Is Champagne Back?

Sales of luxury bubbles have bounced back, and since we’re heading into prime fizz season, I grabbed the chance last week to sample more than 125 Champagnes and top sparkling wines from countries such as Spain and Portugal.

Drinking expensive fizz has always been linked with a positive economic outlook (though personally I think it’s also an essential perk-up if you’re coping with a downturn). That’s why Champagne plunged in late 2008, and prosecco swooped in as the cheapie alternative. Oceans of the sparkling Italian white are still flowing, but in 2014, U.S. drinkers also swallowed 19.2 million bottles of Champagne, up 1.3 million from the year before, according to trade association Comité Champagne.

Renewed interest in expensive prestige cuvées and vintage bottles is driving Champagne growth, but add to that the new diversity of styles, thanks to the rise of grower Champagnes.
Renewed interest in expensive prestige cuvées and vintage bottles is driving Champagne growth, but add to that the new diversity of styles, thanks to the rise of grower Champagnes.
Photographer: Jack Andersen/Getty Images

That’s important, because over the past few years other sparkling wines have made significant inroads, especially in the U.K. Even though the country downed 32.7 million bottles’ worth of Champagne in 2014, up more than 6 percent from a year earlier, the value of sales from all other sparkling wines increased 52 percent in the first half of 2015.

Renewed interest in expensive prestige cuvées and vintage bottles is driving Champagne growth, but add to that the new diversity of styles, thanks to the rise of grower Champagnes. These bubblies—made by small family producers, who used to sell grapes to big brands like Moët but now bottle their own—are on a roll. In 1997 there were 33 brands in the U.S.; now the number is up to 282, and just about every fine restaurant has at least one, if not several, on its list.

The diversity of grower Champagnes was prominently on display at last week’s tasting. Many growers have been innovators in the Champagne region, bringing in new ideas and points of view—like organic grape growing—and challenging traditions. They’re not just sticking to blends of mostly pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, which are grown in many vineyards across the region.

Hip young growers are finding virtues in previously ignored subregions like the Aube.
Hip young growers are finding virtues in previously ignored subregions like the Aube.
Photographer: James Hardy/PhotoAlto/Getty Images

Instead, growers such as L. Aubry Fils are playing with forgotten, fragile varieties like arbanne—once used, but abandoned because they ripened inconsistently in Champagne’s chilly climate. Now, because of global warming, harvests arrive earlier than in the past; climate change has been beneficial for these grapes, which need more warmth and a longer growing season. (You could say climate change has rescued them.)

Others, like David Pehu of Pehu-Simonet, follow a Burgundian philosophy and are bent on creating single-vineyard Champagnes. Yet more hip young growers are experimenting with making Champagne with fewer bubbles, so it tastes more like a still wine, as well as finding virtues in previously ignored subregions like the Aube.

The trendy grower movement has kept interest in Champagne high, especially among influential sommeliers. That’s fortunate, because there are now serious competitors that cost a lot less. For example, I was highly impressed with vintage-dated bubblies from Spanish winery Raventós i Blanc. They used to be labeled cava, but the Raventós family created its own geographic designation, Conca del Riu Anoia, to distinguish its wines from the indifferent, often gassy cavas from cooperatives.


My biggest takeaway, though, was the wide range of quality among grower Champagnes, especially in wines from the difficult 2011 vintage.

Below are my top Champagnes from the tasting. You can try some of these during New York’s La Fête du Champagne, which starts on Oct. 26. Wine shops and restaurants will be offering deals, but the heart of this annual event, now in its second year, is the grand tasting of nearly 120 Champagnes on Nov. 7 ($350), with a gala dinner that evening ($1,000) at which collectors share their best bottles.

From left: Nonvintage Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes; Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Noirs Brut; nonvintage René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée; nonvintage Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut; 2008 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oenophile Non-Dosé Extra Brut
From left: Nonvintage Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes; Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Noirs Brut; nonvintage René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée; nonvintage Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut; 2008 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oenophile Non-Dosé Extra Brut
Source: (from left) Famiglia Gastaldello;; Skurnik Wines (2); Armit Wines

2010 Marc Hebrart Special Club Brut ($75)

Special club bottlings, which carry an exclusive label, are growers’ prestige cuvées. The vivid, complex flavors of this pinot noir–chardonnay blend are fresh and delicate.

