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Marshall V. King
Marshall V. King writes about restaurants and local food issues. And a lot about what he eats.

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How do they get those bubbles in sparkling wine?

It's not easy to make sparkling wine, much less great sparkling wine. But the Dining A La King tour group learned how it's done.

Posted on Feb. 10, 2014 at 12:24 p.m.

The wines at Laetitia Vineyard & Winery aren't champagne.

To be called that, they have to come from that region of France, not Arroyo Grande, Calif.

But the bubbles get in the bottle. And it's pretty amazing how it happens.

At this point, after years of making sparkling wines, the yeast that causes the bubbles is in the air. The winemakers don't even have to add it to the juice pressed from fall harvests.

They use the same methods as winemakers in France, called "method champenois." And the result are some lively wines.

The Dining A La King tour group visited Laetitia on Saturday, Feb. 8. Over lunch in the room where the grapes are pressed, Carmen Hickey, tasting room manager, educated the group about sparkling wine.

The "clean juice," meaning it doesn't have much contact with the skins or stems that would give red wines bolder flavors, is fermented in an open tank.

After bottling, the yeast keeps working to ferment the wine and the bottles are tipped so that the sediment settles in the neck. They're rotated, in a process called riddling, and then the bottle neck is frozen and the plug is disgorged so that the bottle has clean wine.

The sparkling wines pair well with many foods. And the winery's pinot noir vines love the cool morning fog and the soil types three miles from the California Coast.

You'd struggle to find Laetitia wines in Indiana, but you can find those from Edna Valley Vineyard. At the Gallo property, the ultra cool climate and minerals from one of the Seven Sisters volcanoes creates solid pinot noir wines. The group visited the tasting room and looked over the vineyards that includes the former volcano.

On Sunday, Feb. 9, the group visited Tablas Creek Vineyard, a slice of France's Rhone Valley in central California.

Two families created a winery and imported eight of the 13 varietals from Chateau de Beaucastel in the famous winemaking region of France. "They recognized this is a Mediterranean climate," said Deanna Ryan of the winery.

The long, hot summers develop flavor in the grapes. The original cuttings from France were kept in USDA quarantine for three years before they could be planted.

The winery farms organically and used some biodynamic practices to grow grapes.

The wines are highly rated and prized in the wine industry. And as with several of the other locations, tour participants signed up for wine club memberships to get shipments throughout the year.

Midnight Cellars nearby makes big jammy wines more representative of the Paso Robles region. The hot temperatures can create wines that are higher in alcohol and with bold flavors. The final tasting of the tour showed illustrated that for the group.

During a visit to Morro Bay, former Goshen resident Cindy (Loucks) Miller joined up with the group. At the seaside town, alongside another of the dormant volcanoes, Miller and others enjoyed some food and drink at The Libertine. And though it was a bit foggy and cloudy, the otters and sea lions hung out in the water nearby during the group's stop.

The tour is winding down. The group is heading back on the Chumash Highway to Los Angeles.

During a few days in California, we learned an awful lot about wine at the visits lined up by Jay Fields of Indiana Wholesale Wine & Liquor Co. We ate tri-tip, the cut of beef that is well-known and well-prepared in San Luis Obispo. And we enjoyed what felt like spring weather. We got a few days respite from the hard winter. And it was glorious.

I'm hungry. Let's eat.


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