Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County
Loyal readers will recall my story in last months “Whine” regards Rack & Riddle, the California custom sparkling wine house and their purchase of the state’s biggest private label Charmat producer (the same process used to make Prosecco). Their intention; to transform the supermarket, private label bubbly business by suppling a wine that fits between lower-priced brands such as Andre, Cook’s and Wycliff and $15 Proseccos.
Well I had to find out more about this most interesting idea and was greeted with the opportunity to interview CEO Bruce Lundquist and tour their recently leased bottling facility with Business Development Manager Cynthia Faust.
Time to Sparkle at $12
“Rack & Riddle (R&R) is the custom wine service provider to the California wine industry”, began Bruce Lundquist the CEO and co-founder of Rack & Riddle. “Our main focus from the start was to provide the best sparkling wine production in California and the United States. In California we’re known for doing high-end quality champagne style production, and now with the recent acquisition of a notable Charmat-style sparkling facility in Lodi (CA.), we can now do all things sparkling, he stated”. With a nod to the future, Lundquist mused, “I like to say that R&R is a hidden gem in the works, towards our becoming more nationally known in the days ahead”.
“The Charmat industry has been dominated by a couple of large players who are well-known and do a good job, yet consumers currently find that at a price point below ten or twelve dollars, they’re often not finding the same quality of sparkling wine that you might expect from a higher-priced wine, and we hope to change that”, Lundquist offered.
“With our new ability to produce a higher quality Charmat wine, we expect to offer a quality sparkling wine at that price point. Our thinking is if less than $12 is an entry point for people just starting their wine journey, and they enjoy our product, then hopefully they will look to upgrade as they continue to explore and sample”, he explained. “Our intention is to be able to span all areas of sparkling wine at an appropriate price point and to provide a better taste experience than consumers have been experiencing.”
“Rack & Riddle’s intention is to upgrade the wines currently produced at the newly acquired Lodi winery, and by using R&R’s current regional and national distribution, we hope to increase sales and production as well as R&R’s reputation.”
“Your best marketing comes from those who drink a bottle of sparkling wine from one of our clients and asks; who made that sparkling wine for you?” Lundquist shares, “There’s a synergy to what we do. If making a better sparkling wine convinces wineries to use our services and they then sell more of their products that is a win for all. R&R will find satisfaction knowing that when the back label of a bottle of sparkling wine reads either Healdsburg or Lodi, its fine sparkling wine crafted by R&R.”
“We look forward to measuring ourselves against Prosecco producers; a market that is huge in the U.S. Yet who’s to say that we can’t take 1 or 2% of that market by introducing the American public to a really nice sparkling wine – made in the same manner as Prosecco – and maybe get a few consumers to sample an American-made product.”
Making Bubbles in Geyserville
“The Charmat sparkling wine production process (the same process used to produce Prosecco) begins with fermentation of a base wine usually made from white grapes. The wine is then transferred to a pressurized tank where a mixture of yeast and sugar initiates the second fermentation, explains Cynthia Faust, Business Development Manager for Rack & Riddle. “This process generates carbon dioxide, which dissolves into the wine and creates the bubbles.
Faust continued, “After aging in the tank for about 4 weeks, the wine is clarified and adjustments can be made to its sweetness level depending on the client’s requirements. The wine is then bottled under pressure creating a drinkable, fun, fruit forward bubbly for our clients and their customers.
“At (our Geyserville facility) we are able to do Charmat production, forced carbonation, into cans and bottles and still wine production. Secondary fermentation is done in the production tanks rather than the traditional method (Champagne) that is done in bottles and takes years’, she offered.
While the classic and expensive Champagne process uses only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier the Charmat process is able to use different types of grapes such as Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc offering different flavors profiles and the ability to adjust the sweetness depending on a customer’s taste profile requirements.
“This is a truly new market for us and our client’”, Faust states, and the Charmat process, along with its speed and lower cost, will allow us to produce a really beautiful, high-value product that will get us a lot closer to a necessary price point.”
A Night for Reds
The Gravenstein Grill continued its summer series of featured varietals with a tasting of Cabernets, Merlots and Cab Franc and as always, curated by their wine director and noted somm, Chris Sawyer.
“Tonight was the trifecta of Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot and really sort of a salute to Cab Franc as it’s the father of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon”, so states Sawyer. “Cabernet was originally created from a blend of Cab Franc and Sauvignon Blanc hence the name, Cabernet Sauvignon”, he offers and points out that every red Bordeaux wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc.
As one might imagine Mr. Sawyer is a big proponent of Cabernet produced in Alexander Valley confidently stating; “Alexander Valley stands for Cabernet in Sonoma County.”
Sawyer offers that while California’s wine history is actually best known for its Zinfandel; “The wine people of California learned that what we can do is bigger than we think and as a result went on to developed Cabernet, Cabernet Franc and Merlot”.
Sawyer shares that Cabernet was not the number one grape out of California in the 80s. “It was Merlots – women got Merlot with its lower tannins and they were the same group who got Pinot Noir with its softer flavors and great food matching.”
Merlot is blended into Cabernets to round off the edges and conversely, Cabernet is added to Merlot to do just the opposite.