Nonvintage Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Les Crayères Vieilles Vignes ($130)

Powerful, concentrated, and intense, this 100 percent pinot noir wine comes from a single vineyard of 70-year-old vines. It’s one to age, and to drink with a grand dinner.

2010 Champagne Doyard Clos de L’Abbaye Blanc de Blancs ($95)

This single-vineyard all-chardonnay Champagne is harmonious, with bright flavors of citrus and chalk. It’s less fizzy than most, emulating a style of Champagne from the past.

2009 L. Aubry Fils Sablé Le Nombre d’Or Blanc des Blancs Brut ($70)

Bright and racy, this blend of all the white varieties grown in Champagne includes chardonnay, but also obscure meslier, fromenteau, and arbanne grapes, which add citrusy, apple-y notes to its aromas.

Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Noirs Brut ($75)

Savory and sumptuous, with cherry and cassis flavors, this all-pinot noir fizz is an example of the new one-grape, one-vineyard, one-vintage trend. It comes from a single parcel called Les Perthois.

Nonvintage René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée ($60)

The love affair with all-pink wines continues. This rosy-colored one, made from 100 percent pinot noir, has the savor and lusciousness of strawberries and hibiscus flowers.

2008 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oenophile Non-Dosé Extra Brut ($70)

The lemony, chalky aromas of this zingy all-chardonnay Champagne just leap out of the glass. The taste is as dry as crushed oyster shells. Non-dosé, which means no sugar or reserve wine is added to balance the wine’s acidity, is part of a trend toward drier fizz.

Nonvintage Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut ($55)

All-chardonnay, it’s crisp, fresh, sleek, and filled with pure notes of slate and lime that make it perfect as an aperitif. It’s a fave of many New York somms; you can try it by the glass at the NoMad, but at $35 per, you might as well buy a bottle and drink it at home.

2007 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée ($125)

Sometimes described as “the poor man’s Krug,” this concentrated wine from old vines is almost smoky, with layers of flavors—minerals, salt, cloves, lemon, verbena—as well as hints of oak. Grand and rich, it’s fantastic with food.

New York’s La Fête du Champagne starts on Oct. 26.
New York’s La Fête du Champagne starts on Oct. 26.
Source: La Fête du Champagne
Bloomberg Business, Article by Ellin McCoy

2015 Bordeaux First Impressions

2015: the dawn of a great vintage

Located on the 45th parallel, the northern limit for the world’s great red wine regions, Bordeaux likes sunny summers to produce great vintages. The months of May, June, and July 2015 were among the hottest and driest on record. Water stress, so important for stopping vegetative growth and starting the ripening process, took place early, in July, and brought on a magnificent véraison (colour change) in early August. I have not seen such an early, even véraison since 2009. All our grapes were red by the 15th of August and many of them were already deeply-­‐colored.

Fortunately, the month of August was less hot and more wet, which gave a certain vigor to the vines.


This month of August enabled the grapes, especially the white wine grapes, to “breathe” and retain their freshness. The first grapes were picked at the end August. Their juices were superb and the weather forecast for the next two weeks is looking excellent… We are thus quite confident this will be a great year!!!


The Merlot grapes will be harvested the last ten days of September and the Cabernets the first two weeks of October. These are showing magnificent potential, but we still need six weeks without a major disturbance.

Sweet whitewines

The Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes are slowly reaching perfect ripeness. As with every vintage, botrytis will call all the shots, but the conditions conducive to its development are all there.

It has been several years since Bordeaux has seen the dawn of such a beautiful vintage…

There are still a few weeks of suspense left before this promise is fulfilled.

Article by Union des Grand Cru Bordeaux


      View From The Vineyard


Preparing For an Early Harvest

“A dry and unusually warm winter has led to a very early progression of vine growth and development.  We are extremely busy getting ready for what will likely be our earliest harvest ever.”  Ron Rosenbrand, SMV Vineyard Manager

By early May, we saw bloom in all grape varieties at SMV, even late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, setting the crop for an early harvest.  Springtime activity in the vineyards has been non-stop. The spading of vine rows, knock-down of cover crops, tying of canes, tucking of shoots, fertigation, release of hundreds of thousands of beneficial insects and leafing decisions are being as brilliantly choreographed as a George Balanchine ballet.

