Articles are property of Brenda Francis and are not to be reproduced in any way without written consent from Brenda Francis. Champagne Houses In California The art of producing Champagne quality sparkling wine, from grapes grown in California, is as infantile as the California wine industry itself. The established sparkling wine industry in Champagne, France is several centuries old. As the wine industry in California began to show its potential in the later part of the twentieth century, prominent Champagne houses in France began to look to the cool regions of California, as a way to expand their holdings. Although sparkling wine could have been made from grapes grown in any area of California, the Champagne makers searched for the coolest areas in order emulate the recipe that proved to be their success. Some of the coolest areas were Russian River Valley, Anderson Valley in Mendocino, Carneros, Napa Valley, and Green Valley in Sonoma. The more sun a grape enjoys, the more sugar it produces. Sugar and acidity have an inverse relationship. As a grape ripens, it loses its acidity. Each season, Champagne, France struggles to ripen its grapes. These slightly under-ripe chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes are high in acidity and lower in sugar and are perfect for sparkling wine. California, however, rarely suffers from unripe grapes. In the late nineteen-sixties, Moët & Chandon was the first French Champagne house to move into California. The Mount Veeder area of Carneros was relatively unknown and perfect for growing chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Domaine Chandon was established and within a decade released the first Champagne House managed, sparkling wine from California. Other Champagne Houses followed. Claude Taittinger, president of Champagne Taittinger traveled to California and dreamed of owning an estate in Carneros that would represent the art of sparkling wine in a grand way. Taittinger's dream became a reality in 1989. Today Domaine Carneros is one of California's most prestigious landmarks. Le Rêve, interpreted 'The Dream,' is the sparkling wine label from Domaine Carneros that represents Claude's dream come true. Le Rêve is made from their highest quality grapes. Around the time Taittinger's dream was realized, Champagne Louis Roederer established Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley, G.H. Mumm et Cie of France established Mumm Cuvée Napa, and Piper Heidsiek established Piper Sonoma. Other producers, such as Schramsberg, Iron Horse, and Gloria Ferrer, dedicated to producing wines in the 'methode champenoise' established themselves during this era. Within a few decades sparkling wine from California evolved into a gem that would put these cool growing regions on the map. There are significant differences between Champagne and quality sparkling wine from California. Champagne's vineyards are extremely chalky, causing the wine to have prominent mineral nuances. The lack of extreme ripeness in Champagne causes the flavors to be subtle, elegant, herbaceous, and floral. Many Champagne Houses use malolactic fermentation, a second fermentation that softens the acidity. They store the sparkling wine on the lees, the dead yeast cells, which create fresh-baked bread richness in the wine. California's sparkling wines made in the methode champenoise utilize many of the same processes that have placed Champagne's sparkling wines at the top. California rarely struggles with unripe grapes, therefore California's sparkling wines have richer fruit flavors. California's sparkling wines do not have the prominent mineral content that Champagne's sparkling wines express. Champagne producers do not use much oak aging. California, however, as with all styles of wine coming from the West Coast, embrace the use of French oak, creating toasted, vanilla, spicy notes in its sparkling wine. There are many great options when you choose sparkling wine from California. They offer variety such as blanc de blancs, white sparkling wine made with white grapes, usually all chardonnay. Blanc de noir is white sparkling wine made from black grapes, usually all pinot noir and pinot meunier. (This is one of my favorites.) They offer savory rosés and styles that vary in sweetness from Brut, Extra Dry, Demi-Sec, and Cremant. Price, quality and exported history and traditions offer a value that is outstanding. Choose California sparkling wine for your next bubbly occasion.