Spakling Wines in California

Who Was First: The Champenoise’s Race for California Sun

In the 1970s, wanting a piece of the attention being showered upon the new kid in the wine world, some of the largest producers in Champagne came to California and began making copious amounts of sparkling wine. It seemed ridiculously easy, considering how warm it was here compared to the cold environs of Northern France, where they struggle most years to even ripen grapes. Here the “problem” was just the opposite: finding places cool enough to grow high acid Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Champagne averages 1,650 hours of sunlight annually. Napa, by comparison, averages 2,360). Well, they did (primarily in Sonoma). And they now collectively own hundreds of acres and  purchase thousands of tons of grapes a year to make millions of bottles of wine that are sold all over the world. (But no, it’s NOT Champagne).

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When you visit these Disney-like versions of French châteaus, you will likely hear a tour guide claim that their Champagne house was the first to raise a flag in California’s soil. It was a pretty tight race (of course, Schramsberg, which was started by a German immigrant in 1862 was the first to make sparkling wine in California. It is still considered to be one of the very best), but here you have it (per the houses themselves):

Domaine Chandon, Napa: founded in 1973 by Moet & Chandon (now part of LVMH)
Mumm, Napa: founded in 1979 by G.H. Mumm (now part of Pernot Ricard)
Piper Sonoma, Sonoma: founded in 1980 by Piper-Heidseik (now part of Remy Cointreau)
Roederer, Anderson Valley: founded in 1982 by Louis Roederer (now part of Maisons Marques & Domaines)
Domaine Carneros, Sonoma: founded in 1989 by Tattinger (still owned by Tattinger family!)