Managing Water

The 4 year drought, so much on everyone’s mind in California, has us tweaking our already meticulous management of water and finding new ways to be even more efficient. Even in vintages with plentiful rainfall, the shallow soils on Spring Mountain do not retain moisture, so we always follow a judicious irrigation protocol. Because of the drought and reduced availability of ground water, this year we have put a few new implements into our farming toolkit.

First, we began an experiment with Biochar, an organic amendment that is planted in the soil at the base of the grapevine, where it acts like a sponge to retain water and nutrients in the root zone, increasing water use efficiency and soil fertility. We have 230 Cabernet vines amended with Biochar. If we find we irrigate these vines less, we will expand the program to other vineyard blocks next year.

Other water-saving methods we use are pressure bomb readings and visual observations of our vines to determine irrigation needs. All vineyard blocks are drip irrigated with pressure compensating emitters which relate to elevation changes. We have also installed numerous “intra-block bypasses” in vineyard rows where we have determined less irrigation is needed. This essentially shuts off the water to these vines until irrigation is necessary for them. We also have installed drip emitters with lower flow rates for vines that need less water. Both of these practices are saving water and increasing the quality of the grapes that come from these vines.

Great wine starts in the vineyard, and we are doing our part to be responsible with our most essential resource.

assemblageIn the Cellar

First Look at the 2014s

“At this early stage, the 2014 red Bordeaux varieties are quite pretty and vivacious with plush soft tanins. The Malbec and Petit Verdot are simply brilliant and will lend structure and layers of complexity to Elivette.” Susan Doyle, Director of Vineyards and Winemaking

In April the winemaking team tasted all the new 2014 red barrel lots. Tasting over several days, palates with many decades of experience evaluated a multitude of small barrel lots made from SMV’s 135 mountain vineyard blocks. Thoughtful consideration was given to the distinctive qualities of each lot.  After discussion, they were classified either for Elivette, for the SMV Cabernet Sauvignon label, or for neither.  The process is highly selective and some lots do not make the cut

The classified wines represent two base blends of cabernet sauvignon, the foundation for each wine. After the classification, these decisions prompt new tasks in the cellar. The first is racking.  Racking is the process of removing the new wines from barrel, taking them off the fermentation lees (the matter that precipitates after fermentation). The wines are moved to tank, the small lots married into the two base blends, then moved back into French oak barrels. The wines will age in barrel for 6 to 12 months.

fermentation roomLater in the aging process, during the 2nd racking, the addition of complementary varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec will be made to complete each wine. Depending on the vintage, we generally rack the wines 3 times over the course of 22 months of aging.

While the Bordeaux varieties are just beginning their journey in barrel, other varieties are complete and headed for the bottling line. The 2014 Pinot Noir is big and velvety with abundant blue and black fruit aromas, a reflection of its mountain origin. Those who enjoy Pinots from Santa Lucia Highlands will love this wine. The 2014 whites, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, were barrel fermented in neutral and 20% new French oak to preserve freshness, followed by several months of lees contact to enhance textural richness on the palate. The inherent acidity of Spring Mountain wines knits the elements into a balanced whole.

The 2014s promise to be delightful upon release, and we can’t wait to show them to you.

Oh, those Exciting 2013s!

“The 2013s are stunning, with plenty of seductiveness, power and oomph. They will last in the bottle and the glass.”  Winemaker Susan Doyle

From the first look, we’ve been impressed with wines from this stellar vintage. Now, as blends are final and the 2013 Elivette and Cabernet Sauvignon move to the bottling line, the excitement we feel is mounting.  Stylistically, 2013 Elivette is structural, with layers of complexity and built for aging. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon captures the traditional appeal of Napa Valley’s mountain terroir.

With the imminent release of the 2012s, the impressive wines of 2013 and 2014 waiting in the wings, it is an exciting time for Spring Mountain Vineyard!

