Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County
It has come to my tasting attention over the last year or so that a number of wineries known for their big reds and luscious whites are now featuring a sparkling wine when in fact just months earlier there was none. As sparkling wine doesn’t just happen over the weekend and is a rather long-term and costly project. Please read with me as I take you behind the sparkling curtain to discover how you too can have a bubbly with your own name on it in only a few months’ time.
As to time and space for sparkling wine production here’s an example; Gallo bought J Vineyards and Winery (J as in Jordan, the iconic Cabernet producer) in 2015 rather than spending the 10-15 years it would take to build a winery and develop a premium brand.
So, as you might imagine, I have discovered an operation that can get you into the sparkling wine business in somewhat less than 10 to 15 years, maybe in 10 to 15 minutes – and you don’t even have to bring your own grapes.
“We are all about quality and adding value to the wine customer experience and all of our clients are also all about quality”, so starts my interview with Cynthia Faust, business development manager for Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services located in a nondescript building on the near west side of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. The company is owned by Bruce Lundquist and Rebecca Faust. A third sister, Sharon is also involved in the business.
They start the entire process by making their own wines in the old Murphy Goode facility in Alexander Valley, sourcing from growers in Napa-Carneros, Sonoma – Carneros (the only grape region located in two counties in California) the North coast, Sonoma County and the Russian River. The harvest started on August 14 as I’m writing these words, for the cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that is used in making sparkling wine.
I think it’s appropriate to refer to them as matchmakers. “We serve customers in several different ways, she explained, “Folks will bring in their own grapes and we then handle them through the entire sparkling process creating an appellation wine for them but always following the client’s protocols”.
About 30 of their 180 or so customers do that and many others supply base wines that have already been crushed and made to a point where they’re happy with the wine, which then goes through the sparkling process.
On the private label side, Brut is their biggest seller but they also produce a Brut rose’, a Blanc de Blanc (all Chardonnay), a Blanc de Noir (more Pinot Noir) with 65% of their production in sparkling wine and the rest is in still wine.
Speaking of production almost every aspect of the sparkling wine process at Rack & Riddle is automated as making sparkling wine is much more labor-intensive than still wine. I could do an entire Whine just on that production process but let me suggest more simply that it was amazing to see the number of Italian made machines turning, twisting, picking, and moving wine bottles.
“When making sparkling wine it’s really cool to first create a base wine that you’re happy with”, Faust explains, “Then put it through the sparkling wine process. The end of that process is sort of where the creative magic happens; you’ve got the options to adjust the amount of dryness or sweetness by adding back a little bit of residual sugar or color to the dosage, that creates a unique wine.
So how about getting a sparkling wine in 10 or 15 minutes or maybe just a bit longer? Well they make a sparkling wine on spec for that.
“Since we harvest our own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay”, she relates, “We produce “house” sparkling wines that are in stock and ready when a winery comes to us looking to offer a sparkling wine to their customers we are able to provide them with their own private label.”
So in yet another match, small wineries may have done their own whites and reds and are also considering adding a sparkling wine to provide more value to their customer’s experience.
Faust explains that process; “Clients come to us looking to enhance the customer experience at their winery and we can offer them a sparkling wine that we have already aged and dosed. Most often, the wines are to our clients’ liking and if they’re interested in 500 cases or more we’ll even do a custom dosage, creating a unique flavor profile for them”.
So what do all of these bubbles cost, well the Rack & Riddle folks were vague when they stated in the aforementioned WSJ article that, “Each program is tailored to the customer and pricing can vary from customer to customer.”
In that same article a small winemaker who supplies her own fruit to Rack & Riddle says she then pays $55 a case for her 500-case production and also pays extra to age her wine a few years to add complexity and richness: $20 for the first year, and $30 a month thereafter, really not a bad deal for everything that’s taking place.
I was surprised to see the label of a major sparkling wine house in production and to learn that Rack & Riddle has been producing their wines, under the direction of the wineries consulting wine maker, for many years as well as those of some other big names that of course that they won’t discuss.
On the consumer side we have only found a bottle of Rack & Riddle sparkling at one of our favorite restaurants Santa Rosa Seafood Raw Bar & Grill where a majority of the appetizers and entrées are deep-fried thereby making a brut sparkling the perfect match.
The adherence to quality and working to add value to the customer experience has been a success for Rack & Riddle to this point and they appear to be poised for more growth in the future. The names and numbers of their customers show the confidence and satisfaction of the wineries in the product that Rack & Riddle produces.
And just a thought for the next time you have a glass of California sparkling wine, ask yourself, “Could this be Rack & Riddle?”
That’s my whine and…I could be wrong
My recipe for a Smoked St. Louis Cut Pork Ribs with Zinfandel BBQ Sauce is elsewhere on the site, enjoy!
Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, writes, drinks and matches wine and food in Santa Rosa Sonoma at www.woodythewineguy.com