I’ve been a fan of Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut since I first tried it about 4-years ago, having included it in a lineup of wines in a Trader Joe’s tasting.
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut is a good value wine at recommended retail of $22, but it’s a sensational value and readily available at Costco or Trader Joes for just $12.99.
I was keen to see what else the winemakers at Gloria Ferrer could do and recently had the pleasure of tasting the line-up of Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines at the winery in Sonoma.
This article includes notes from that tasting as well as insights on the Gloria Ferrer winemaking philosophy from an interview with senior winemaker, Steven Urberg.
If you haven’t been to the winery it’s worth a visit, it’s a recommended stop on your next trip to Napa or Sonoma…in fact they have such an array of exceptional wines from California, Spain and Australia to taste, that you could easily spend the whole afternoon there.
I remarked to Steven that all of their sparkling wines had wonderful acidity and classic Champagne bouquet from green apple and pear on the Blanc de Blanc to red berry fruit for the Brut Rose, a fine bead and yeast characteristics ranging from Vegemite to warm baker’s yeast.
I asked Steven if their flagship wine and engine room brand, Sonoma Brut is made in traditional Methode-Champenoise method and indeed it is. Making sparkling wine at Gloria Ferrer is an exercise in blending different parcels of base wine from up to 60 different lots.
These base wines are then combined into 12-13 cuvees, which are selected for the final cuvee for bottling. The bottled wine receives a secondary dose of yeast and a small dosing of sugar (dosage) and a crown seal is applied.
The wine commences a secondary fermentation in the bottle, but because the CO2 from the fermentation process cannot escape the seal, it diffuses through the wine to produce the fine bubbles we all crave. The wine spends between 18 months on the now dead yeast lees for the Sonoma Brut and up to 9.5 years for the Carneros Cuvee.
Traditional hand rotation (riddling) has given way to gyro-palate machines which gently gyrate crates of bottles so the yeast solids settle into the neck of the bottle under gravity.
When it comes time to bottle the finished wine (disgorgement), the neck of the bottle is frozen, the seal is removed and the frozen yeast plug is expelled, leaving a crystal clear sparkling wine ready for a slight top-up and the familiar cork and wire basket.
In the Vineyard
Great wines come from great fruit and careful tending of vineyards to deliver the best the soil, aspect and nature can produce from the site. Gloria Ferrer has about 336 acres under vine, producing about 70% of their output, the remainder coming from a loyal cadre of local growers who produce consistently high quality fruit.
The climate in Carneros and Petaluma Gap region is ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that are ripe but retain their acidity. Steven like to pick when the grapes are at between 17-19 Brix and they are tasted for ripeness. (Table wines are typically picked between 21-25 Brix)
These traditional Burgundian and Champagne grapes do best with a low diurnal temperature range to ripen the fruit but retain acidity. In other words, warm clear days and cool nights trump hot days and cool nights for making Champagne and Burgundian style-wines.
In California unlike France, there is no need to blend wines from different vintages to produce a cuvee. Every year is a vintage year in this ideal regional climate.
I asked Steven if the yields are controlled and for the still wines and he prefers fruit that comes from more difficult terrain and higher altitude where vines have to struggle and the yields are lower.
Canopy control is important in the area and they do pluck leaves to expose bunches to sunshine and allow them to fully ripen.
Sonoma Brut $22rr (But $12.99 at Trader Joes and Costco)
90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, 18 months on lees. 120,000 cases/year = 60% of GF production.
House style, many wines in base blend. Faint pink tinge, apples and strawberries on nose, follows onto complex palate. Lovely attack, fresh acidity, long and lingering red fruit finish.
An amazing value wine for $12.99 and the price makes Steven weep. This is your go-to sparkling wine for every occasion, other than something special that calls for Champagne.
This is the best value sparkling wine in the USA at $12.99. Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines deliver phenomenal value across the quality spectrum when compared to Napa and Sonoma still wines.
2013 Blanc de Blanc $47 recommended retail
100% Chardonnay, 2.5 years on yeast lees, 13 grams per lite dosage, .79 grams/lite acidity.
Pale straw color, apples and pears and some baker’s yeast on the nose, lovely attack and mousse effervescence on the palate. Crisp acidity, dry, lingering and delicious.
2008 Extra Brut $50rr
67% Pinot Noir Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 5.5 years on lees, 5.5gpl dosage
Slight yellow/pink tinge, apples and red rose petals on nose with distinct cracked yeast. Fantastic attack on the palate and explosive mousse, lovely lively acidity and mouth feel, long lingering palate. Gorgeous. Whoopee, I’m in France!!
2013 Brut Rose $50rr
90% Pinot Noir 10% Chardonnay, 3.5 years on lees, 12.5gpl dosage
Light salmon pink color, red apples on nose. Lovely rich ripe rounded palate with a long crisp lingering finish. Perfect now, lovely.
2007 Royal Cuvee $37rr
6.5 years on lees, 67% Pinot Noir 33% Chardonnay, free run juice.
Very fine bead, pale straw color, apples, honey and toasty yeast on nose. Palate crisp apples, creamy yeast autolysis, lovely acidity and long finish. Delightful now, lovely.
2005 Carneros Cuvee $75rr
53% Pinot Noir, 47% Chardonnay, 9.5 years on lees, .75gpl acidity, free run juice
Pale straw color, red apples, red berry fruit and vegemite yeast extract on nose. Follows on to palate with intense and complex strawberry and red apple flavors. Lovely acidity, really long and intense, a delicious, fresh and vibrant wine.
Demi Sec $22rr
100% Chardonnay, 30 months on lees, 24gpl dosage.
Apples and pears on nose with citrus hints. Palate classy with apples and honey, sweeter and round, delicious and a great wine for those who prefer their sparkling wine a little sweeter.