Friends visiting from Seattle requested that we join them for a private tasting at the Gloria Ferrer Winery in the Sonoma/Carneros region. It seems they prefer the “bubbly” and have become members, thanks to the winery’s willingness to ship anywhere. I had previously passed by the entrance gate or had occasional glimpses on wine shop
shelves, but knew very little about their releases over the last three decades.
First impressions are always important and the Gloria Ferrer Estate did not disappoint. There is a half-mile of winding road through gentle hills with vineyards before you reach any buildings. The indoor/outdoor tasting room was huge with a chef on-hand, preparing food to enhance the experience. Add some live music and they have marketing appeal from “Baby Boomers” to the “Millennials.”
Because of our VIP friends, we were escorted into a room to taste sparkling and still wines, each paired with a taste of something good and enlightening commentary. Being a person that likes to take a little something home from these experiences, it was here that I discovered the 2006 Gloria Ferrer
Royal Cuvee’ ($37), a sparkling wine (66% pinot noir, 34% chardonnay) that impressed with multiple flavors on the nose and palate. I enjoy sparkling wines but often the true flavors are disguised by the effervescence. This is not the case with the “Royal.” The apple, honey nose extended through the palate with a creamy texture and, surprisingly, a pleasant minerality on the finish.
Something that most of us do more of during a formal tasting is exploring the bouquet of the wine. Neglecting to do this while enjoying a glass with dinner diminishes our capacity to capture the full sensory adventure.
Gloria Ferrer is located in the south Sonoma County Carneros region, impacted by morning marine layers from San Pablo Bay and, for years, described as an area to avoid when planting new vines. It is the coolest and windiest region in both Sonoma and Napa Valley and the poor draining, rocky soils make it a struggle for grapes to survive. A possible solution is to find a grape varietal that prefers cool, wet winds and indigent soil.
After early century phylloxera (root disease) decimated the original vines, further damaging the region’s reputation, well-known wine producer Louis Martini purchased a large area within the Carneros in 1942 and began to experiment with cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir. Known as the “heartbreak grape,” the difficult pinot noir does seem to thrive when coping with the challenges that define the Carneros terroir. Soon, Carneros caught the eye of sparkling wine producers and rapidly became a desired region, associated with quality chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines.
Our next taste was the flagship 2003 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee’ ($75), a pinot noir and chardonnay blend awarded double-gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition and 90 points from Wine Spectator, expressing complex aromas and layered flavors of apple, pear
and Meyer lemon. There is a remarkably rich texture to this Carneros sparkling wine, enhanced when paired with smoked salmon and goat cheese.
The Ferrer family’s path to the Carneros region began over 600 years ago in Spain where they were already respected wine growers and makers. In the early 20th Century, two prominent wine families were merged with the marriage of Pedro
Ferrer to Dolores Sala. Soon after, the young couple released their first cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and established the Freixenet label becoming largest producer of “method champoise” wines in the world.
After a 1930s visit, Pedro’s dream of launching a winery in the United States was tragically cut short when he was killed in the Spanish Civil War. His ambition lived through his son, Jose, who returned in 1982 to purchase land in the Carneros and establish Gloria Ferrer Winery, named after Mrs. Ferrer. A few years later the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards opened with production and tasting facilities replicating a “classic Catalon farmhouse”. Today, the family and team farm over 300 acres of estate vineyards producing six sparkling wines, five pinot noir, a cool-climate chardonnay and a merlot. Did someone say merlot?
The Carneros is known for being tough on varietals other than cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir. Zinfandel was the chosen one for a short time, but could not sustain quality vintages. So, I was surprised when our tasting included the
2009 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot ($28), a Bordeaux varietal that was nicely balanced with dominant dark berries bouquet and chocolate hints to enhance the dark fruit flavors. Of course, merlot pairs best with beef or lamb dishes. However, vegetarians can pair it with aged cheeses and even vegans can enjoy this accessible wine by itself..
In the wine world, the opposite of sweet is defined as “dry.” With sparkling wines, dryness in described through “brut” and “extra brut”. The pinot noir dominant 2011 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose’ ($47) is emblematic of the modern rose,’ varietal specific, crafted from carefully selected fruit, dry and a bit pricy.
Partial to the ascendant aromas and flavors of a 90% pinot noir rose,’ the small amount of chardonnay is most apparent during the finish. There is ample quality rose’ available at varied prices but few the combine pinot noir and chardonnay,
making this one special.
For those seeking a very dry sparkling wine, the 2006 Gloria Ferrer Extra Brut Cuvee’ ($47) is an option and those who prefer something sweeter can choose from two flavorful, value-priced, non-vintage sparkling wines that concluded our tasting.
Using only premiere taille (first press) grapes and the bebourage technique of allowing the juice to settle overnight, then aging 18 months en tirage (on the yeast), the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($22), from numerous estate vineyards, expressed compounded fruit and floral overtones with a creamy texture and the Gloria Ferrer Va De Vi ($22), awarded “Best of Class, Semi-Dry” in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine
Competition, is also very fruit forward with some sweetness courtesy of a small amount of muscat in the blend. Both sparkling wines offer pleasant zest and texture at a reasonable price.
With 335 contiguous acres under vine, the Gloria Ferrer Estate makes for an impressive landscape that allows assorted options to “isolate and enhance” flavors while producing unique Sonoma County wines. While pinot noir and chardonnay are hallmark varietals for the region, the blending of the two in creating diverse sparkling wines is rare.
In the heart of the Carneros that bridges two great regions, Sonoma County and the Napa Valley,
the Gloria Ferrer Winery is a relaxing 50-mile drive from San Francisco and provides another dimension to your exploration of the Napa-Sonoma area, renown throughout the world for the production of extraordinary still and sparkling wines.