Korbel California Champagne – Russian River Valley

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My friends who knew me when I lived in New York might remember “Champagne Thursdays”. There was a small group of us who decided we never drank enough champagne and so we designated Thursdays as the day to do so. Many years have passed but visiting Korbel, just a few miles north of Santa Rosa along the Russian River, made me wonder about that tradition again.

If you are not familiar with how sparkling wines are made then Korbel is a “must visit” for you. They offer a winery tour as well as a garden tour (spring/summer only) and wine tasting. There is also a charming little deli and gift shop.

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I took the winery tour which lasts about an hour. During the tour I learned that the Korbel brothers emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the mid- 1800’s and founded a sawmill. In the 1870’s they planted their first vineyard. By the 1880’s they hired Frank Hasek from Prague to be their champagne master. He used méthode champenoise to create the very first California Champagne. In 1954, Korbel Champagne was sold to Adolf Heck. His son, Gary, is now the owner and president.

The tour includes a movie and a history museum with many photographs and antique wine-making implements. It is finished off with a tasting just for the tour group in the tasting room. Their most popular champagne is Korbel Brut. It was delicious but I also really enjoyed trying some of the lesser known varieties. The KORBEL Brut Rosé is such a gorgeous color and our tour guide told us it is one of the most served champagnes for bridal showers and weddings. I also enjoyed the Korbel Natural which has earned many awards.

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The grounds are lovely. I am going to come back in the spring/summer to enjoy the garden tour. The grounds were planted in the 1880’s for the Korbel summer retreat. I was told that there are more than 250 varieties of roses including some antique varietals.

This was the second time that I have had lunch at the Gourmet Delicatessen. A creature of habit but I do love their tri-tip sandwich with gorgonzola and caramelized onions. It is worth the trip for lunch alone! There are several delicious salads and sandwiches and of course wines by the glass and champagne cocktails.

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The Korbel website is also a wealth of information. From information on how much champagne you will need for a special occasion to tips on how to chill, pop and store – this is a great website. There is also a section that gives champagne cocktail recipes as well as recipes for pairing. It is a great resource.

One last interesting tidbit that I wanted to know and I bet you do too. I was under the impression that a beverage could only be called “champagne” if it came from the champagne region of France. This is due to an international treaty. That is why wine produced in the champagne – style in the US are called “sparkling wine”.  The short answer is this treaty was enacted decades after Korbel had started producing wine and calling it “California Champagne”. Personally I don’t care what they call it – it is delicious and a nice change of pace.

Graton Ridge Cellars – Russian River Valley

A huge stone wine bottle designates the entrance to Graton Ridge

A huge stone wine bottle designates the entrance to Graton Ridge

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On our way to Healdsburg we stopped in at a charming family run winery called Graton Ridge Cellars. The Paul Family has three generations involved with their winemaking. The day we visited, Elliot was our very charming host. He told us how the Paul family had started their business in 1945 growing apples, but has since transitioned to grapes and winemaking. They primarily grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

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The tasting room is small and has a very intimate feeling. The owners as well as the winemaker are often on-site. I always like to be able to chat and find out how people got involved in the winemaking industry and what their passions are.

We tried the 2011 Chardonnay from the Paul Family Vineyard. It was a very good white wine for someone who thinks she doesn’t like white wine. The Pinot Noir is made from grapes that are grown right next door. Only 600 feet away from the winery this is as close as you can get to being estate grown. The 2011 Zinfandel is gown eight miles away. This is the farthest away Graton Ridge sources their grapes. The Zin was nice and peppery. It won the Best in Class Harvest Awards.

A little more unusual was the 2011 A+ Apple Port. The recommendation is to taste this with a little blue cheese. The 2011 Zinfandel Port was very good. At $30 per bottle I would consider it a good value. Tastings are $10 refunded with a purchase.

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The grounds are small and well-kept. There is a cute picnic area and bocce ball. A giant stone bottle is located next to the entry and there are interesting items scattered around that you can explore. Graton Ridge Cellars is a nice beginning to your adventure into Russian River Valley wines.