Sonoma Wineries That Serve (and Sell) Authentic French Champagne
French wine lovers, it’s time to raise a glass: Champagne has arrived in Sonoma County. There is something ethereal about drinking true Champagne, from France’s Champagne region, and four Sonoma wineries that cherish this legendary sparkling wine serendipitously started a trend last year, beginning to serve and sell authentic Champagne to guests right here in Sonoma County wine country. Here’s our list of Sonoma Wineries That Sell Champagne and the stories behind each collaboration.
Why is Champagne so special? To drink Champagne is to sip history, to toast the centuries-old longevity and resilience of the wine region (beginning circa 496 AD) that was ravaged by not one, but two World Wars, and has survived rampant grapevine disease and crushing economic times through the years. The Champenois, as locals are called, are the ultimate survivors. Champagne wines are equally remarkable, possessing a complexity of rich flavors interwoven with a distinct, bracing minerality, which comes from the chalky soils in which its chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes are grown on rolling hills in northeast France. Few places on earth have such soils and a climate cold enough for making wines as racy, refreshing, nuanced and age-worthy as Champagne. The wine has launched ships, celebrated battle victories and soothed the pain of those who lost. Famous people have been drinking Champagne for centuries, too, as their documented Champagne quotes prove. Mark Twain once said: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Don’t forget Winston Churchill: “Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” Even designer Coco Chanel was not immune to Champagne’s charms: “I only drink Champagne on two occasions: When I am in love, and when I am not.”
With a legacy such as this, is it no surprise that certain Sonoma wineries import and sell authentic Champagne, saving it mostly for winery visitors, wine club members, and of course, “personal use.” (You can also buy Champagne online from some of these Sonoma wineries, as noted.) There are several great California sparkling wine producers—my personal favorites are Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, Iron Horse, Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer and Breathless—but the sparkling wine that occupies the most space in my cellar (and refrigerator) is true Champagne. Every day of life in Sonoma County is a reason to celebrate. You don’t need a special occasion like the holidays to splurge on a great bottle of bubbly.
Sonoma Wineries That Sell Champagne
Tom and Sally Jordan modeled their winery after a French chateau in 1972, and making a Bordeaux-style cabernet sauvignon and a Burgundy-style chardonnay continue to be the focus. In the 1980s, Tom and his daughter, Judy, created a separate brand, J, to produce sparkling wine to accompany Jordan receptions and dinners. Judy eventually moved the bubbly business to her own winery in Russian River Valley, and after finding tremendous success there, sold J Vineyards & Winery to E. & J. Gallo in 2015. Her brother, John, CEO of Jordan Vineyard & Winery since 2005, wanted to continue the tradition of serving sparkling wine at Jordan, and in 2017, partnered with the house of AR Lenoble, a small, 100-year-old Champagne producer, to bring the Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble to the Healdsburg estate. Lenoble winemaker Antoine Malassagne, the fourth-generation to lead the Champagne house with his sister, Anne, created this traditional non-vintage brut, comprised of 30% grand cru chardonnay from Chouilly, 35% premier cru pinot noir from Bisseuil and 35% Pinot Meunier from Damery. The result: An elegant, precise, dry bubbly with aromas and flavors of apple, pear, citrus and brioche. Smooth on the palate, its creamy texture is balanced by steely, brisk acidity. The 35% reserve-wine portion of the cuvée adds depth and complexity. The Jordan Cuvée is served at Jordan’s award-winning Estate Tour & Tasting and its Holiday Tour & Tasting, as well as all dinner party events and private experiences for the winery’s loyalty club, Jordan Estate Rewards, including a new Champagne & Caviar Tasting. Due to the winery’s current licenses, shipping of Jordan Cuvée is only permitted to California addresses.
The inimitable Jean-Charles Boisset, the Burgundian native who owns Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, DeLoach Vineyards in Santa Rosa and Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley, is a master of product development—and ambitious when it comes to offering a wine for everyone. In 2017, he added Buena Vista La Victoire Champagne to his ever-expanding U.S. portfolio, where it joins numerous other sparklers under the JCB label. Boisset’s only true Champagnes, non-vintage La Victoire brut and brut rosé are produced at Chateau de Bligny in Champagne’s Cotes de Bars region and imported to the U.S. The brut was made from grapes grown in premier cru vineyards in Montagne de Reims, and grand cru sites Mesnil-sur-Oger and Chouilly. The rosé hails from Grand Cru vineyards in Bouzy, Ambonnay and Louvois. Boisset plays upon Buena Vista’s history of making methode traditionelle in the 1860s, when it was labeled (incorrectly) as Champagne. “We blend it, we make it, we do our own dosage. We could float an American flag on top of the Champagne region,” Boisset says, admitting his target customer for La Victoire is Americans. As such, the brut and rosé are generously fruity and rich on the palate, and also boast Champagne’s signature freshness, minerality and crisp acidity.
Owners Les Claypool—you might know him as the front man and bassist for the band Primus—and his wife, Chaney, got into the Champagne game mostly because Chaney loves bubbles. They could have hired a custom-crush winery to make a sparkler for them from local grapes, but found it simpler, and more exotic, to import a Champagne. The non-vintage Claypool Cellars Champagne Pachyderm brut is made for them by Jacky Bochet and his wife, Valerie Lemoine, fourth-generation growers in the Cormoyeaux region of the Marne Valley. Just 200 cases were imported to the U.S. of this bone-dry blend of pinot meunier (55%), pinot noir (30%) and chardonnay (15%). The label sports the couple’s trademark “Purple Pachyderm” elephant; Les, who also plays and records with Sean Lennon, describes the Champagne as “clean, dry and fresh, with low dosage and bright acidity. It has a silky, complex texture, a gorgeous mouthfeel and is impeccably balanced; hints of apples, young pear and citrus on the nose with a nice weight and a long finish.” Who knew Claypool would go from song writer to wine critic?
Burgundy-born Stéphane Vivier is known in America for his winemaking at HdV Wines, a joint venture between Napa Carneros vineyard owner Larry Hyde and his family, and the de Villaine family of Burgundy (of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti fame). These days, Vivier is largely on his own, consulting for HdV, Long Meadow Ranch’s Anderson Valley wines and others. With his wife, Dana Sexton Vivier, he also produces the Vivier Wines label, with a focus on Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Stéphane is a busy guy, yet finds time to oversee production of Vivier Champagne, a non-vintage brut he makes with the assistance of “a very, very distant cousin,” Anne Gaëlle, who designed the packaging. Unusual for most Champagne makers, Vivier uses 80% pinot meunier (with 20% chardonnay and zero pinot noir) from the Marne Valley. “I love the fresh, floral nose of meunier in Champagne,” he says. “Pinot meunier can have a soft mouthfeel, yet because of the terroir, this wine is fresh, refreshing and minerally.” While it has a subtle nuttiness, his Champagne doesn’t take the fresh-baked-bread, long-aged route, but rather a racy, scintillating and delicate path on the palate, with pert citrus and white stone fruit character.