Nine Top Sparkling Wines From California's Central Coast
With the holidays upon us, one of the most popular wines to drink and to give as gifts is sparkling wine. Nothing seems to say celebration more than bubbles. And there are so many choices! Sparkling wine is made throughout the world. There is Champagne which comes from Champagne in France, Cava which comes from Spain and Franciacorta and Prosecco which come from Italy.
Sparkling wine is also made in California and many of the famous California sparkling wines (Schramsberg, Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Gloria Ferrer, Iron Horse, J, Roederer) come from Northern California. But the Central Coast, from Santa Barbara to Monterey, is also producing sparkling wines. Sparkling wines will not be the primary wine produced by these wineries, so production will be limited but here are some producers to look out for.
First, here are a few key points to consider when selecting sparkling wines.
- Champagne can only be made in France. If it is not from the Champagne region in northern France, then it is called sparkling wine.
- Champagne, by law, is made with chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Many sparkling wines in California choose to use the same grapes but other grapes can and are used.
- Champagne is made in the “traditional method” known as methode champenoise. This method means that after the wine goes through the first fermentation, it is placed into bottles where a secondary fermentation takes place, creating the bubbles inside the bottle.
- Another way to make sparkling wine is called the “charmat method” in which the wine is made in stainless steel tanks and then CO2 is pumped into the tanks before bottling the wine. This is how Prosecco is made.
Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973 in Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County with the planting of pinot noir and chardonnay. They began producing their own wines in 2004 and by 2008, inspired by Champagne, they created a sparkling wine program. In 2015, they planted pinot meunier, the third grape in Champagne. They make four different sparkling wines: Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noir, Brut Rose and a semi-sweet Demi-Sec wine. Riverbench Vineyard and Winery is located on Foxen Canyon Road in Santa Barbara. Their tasting room at the winery is open daily from 10:00am - 4:00pm.
Riverbench also has a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara that is open daily from 11:00am-6:00pm. Head to either tasting room where you taste a flight of sparkling wines!
Flying Goat Cellars was established by owner and winemaker Norm Yost in 2000. The name Flying Goat Cellars was inspired by two pygmy goats that Norm used to own so it is only natural that when he started to make sparkling wine in 2005, he called it Goat Bubbles. There are currently five Goat Bubbles produced: Goat Bubbles Rosé (made from pinot noir), Blanc de Blancs (made from Chardonnay), Blanc de Noirs (made from pinot noir), Brut Cuveé (a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay) and Crémant (made from Pinot Blanc). Each wine is hand-riddled, disgorged and bottled and can all be tasted in a flight of five ($20) in the Flying Goat tasting room in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (open Thursday – Sunday).
Located 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Presqui’le Winery sits on 73 acres in the Santa Maria Valley. First planted in 2007, Presqui’le is known for its elegant pinot noir, chardonnay, cool-climate syrah and sauvignon blanc but they also make a limited number of hand-crafted sparkling wines. The Brut Cuvee is a blend of their estate chardonnay and pinot noir; the Sparkling Rose expresses the fruit and floral notes of the pinot noir; the Blanc de Blancs expresses the minerality of the estate chardonnay. The tasting room at Presqui’le, with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean in the distance, is open seven days a week. The sparkling wine has very limited availability and is available to Club Members only.
Fiddlehead Cellars was established by Kathy Joseph in 1989. A pioneer woman winemaker, Kathy’s two passions are sauvignon blanc that she makes from Happy Canyon AVA and pinot noir that she makes from her estate Fiddlestix vineyard, as well as in Oregon. In 2008, Kathy had a crazy idea to make sparkling wine from the pinot noir from the Fiddlestix Vineyard and released her first sparkling wine in 2009. The sparkling wine is called 728 Bubbles and is named after the mile marker 7.28 where Fiddlestix Vineyard is located. Only 18 cases were made of the 2008 728 Bubbles and more has been made in the following years. But, production is still very limited and the 2012 is currently sold out but the 2013 will be released soon! The Fiddlehead Cellars Winery and Tasting Room is located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (open Friday – Sunday)
Palmina is a celebration of Italy and California. Winemaker Steve Clifton produces wines from Italian varietals barbera, dolcetto, nebbiolo, pinot gris, sangiovese, tocai friulano, arneis and malvaisa bianca that are grown in Santa Barbara. It was during a March 2009 trip to a Nebbiolo Symposium held in Sondrio in Valtellina, Italy when Steve and his team first tasted a sparkling Nebbiolo. He returned to Santa Barbara and in 2009 Lumina, Palmina’s sparkling Nebbiolo, was born. The Nebbiolo comes from the Rancho Sisquoc Vineyard and the wine is made in the traditional method. Steve also makes a NV sparkling barbera that is more frizzante, than spumante, and pairs perfectly with pizza. The Palmina tasting room is located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (open Thursday – Sunday).
One of the youngest winemakers in Santa Barbara County, Tessa Marie has created a portfolio of Cal-Italian wines, including Vermentino which is made into a sparkling wine. She also makes a sparkling sangiovese. Both wines are made in the traditional method with the second fermentation in the bottle by Sparkling Pearls. The pearls allow for the secondary fermentation to take place and can be can be seen at the bottom of the bottle. Less than 50 cases of each wine are produced but you can find them in the tasting room located in Los Olivos.
Located in Southern San Luis Obispo County, Laetitia has been known for their classic method sparkling wines since 1997. Prior to Laetitia, beginning in the early 80s, the wine was produced by French Champagne producer Maison Deutz. Today, Laetitia makes seven different sparkling wines, including Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noir, as well as a sparkling rosé and other styles. There is a sparkling wine style that will please anyone. The wines are available in the tasting room open daily in Arroyo Grande. Or join the Laetitia Sparkling Wine Club and get a shipment of four or eight bottles of sparkling wine delivered to your home each quarter.
Strange 7 is a new sparkling wine project by Shamra and Brian Strange. The name of the winery honors the seven tallest mountains that Brian climbed with his son Johnny before his seventeenth birthday. With a goal to make the best sparkling wine in California, they hired Steve Clifton who first began making sparkling wine in 1993 with Brewer-Clifton. The three sparkling wines, blanc de noir, blanc de blanc and brut rose, were recently released for the first time and can be found at the new Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos.
Gary Caraccioli expanded the family farm in the Salinas Valley by adding vineyards in 2006. The goal was to do something that was not being done in the area, and that was producing sophisticated sparkling wines. Gary partnered with Michel Salgues who was raised in France and worked for Roederer and Joe Rawitzer. Today, fourth generation Scott Caraccioli manages the family winery and produces 2,500 cases of sparkling wine a year. The Brut Cuvee is made with 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir, as is the Brut Rose, which also blends pinot noir for color. The Caraccioli Cellars tasting room is located in the town of Carmel and is open seven days a week.
About the author of Top Sparkling Wines of California's Central Coast;
Allison Levine is the owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. Allison is Level 3 WSET Certified from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, so she knows about way more than just wine tasting Santa Barbara. Allison is certified as an Italian Wine Specialist from the North American Sommelier Association and has a Master's Degree in International Communications with a focus on cross-cultural training from the American University School of International Service. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world.
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