Thanks to our wine Angels, we’re quickly changing one of the most conservative fields of Californian winemaking: sparkling wine. We’re making it possible for talented indie winemakers to break into the field that was once dominated by gargantuan companies and massive fortunes.
Why is this a big deal?
In case you don’t know, making sparkling wine is tough.
Esther Mobley’s recent article in the SF Chronicle looked into what you need to make great sparkling wine:
- “Well, you have to be crazy” — Salgues, Caraccioli Cellars
- It’s difficult – “There’s literally no English-language textbook for how to make (Champagne method) sparkling wine.” — Twain-Peterson, Under The Wire
- It’s expensive – “The barrier to entry is just really high” — Twain-Peterson
- It sells slowly – “Inventory doesn’t exactly move swiftly.” — Mobley, SF Chronicle wine writer
The article’s headline asks “Why aren’t there more California sparkling wine producers?” and the answer seems to be Because it’s expensive, hard to make, and hard to sell! You’d have to be crazy to even try.
Most American bubbly estates have big foreign investors
These are places that have the money to invest in making methode traditionelle Californian sparkling, for the most part *
- Domaine Carneros (Taittinger),
- Domaine Chandon (Moët & Chandon),
- Mumm (Mumm),
- Roederer Estate (Louis Roederer),
- Scharffenberger (now Louis Roederer / Veuve Cliquot at one point),
- Piper Sonoma (Piper Heidsieck),
- Gloria Ferrer (Freixenet),
It’s hard for the world’s best sparkling winemakers to launch their own brands (if they don’t have deep pockets).
Indeed, there are very, very few stories of methode traditionelle sparkling wines that start here in the USA with small indie winemakers. And when they do exist, it’s usually the result of a superhuman amount of passion (and a fair amount of wealth to match) from people who come to wine as a second career later in life.**
There’s Jacob Schram, who started out as a penniless barber. He started Schrambserg which would go on to become an iconic Californian sparkling producer. But the Schramsberg legacy for sparkling owes more to the Davies family (who bought the property after successful careers outside the wine industry) than to Jacob’s early dreams.
And Iron Horse in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley makes some of the most American sparkling wines I’ve ever tasted. This is another success story that wouldn’t exist without the incredible devotion of a couple from outside the wine industry, Audrey and Barry Sterling whose philanthropy has given us wondrous sparkling wine, the Los Angeles Arts Museum and the Los Angeles Music Center.
In other words, it’s always been very hard to launch a new American sparkling wine. And the most qualified winemakers in the world couldn’t do it without some massive backing.
But Naked Angels are taking the sparkling world by storm
Three years ago, we approached Wayne Donaldson, the former head winemaker from Domaine Chandon.
He’s an accomplished winemaker who has made bubbly all over the world and he knows what he’s doing.
But to start his own sparkling brand and compete with the likes of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy seemed impossibly difficult…until Angels came along. Angels brought two things the cash to invest up front and the sales to guarantee the wine would be enjoyed once it was bottled.
Now Wayne’s got the cash he needs to make his world class bubbly under his own name. He had given up on making his own sparkling until Angels gave him the opportunity he needed.
So let’s bust out that checklist from the SF Chronicle:
- Must have skill – CHECK
- Must have cash – CHECK
- Must be able to sell – CHECK
- Must be crazy – oh we’ve got that in heaps.
Angels are investing millions of dollars in sparkling wines now
Shortly after Wayne Donaldson’s first release, we were able to announce our close collaboration with Jean Phillippe Moulin (former Ruinart winemaker) on his Champagne. Angels can now get 2005 vintage Champagne for less than $45/bottle.
And we’ll be making an epic announcement in the new year about the next sparkling winemaker we’re working with – brace yourself! It’s a big one.
I hope you’ve got some great bubbles ready for New Year’s Eve and any other special occasion in your life! We’re gearing up to release some of California’s best bubbly in 2016 and we couldn’t have done it without the support of our lovely Angels.
*I’m not counting all the methode charmat wines and carbonated sparkling because this post is primarily about the more expensive methode traditionelle (that does a secondary fermentation in the bottle to give the fizz its fizz). I’m also kind of omitting some giant brands like Korbel (owned by Korbel Brothers) but a family like that deserves its own post entirely.
**I will have to check out the sparkling wines mentioned in that SF Chronicle article – I’m especially intrigued by Caraccioli Cellars since it’s co-owned by the former head winemaker from Roederer (he was there 18 years!) and they do all their sparkling in-house, rather than go through a custom crush facility (which combined with small volumes explains the $50+ price tag). And Lichen, just a stone’s throw from Roederer and Scharffenberger, definitely sounds like it’s worth a little road trip up to Anderson Valley.
Very interesting, Ryan! And looking forward to our new sparklers!
Happy New Year!
I don’t drink sparkling wines because it doesn’t agree with me (headaches), but Ryan I think the same can be (or should be) said about the entire wine industry. The NW efforts to free the independent wine makers to explore their art is revolutionary. Viva la Revolution!