Newly Released

2013 Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc

Spring Mountain Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Very aromatic in the glass, the wine suggests honeysuckle, white peach, pear and tropical fruits.
The entry is full, rich and textured, with abundant fruit balanced by bright acidity. It retains its weight, volume and viscosity through the mid-palate to a fresh and persistent finish. Serve with shellfish or white meats.Estate Bottled – 603 Cases Produced.$40.

2012 Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc “Francisco”

Spring Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2012 Brilliant ruby in color and engaging aromas of blackberry, black currant and dark chocolate overlay notes of violets, lavender, dried chervil and bay. Underlying aromas of caramel, toffee and leather co-mingle with cigar box and graphite. A broad entry reveals a full-bodied wine, pure in varietal character and nicely supported by mountain tannins and the polishing effects of French oak. Serve with cheese, charcuterie or a savory duck risotto. Decant and enjoy 2015 – 2020.Estate Bottled – 189 Cases Produced.$75

To order or reserve your allocation, call the winery at 707.967.4185 or email
10% Discount on case purchases. Wine Club Member discount is 20%

Upcoming Events

Where to find SMV in the coming months

May 31 – June 8: Auction Napa Valley
Get in on the action with online bidding!
Preview the SMV lot #454 – Rare & Library Magnum Collection – a never-before-offered 6 magnum lot that includes the 1979, 1997 Reserve, 2000, 2005, 2007 and 2010 Elivette.
Anyone can bid in this exclusive online auction, so get in on the excitement!
Auction Napa Valley has been raising funds for the well being of the Napa community since 1981.
Preview Auction Napa Valley Lots

June 13:  33rd annual Vintage Affaire – Atherton, CA
Join SMV’s Lindsay McArdle for a stellar event!
Benefits the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Vintage Affaire Tickets

July 15 – 24: 10th Annual Festival del Sole – Napa Valley
A 10 day celebration of music, dance, theater and Napa Valley’s fine wine and cuisine!

July 23: Festival del Sole Alfresco Lunch at SMV exclusively for Patron Pass holders.
For Events and Tickets
July 18: Taste of Napa – Festival del Sole – Napa Valley
Signature Festival del Sole daytime event with 70 wineries, restaurants, music and more!
Taste of Napa Tickets

August 6 – 9: V Foundation 17th Annual Wine Celebration – Napa Valley
A magical weekend dedicated to finding cures for cancer
Wine Celebration 2015

September 19: Fête Elivette – SAVE THE DATE!
Spring Mountain Vineyard – Miravalle Lawn – St. Helena, CA.
Alfresco Harvest Release Party for the 2012 Elivette!

On Our Summer Table

Petrale Sole with Sauvignon Blanc Sauce and Asparagus

Serves 4Sole with Asparagus

Pan-seared sole and the green goodness of new asparagus really complement the freshness and bright acidity of our 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy with a simple arugula and sliced nectarine salad and a crunchy baguette to soak up every drop of sauce. This is a delicious dinner that can be on the table in less than 30 minutes!Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds asparagus (1/2 in. thick)
1 1/4 pound boned, skinned petrale sole fillets (1/4 in. thick)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup butter (4 tablespoons)
1 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, coarsely chopped


Wash and pat dry asparagus. Snap off and discard woody stem ends.
Rinse fish and pat thoroughly dry. Salt and pepper to taste.
Prepare sole and asparagus simultaneously.
For the sole:  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large, non-stick skillet over medium high heat.. If your skillet is small, you can cook the fish in 2 batches. When the pan is hot and butter foaming, add the sole filets. Cook 3 minutes, then carefully turn and cook another 2 minutes or until the centers just turn opaque. Remove to a platter and keep warm while you make the sauce.
For the asparagus:  Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Melt over medium high heat. Add the asparagus and toss to coat in the butter. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes until crisp tender. Remove from heat and keep warm.
For the sauce:  In the fish skillet, add the wine with 3 tablespoons tarragon. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the wine is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter until blended.
Arrange the sole and asparagus on a serving platter. Spoon sauce over sole fillets. Scatter remaining 1/2 tablespoon tarragon over the sole. Serve immediately with 2013 Sauvignon Blanc.

Visit Us This Summer!

SMV Villa MiravalleWhen your travels bring you to Napa Valley, we hope to see you at SMV where great wine and a friendly welcome await you.

