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On the Sparkling Wine Trail in Sonoma

The best of the bubblies

© by Amista Vineyards

If Champagne, France is the king of bubbly, then California is next in line to the throne, with dazzling sparkling wines being produced throughout the state. It’s no surprise that Napa and Sonoma top the list of heirs apparent, but since Sonoma sits closer to the ocean, it benefits from foggier mornings, cool misty nights and occasional sea breezes — the perfect climate for growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, true champagne’s key varietals.

Sonoma has boasted excellent sparkling wine producers for decades, like Iron Horse and Gloria Ferrer, but recently, more and more Sonoma wineries are turning out bubbly on a level with their French relatives. There are fewer restrictions on California sparkling winemakers, giving them more creative freedom, plus they’ve been able to build upon what has worked well for centuries in Champagne and give it their own innovative twist. Most of their sparkling wines are made in the traditional methode Champenoise and are expressive of distinctive vineyard sites and terroir — the perfect effervescent distillation of time and place.

In between wine tasting there’s plenty to do – take a cooking class or food tour, hike at Sugarloaf State Park, visit historic Sonoma Mission, or explore a farmers’ market. The walkable towns of Healdsburg and Sonoma, with their tree-lined squares and tasting rooms, are ideal headquarters.

Here are 12 wineries that have especially delicious bubbly:

Iron Horse Vineyards – The Cold War Peacemaker

Iron Horse’s sparkling wine gained worldwide attention in 1985 when American President Ronald Reagan served it to Mikail Gorbachev at the summits that ended the Cold War — and their fine bubbly has been served at the White House ever since. But the winery’s casual open-air bar and picnic table-graced terraces overlooking rolling hills of vineyards are about as far from white-gloved formality as you can get. If you happen to miss the oyster bar featuring local Tomales Bay bivalves, you can still feel close to the sea thanks to the Ocean Reserve bubbly they make in partnership with National Geographic – for every bottle sold a donation is made to ocean conservation.

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Winery – Spanish Flair Meets Cali style

The Ferrers came from Barcelona to Sonoma in 1987 and built a winery and tasting room inspired by a classic Catalan farmhouse, only bigger. Part of Spain’s Freixenet cava family, today their California sparkling wines have won hundreds of awards. You can book tastings and tours, enjoy their bubbles by the glass, or sign up for fizz and food pairings like Bubbles and Bites and Tapas on the Terrace.

Buena Vista Winery — West Coast Winery Pioneer with a Flashy French Overlay

Founded by the father of the California wine industry in 1857, this winery’s new owner, French wine family icon Jean-Charles Boisset, has done an especially artful job of restoring its original stone buildings. From the outside it’s all California-history gravitas, but if you opt for a sparkling wine tasting, you’ll be a world apart inside their Bubble Lounge, where Liberace glitter and Versailles excess meets a steam-punked Salvadore Dali style. It’s a flashy new-world take on a tasting room but the winery’s outstanding bubbly is all old-world delicious.

Thomas George Estates – Wine Caves and Vehicle Tours

In 2010, atmospheric caves were built into a hillside to function as a barrel aging facility and additional tasting area. Book a sensuous Library Tasting in the cave or an outdoor Bocce Ball and Wine experience or Wine Safari Tour in a vintage jeep where you sip a single estate sparkling blanc de noirs and picnic on a ridge overlooking the vineyards. Best of all, you can stay on property in one of three Craftsman-style rental cottages. The biggest – a three-bedroom – has its own private swimming pool.

Inman Family Wines – The One-Woman Show

Owner/winemaker Kathleen Inman’s single vineyard rosés and sparkling wines keep getting more and more attention for their quality, and her approach to natural winemaking, careful farming and environmentally responsible business practices make her one of the most respected winemakers in Sonoma. Try to reserve the Meet the Maker private tasting with Kathleen as your host for a fascinating inside look at the business.

Benovia Winery – Small Footprint, Big Wine Impact

A treasure of a small winery, Benovia is known for its stellar chardonnay and pinot noirs, but recently its classy sparklers – first a 2012 blanc de blancs and next a 2015 blanc de noirs – have been so well received that sparkling wine is in regular production. As you study your glass of tiny bubbles in the tasting room you’ll look out at the very vineyards where the sparkling wine harvest takes place.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery – Sip, Savor and Swim

This three-ring circus of wine-tasting fun is like a summer camp for wine lovers, with its huge swimming pool, café and restaurant, bocce court and Coppola’s collection of memorabilia from movies like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. We especially loved the Short Story Dispenser, a vending machine that spits out paper tape containing stories in two, three and five-minute lengths. Coppola’s sparkling series is named after his daughter Sofia; book a private tasting so you can request all bubbles.

Viansa Sonoma – Wines and Waterfowl

With a venue devoted to romance and a property devoted to wine grapes and wetlands for waterfowl, the most coveted spots for tasting here are the private outlooks off the expansive tasting room patio. Enjoy stunning 270-degree views as you sip a crisp sparkler, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see some of the more than 500 species of birds that migrate along the adjacent Pacific Flyway. Designing your own picnic is easy, as all kinds of deli goodies are available for purchase.

Amista Vineyards – A Sparkling Spin on Unexpected Grapes

Pushing the envelope of what makes a great sparkling wine is one of Amista’s signatures, and today their sparkling program has three types available to the general public including a sparkling Grenache. When you visit their tasting room you’ll also get to choose a fourth sparkler from one of the wine-club only bubbles, like the sparkling rosé of Syrah.

Paradise Ridge – Burning Man’s Sculpture Garden

2017’s fires left this family-run winery above Santa Rosa without a tasting room, but it’s been rebuilt and is better than ever. Their expansive grounds are home to enormous sculptures – many first seen at Burning Man, like a set of giant letters that spell out LOVE or the Temple of Remembrance, a 25-ton steel structure that provides a space for quiet reflection. Peruse the sculpture map as you sip an Aussie-inspired sparkling Shiraz or a fresh blanc de blancs.

J Vineyards and Winery – Fine Fizz and Fresh Food

Book a food and fizz pairing in the Bubble Room so you can enjoy a few of the 20 different kinds of sparkling wines J produces. The winery’s executive chef and winemaker have combined forces and created a sumptuous five-course meal paired with five perfect sparkling accompaniments.

Meadowcroft Wines – Arty Gardens to Explore

Situated in Cornerstone, a lively marketplace featuring tasting rooms, artisanal foods, shops, and lavish gardens that showcase designs from top landscape architects, this winemaker’s sparkling wine is made in a nontraditional style with injected carbonation. If you take their Perfect Blend winemaking seminar where you taste four barrel samples and blend them to your liking, you’ll start with a glass of bubbly and tour scent gardens to tune up your senses.

Sparkling Pancakes with Strawberry Champagne Syrup

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