too: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A third grape, Pinot Meunier, is often used in Champagne but is less common in California. And some trivia: Schramsberg does have a little bit of an obscure white grape called Flora, a cross of Gewurztraminer and Semillon, that they use in their sparkling wine.
For me, cost is an issue, as it is with any wine. I refuse to pay ridiculous prices for my every day wine. Special occasions are okay for a splurge, but my every day budget is around $10 to $20.
And there are many good wines to choose from. Trader Joe’s is particularly good in this price range. And so is having friends in the wine business!!!