Contact the winery toll free at 877.769.4637, locally at 707.967.4188 or email to make your appointment.

You can book online too:

Wishing you all the pleasures of the Season!
~Your Friends at Spring Mountain Vineyard

View from the Vineyard
Preparing For a Very Early Harvest
In the Cellar
First Look at the 2014s
Newly Released
2013 Sauvignon Blanc
2012 Cabernet Franc
Upcoming Events
May 31 – June 8: Auction Napa Valley
June 13: 33rd annual Vintage Affaire
July 15 – 24: 10th Annual Festival del Sole
July 23: Festival del Sole Alfresco Lunch at SMV
July 18: Taste of Napa – Festival del Sole
August 6 – 9: V Foundation 17th Annual Wine Celebration
September 19: Fête Elivette – SAVE THE DATE!
On Our Summer Table
Petrale Sole with Sauvignon Blanc Sauce and Asparagus
Visit Us

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Spring Mountain Vineyard
2805 Spring Mtn Rd
Saint Helena, California 94574
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I attended the 2015 VinCE Wine Festival held at the amazing property, the Corinthian Hotel, voted the number one hotel in Budapest for 2014.
The VinCE 2015 Wine Conference wasn’t only about tasting fine wines, but it was a master class that  broadened everyone’s knowledge of Hungarian wine and wines from other parts of the world.
There were classes on New Zealand wines, Cohor in France, Cava from Spain, Bordeaux from France, and the USA.
Don’t misunderstand me there were wines presented from other countries at this conference, but the 2015 VinCE Wine Conference was about introducing Hungarian wines to the world.
After the conference a small group of media had the opportunity to visit Wine Country in Hungary which included the Tokaji and Ager wine regions.
The Tokaji wine region consists mainly of the Furmint and Harslevelu grapes. These grapes are the backbone of the great Tokai wines that are made in Hungary. The Tokaji wines are very sweet but well balance ranging in sweetness from 3 to 6 Puttonyos.
What is so amazing about this wine is not the level of sweetness which can range from 120 RS to over 500 RS, but the acidity level that reaches as high as 11 percent which is incredible. These wines are able to achieve an incredibly high acidity level due to the inactive volcanic soil where the grapes are grown.
Some of the top producers in Tokaji are Dobogó Furmint,  Royal Tokaji, Barta Oreg Furmint, and Sauska.


On Febuaray 27th, 2015 I had the opportunity to have lunch with Grand Reserve head wine maker Marcio Ramirez.  Marcio explained the reasons why the Grand Reserve a riverbank series of wines were so special.   Marcio explain that the wines come from 3 very unique rivers beds Rapel, Cachapoal, and Tinguiririca which provides very distinct and different qualities to each wine.  All the Gran Reserva series wines start with the triple Marine Mediterranean advantage.

*  Areas which have a cool breeze close to the coast,

* Areas with a temperature between cold ocean air and warm air current from the valley combine to produce cooling winds.

* Ancient river banks or oil, mineral rich free draining and unfertile.

Marcio has been the wine maker at Concha Y Toro since he graduated from Universidad de Chile in 1997 degree in Oenology, he is a well-traveled and a well educated winemaker spending time in Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Mendoza, Spain St Emilion Pomerol District.   We Tasted through several of the Gran Reserva series.

The Gran Reserva series Sauvignon Blanc 2014, was well rounded on the palate with a long lingering finish.

The Gran Reserva 2013 Chardonnay was golden in color, ripe pineapple fruit, balanced acidity and just a lovely wine.

Gran Reserva 2011 Carmenere displayed a deep ruby color blackberry/ blueberry fruit with a hint of chocolate on the palate, a well structured complex wine.  Also in my opinion the best wine of the luncheon .

The Gran Reserva Malbec 2012 and 13 were deep ruby in color, the fruit comes from the river bed area Tinguiririca which is layered in red clay, I thought it was a very good expression of a very good Malbec.

Last was the Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon  2013 and 14 these wines were very young but the 2014 has signs of being a star because of its complexity and structure, finished with well rounded firm tannin.


Contributing editor Alyssa Alvarez, @Tipsygypsea