Those of you who are familiar with the movie “Sideways”, which had a dire effect on the popularity of Merlot, may find it interesting that Sawyer thinks it was a great moment in wine history. “It stopped Merlot in its tracks as corporate winemakers wanted to make more of it and planted vines in the wrong areas resulting in a wine that was poorly made and didn’t taste very good”, he stated. I can attest to the fact Merlot has righted its ship and is making a strong comeback as displayed during the evening’s event.
Half a Glass
I know People Who Got Their Picture In the Wine Spectator
Our friends at the Dutton Ranch out in the Russian River AVA farm 490 acres of Chardonnay as well as other grapes and I was quite impressed to find them included in a recent cover story in the Wine Spectator on NorCal Chardonnay growers. Of course I wanted to do a follow up interview with them regards the article but they begged off due the late start of the harvest season that has thrown the whole region into turmoil. We’ll catchup soon.
Sept Wine Spectator Wine of the Week
As a side bar to the Wine Spectator selection I contacted Goldschmidt Marketing Director Megan Condron to see if there was any dust up from the posting.
“As far as I know, nothing notable has happened as a result. We were excited and shared with our social media followers and mailing list. I think with good scores come awareness and goodwill, but it is hard to necessarily convert that number into sales. Particularly since we are sold out of the 2021 vintage and have transitioned to the 2022.”
I bet I’ve driven past this sign a hundred times on the north end of Geyserville and never took notice of it and of course seeing it a few days after I saw the posting I had to get my own shot.
Sept Goldschmidt Zinfandel Alexander Valley Fidelity The Railyard 2021 (91 points, $22) Zesty and vibrant, with briary cherry, dried sage and white pepper flavors that zip along toward snappy tannins. Drink now through 2030. 1,200 cases made. (sold out)
Wine Spectator Wine of the Week
Marietta Old Vine Red Lot Number 73 California NV (2023) (90 points, $19)
Tastes like the gutsy field blends popularized by Italian immigrants back in the day, with potent wild berry, licorice and smoky cracked pepper flavors that finish with broad-shouldered Zinfandel tannins. Drink now through 2029. 16,000 cases made.
Often one of our house wines
The Oakland Athletics Can’t Do Anything Right
When Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera came to the Oakland Coliseum recently the A’s gifted the World Series MVP a signed bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus Vineyards, one of the most mass-produced wine brands in America.
It’s customary for teams to present a thoughtful retirement gift to a legendary player when they visit during their final season. The A’s gift “speaks more to a base hit than a home run,” said Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, the official sommelier of the San Francisco Giants. You’ve read about him in the ‘Whine”
What’s worse is the gift comes off as problematic and insensitive. Cabrera has publicly struggled with alcoholism in the past. Last year, he celebrated 3,000 hits with nonalcoholic Champagne.
It was as if the A’s simply forgot to plan ahead and sent an intern to the nearest store an hour before game time. A bottle of Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $90 and can be found in most supermarkets.
“Fewer ingredients are better,” says Mariela Viader the chef at Viader Vineyards, “Because once you start adding marinades and herbs it can overwhelm the wines.” She suggests a very simple add-on instead. “Just a little bit of salt is enough.” I find using several good three finger pinches of kosher salt on each side of a good steak an hour before grilling to be the most flavorful approach.
“Everyone’s palate is different, so a lot of times the balance (of pairing food and wine) comes down to acidity and tannins,” she adds.
Here are some of Viader’s other stand-by tips for a tantalizing food and wine pairing:
Viader is a believer in selecting your wine first and then adding the food component. “Don’t complicate your flavors, and don’t be scared to try new things. It’s all about what works for you.”
Napa Valley Vintners
Kosher Wine Giant Buys Sonoma Winery to Expand Luxury Portfolio
One of the world’s largest producers of kosher wine and spirits has made a move further upscale with the acquisition of a Sonoma County winery.
Royal Wine Company, a 75-year-old family company known in the U.S. for the Kedem and Herzog Wine Cellars brands, has acquired the Sonoma Loeb winery in Alexander Valley.
“The acquisition positions Royal Wine to expand into new markets while adding an established label to their already extensive lineup of wines,” the Southern California-based company has announced.
The five Sonoma-Loeb labels, range in price from a Sonoma County Chardonnay (($30) to vineyard-designate Dutton Ranch (who?) Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($45). They’re sold directly from the winery and through retailer Total Wine & More’s website.
By comparison, Oxnard-based Herzog has a Special Reserve line of wines that retail for $42-$60 and include grapes from Russian River Valley and Sonoma County.
That’s my Whine and I could be wrong…
So my soon to be not so good buddy, Greg Baise says he “forgot’ to check for his name last month but swears he’ll do it this month, last chance.
So only one recipe this month as it’s long and my web master tells me it takes a lot of time to enter and there’s no way to add comments or directions outside of the format. This chicken recipe is really good and you can do it as a piece of chicken or a chicken sandwich or sliders depending on how you prep the chicken.
Depending on the size of the chicken breasts you may want to slice them in half the long way to get a uniform thickness, they cook better, and you may want to go a step further by pounding them a bit especially if you’re doing sliders. Follow the directions and prep everything before you start cooking. Reach out if you have questions.
My recipe for Shake Shack Chicken Slider Sandwiches is in fact right here. Enjoy!
Woody Mosgers, cooks, custom caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA.