Breathless Winery Wins “Rising Wine Star Winery of the Year” Award

In less than 10 years since it opened, Breathless Wines has already won multiple awards, including the San Francisco Wine Competition, American Fine Wine Competition, Wine Enthusiast, among others. This time, it is awarded by LuxeSF, a luxury marketing organization, as their “Rising Wine Star Winery of The Year”, after a tough competition with 74 other nominations across 5 award categories, selected by a 14-person panel of respected industry veterans.

Have you tried Breathless Wines yet? They are currently offering a special duo Blanc De Noir and Brut Rose pack at $60 including shipping this week until September 18. Better yet, you could visit their winery in downtown Healdsburg and try a flight of 4 wines for just $16 in their outdoor patio, or join their Friday Bubbly Happy Hour, or try a Breakfast at Breathless Breton Crepe paired with their sparkling on September 27. For more options, check this page out!

Breathless Brut in their flutes.
Lady on a Flying Cork, a poster from 1920s, used as Breathless Wines Logo.

A Legacy Sparkling with Personality

Hailing from a pioneer winemaking family in Napa, Paula Kornell is a Napa native who has seen the region’s rise from idyllic countryside to a world-renowned premium wine destination. Paula has acquired decades of experience throughout the wine industry, having held management positions at Mondavi, Phelps and other wineries. She has been a member of the Board of Napa Valley Vintners and served a term as its President, and has also chaired the famous Napa Wine Auction several times.

Paula Kornell serving her wines at home.

Meeting Paula Kornell and Tasting Her Very First Vintage

Now, Paula is carrying on her family legacy, having launched her own line of methode champenoise (traditional Champagne method) wines last October with Vintage Wine Estates. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Paula and experience her great hospitality over a cordial wine lunch at her eclectic St. Helena abode and learn about the many colorful stories behind her brand.

Paula opening her bottle of Blanc de Noir

Kornell Family Legacy

The Kornell family history is interwoven with the Wine Country, starting with Paula’s father, Napa wine pioneer Hanns Kornell. Originally from Germany, Kornell studied winemaking at Geisenheim Enological Institute in the 1930s and applied that training working for French and Italian wineries. After a narrow escape from Dachau Concentration Camp, he arrived in America with $2 in his pocket. Hanns worked in wineries until he was able to purchase the historic Larkmead Estate, one of California’s oldest wineries, which was established by Lillian Hitchcock Coit in 1884.

The historic Larkmead Winery. Credit: Napa Wine Project

Paula’s Wine Beginnings

After college, Paula’s adventurous spirit led her to a brief period working in vineyards around Europe and studying winemaking at Geisenheim, as did her father. Later, she did a stint selling Burgundy wines for the famous New York wine merchant Sherry-Lehmann. Although she enjoyed filling orders for celebrities on Madison Ave, her father eventually persuaded her to fly back to California on a one-way, first class ticket to work for Kornell Cellars.

The iconic Sherry Lehmann on Madison Ave.

The Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

While sharing her Brut, an elegant blend of Central Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Paula noted how American consumers were unaccustomed to the “sparkling wine” definition initially. “Champagne” was perceived as better, but consumers increasingly understand why the change in nomenclature was made. International laws restrict the Champagne label to wines made only in this French appellation, even though many premium sparkling wines are made elsewhere using the same method. Her family has long used this traditional Champagne winemaking method in making their California wines.

Kornell Brut in a bucket.

Paula’s Blanc De Noir

Paula also opened a bottle of her inaugural 2017 Blanc De Noir, made with 98% Pinot Noir from the classic Mitsuko’s Vineyard in the Los Carneros area, ideally situated to catch breezes from San Pablo Bay. Remarkable was how it tasted like a more aged Champagne: complex, with toasty notes and a crisp hint of zesty citrus. It was an absolutely delightful pairing with her homemade galette made with fresh vegetables from her yard.

Our wine pairing lunch.

How the Wine Started

Paula’s own wine brand came into being when she was approached by long-time family friend and CEO of Vintage Wine Estates, Pat Roney, who wanted to boost their premium boutique wine portfolio with great sparkling wines. The winemaker behind Paula’s wine is Robin Ankhurst, who has worked harvests from Burgundy and Languedoc to Marlborough and Barossa and now directs winemaking for several esteemed Napa wineries. I noticed the beautifully etched Riedel glasses with her logo, which she explained was the Men of Canaan – the same logo used in years past by Hanns Kornell Champagne, denoting Israelites carrying grapes to the “Promised Land,” which for her family was California.

Paula, her Blanc de Noir and me.

Staying Positive and Resilient

It’s not only Paula’s great wines and the history that stand out, but also her resilient and jovial spirit. To be sure, lockdowns caused by the current pandemic will pose challenges for wineries needing to sell excess inventory, but she sees pockets of opportunity for those who build relationships and continue to get involved. Despite the current pandemic, Paula has managed to progress with building partnerships through Zoom calls.

Outlawed – Watch Outlaw Country Musician Elizabeth Cook Perform Live at Home With a Glass of Paso Robles Wine

This summer is time for delicious wine and safely distanced live music! The exciting Robert Hall At Home Sessions we announced earlier continues with an incredible line-up of talented independent musicians for you and your community to watch from home, and enjoy authentic Paso Robles wine for the occasion. Next Wednesday September 2, the fourth virtual concert will feature contemporary Outlaw singer songwriter Elizabeth Cook, known for her appearances on David Letterman, “hip hard-country delivery, comedic gifts and magnetic personality”.

Elizabeth Cook. Credit: Robert Hall Winery

Watch From Home

You can watch the performance live, and get an exclusive behind-the-curtains recording from the artist after the show. Simply go to Robert Hall Winery’s Facebook page, @roberthallwinery. Previous shows and exclusive behind the scenes artist interviews can still be viewed at RobertHallWinery.com/At-Home-Sessions

Elizabeth Cook’s music video, “Bones”. Credit: Robert Hall Winery

Paso Robles Wine + Special Discount

In addition, Robert Hall is releasing some 2019 vintage wines for the first time, which you can buy directly online. You can now get 20% off using the at home sessions code and free shipping if you live in valid states, including California.

Robert Hall’s latest Cavern Select Vermentino 2019.

About Robert Hall Winery 

Founded in 1999 by the late entrepreneur Robert Hall, Robert Hall Winery showcases the best Paso Robles has to offer. The winery has three estate vineyards in the Geneseo and Estrella Districts, totaling 136 planted acres of fruit. In addition to growing Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, the winery also sources grapes across the Paso Robles AVA. This provides Head Winemaker Don Brady with a broad range of soils and micro-climates that, together, create optimal fruit for the beautiful wines that capture the essence of Paso Robles.  

Not Just Another Wine Auction: Portland Trailblazer Star turned Winemaker CJ McCollum and Wine for Social Good

With its natural terroir ideal for growing Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley is also Oregon’s largest wine growing region with over 70 varietals. Willamette Valley Winery Association is their wine industry association, which organizes an annual Pinot Noir auction that just ended on August 13. This year, 74 wine lots from the 2018 vintage made exclusively for the auction were sold, with proceeds this year not only supporting the Association’s education and marketing initiatives, but an additional $100,000 dedicated to the James Beard Foundation’s Open For Good Campaign – Food & Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans.

From the “Normal” Willamette Auction…
…to the Online Willamette Valley auction this year

Many Firsts

This was a special year for the Willamette Pinot Auction: going online for the first time, with the opening featuring its first-ever Ambassador, Portland Trailblazer NBA star and now Willamette Valley’s newest winemaker CJ McCollum, who launched his own wine McCollum Heritage 91 with Adelsheim Vineyards in June this year.

CJ McCollum and his new wine, McCollum 91 Heritage.

Supporting Black & Indigenous American Food & Beverage Businesses

The $100,000 donation, or about 20% of total profit, will go to the James Beard Foundation Food & Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans. This fund supports food and beverage businesses owned by Black and Indigenous Americans, with the goal to rebuild an independent, more equitable restaurant industry following re-openings post-pandemic.   

Credit: James Beard Foundation

About Willamette Valley Wineries Association
The Willamette Valley Wineries Association (WVWA) is a non-profit industry association dedicated to achieving recognition for Oregon’s acclaimed Willamette Valley as a premier Pinot noir-producing region. Currently, the WVWA has nearly 250 members representing wineries and tasting rooms throughout the Willamette Valley region from Portland to Eugene. 

Celebrate Jewish New Year with Innovative Kosher Wines from Around the World!

What better way to start the Jewish New Year than sharing great wines with loved ones? Traditionally, wine or grape juice is an important part of Kiddush, which means “sanctification” in Hebrew, a ceremony where a blessing is recited over wine or grape juice.

Wine and Pomegranate, a fruit symbolic of good deeds and wishes.

Royal Wine Corp is bringing a fresh selection of kosher wines from California, Israel, France and South Africa just in time for Rosh Hashanah, which falls on September 18th this year.

Organic Kosher Wine with Noble History

If you are sensitive to sulfites and want some quality organic kosher wine, you could try Herzog Variation Be-leaf Cabernet Sauvignon, a full-bodied organic Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles with no added sulfites. Herzog Winery was one of the first in America to make kosher wines, with over 9 generations of winemaking. Founded by Rabbi Menachem Herzog, Herzog wines were so sought after by Austrian Emperor Franz Josef that he dubbed then-owner Phillip Herzog a Baron.

Herzog’s Paso Robles vineyard. Credit: Herzog Winery

Surprise Yourself With Wild Yeast Wines!

Have you tried wines fermented with “wild” yeast that originate from the vineyards? Winemaker and Master of Wine candidate Ido Lewinsohn, known for experimenting with wild yeast and whole cluster pressing, has made Segal Wild Fermentation Chardonnay and Segal Wild Fermentation Cabernet Sauvignon from Gailelee, Israel resulting in some unique wines representative of their authentic terroir.  

Galilee in Israel. Credit: Isaac Harari

French Winemaking in the Judean Hills

High fashion designer turned Winemaker David Suissa has made high-end kosher wines in Bordeaux before starting his winery Ephod in Israel. You can now try kosher red wines from vineyards in Judean Hills, Galil Elyone and Ramat Hagolan: EbiatarKeter, and Regesh, made with classic Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

Ephod wines.

Kosher Champagne Back By Popular Demand

Established in 1808, Drappier in Champagne, France is known for their quality organic vineyards. After being out of stock for almost 15 months, three of their kosher champagnes are now back on the shelves, just in time for the upcoming Jewish New Year celebrations.

Drappier Carte D’or Brut, kosher champagne

Chill with Canned South African Rose!

For a fun twist, you can try J. Folk from South Africa, a fruity but dry and refreshing rosé that comes in packs of four 250ml cans.

J Folk canned rose.

About Royal Wine/Kedem

Founded in 1848, Royal Wine Corp. has been owned and operated in the United States by the Herzog family, whose winemaking roots go back eight generations to its origin in Czechoslovakia.

Today, Royal Wine’s portfolio of domestic and international wines range from traditional wine producing regions of France, Italy and Spain, as well as Israel, New Zealand and Argentina. 

Additionally, Royal Wine Corp.’s spirit and liqueur portfolio offers some of the most sought-after scotches, bourbons, tequilas and vodkas as well as hard to find specialty items such as flavored brandies and liqueurs.

The company owns and operates the Kedem Winery in upstate New York, as well as Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, California, a state-of-the-art-facility featuring guided wine tours, a fully staffed modern tasting room, gift shop and catering facilities. Additionally, the winery houses the award-winning restaurant Tierra Sur, serving the finest, Mediterranean-inspired, contemporary Californian Cuisine.

Follow Royal Wine Corp on social media: @RoyalWineCorp; https://www.facebook.com/RoyalWineCorp/

#DrinkSouthAfrican Now!

Have you ever tried South African wines? If not, now is a great time to enlighten your wine experience with some unique wines from this country known for their high quality yet affordable wines, with a rich history in winemaking.

Beautiful vineyards of South Africa. Credit: Wines of South Africa

Wine Sales Devastated By Covid-19 Restrictions

A lot has happened in South Africa since our last post about their wine exports resuming after an abrupt ban in March due to Covid-19. National alcohol sales ban has remained in effect, except for a brief period in June, with no end in sight. South Africa is the 8th largest wine producer globally, producing some 974 million liters of wine in 2019, and $1.1 billion worth of revenues in wine exports.

Cargo ship

Livelihoods at Stake

Based on Wines of South Africa estimates, $18 million is lost every week in alcohol revenue since the ban, and 1 in 5 wineries may not survive, affecting the livelihoods of some 300,000 wine industry workers and their families. Even before the pandemic, about half of the country live below poverty line. Moreover, hospitality and food and beverage workers are equally devastated, who have been protesting for relaxation of restrictions.

Vineyard worker transporting grapes in South Africa. Credit: Wines of South Africa

#DrinkSouthAfrican!

Some good news: about half of South African wines are exported globally, and since exports are still allowed, global support is more important than ever. South Africa is a highly reputable New World region that produces a diverse range of grape varietals, such as red Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) and white Chenin Blanc, and many wine styles worth trying. You can easily find it online or from your local wine shop. Taste, share and spread the word!

Many South African wines to choose from to pair with a nice meal and share with friends and family!

A Breathless Experience: My First Time Breaking A Wine Bottle With a Saber

Have you seen a champagne or sparkling wine bottle being broken open with a saber? I have not, until I was very lucky to have a chance to try it at Breathless Wines, known for their traditional method (the original method for making Champagne) sparkling wine in Healdsburg when Dr. Thach and our group visited!

What is Sabering?

A saber is a type of sword with a curved blade associated with light cavalry in the early modern and Napoleonic periods. The technique of breaking open a champagne bottle using a saber, called “sabrage”, was popularized after the French Revolution, when Napoleon’s cavalries celebrated their victory by using sabers to open champagne bottles.

A saber breaking open a champagne bottle. Credit: Last Bottle Wines

Safety First!

For someone who has never held a saber, let alone cut a bottle open with one, it can be quite intimidating. Luckily, Breathless has very careful protocols guided by their friendly experts. I was led by Sharon, one of the Founding Sisters of Breathless Wines. The “Saberer” first puts on protective heavy duty gloves and safety goggles. Because of Covid-19, an extra pair of disposable gloves are worn before the heavy duty gloves, and of course I was masked up like everyone else. Also, using a cold bottle makes it easier to break.

The saber, cold Breathless Blanc de Noir bottle, and protective gear

Power Pose

Having the correct posture helps to wield power. To start, Sharon demonstrated how to stand sideways, almost like an archer, and hold the body (where the label sits) using my non-dominant hand. Of course, the bottle must be pointed far away from anyone – everyone needed to stand back!

Sharon demonstrating the power pose and how to hold the bottle.

Learning The Technique

Next, Sharon demonstrated the actual technique of holding the saber, and how to strike the bottle. With the saber in hand, the blade sits at an angle to the bottle, and I took a few turns running the blade along the bottle towards the lip, which is the breakage point.

How to hold a saber and where to guide it

Blast off!

Finally, the wire cage was taken off as an extra step to make it easier. Shortly after the demo, I was ready. My hand went faster than I was mentally prepared and POP! Went the top. I did not apply much force, and it felt a lot smoother than expected. Indeed, I read later that it is simply the force applied at a fragile point of the bottle – with already much internal pressure – that breaks it. Some wine was lost, but I held it up in victory, still shocked at what happened just seconds ago. I was relieved no one was hurt!

This happened within seconds!

Serving the Wine

What good is opening a wine if you can’t enjoy it? After sabering, make sure to check for shards before serving. We all got to enjoy a fresh glass afterwards!

Dr. Thach gets the first glass!

Certified Saberer!

Certificate and cork wrapped in Breathless Seal

Breathless Wines awards every Saberer with a “Certificate of Completion”, and the cork sealed with their signature Breathless label. I am really grateful for such an unforgettable experience, and hope to lose less wine next time!

Try it Yourself!

For more information and to schedule this exciting Sabrage Experience, please click here:
https://www.breathlesswines.com/Visit-Us/Sabrage-Experience

Toast to an Eclectic Mix of Live Music this Summer with Robert Hall Virtual Concert Series!

Paso Robles winery Robert Hall is hosting a virtual music concert series, Robert Hall At Home Sessions, live-streaming indie musicians directly from their homes starting this Wednesday July 22. After each concert, the audience will have a special chance to peek behind the scenes and learn directly from the artists about their journeys, personal stories and more.

First Up: Roots Rock Duo, Larkin Poe

A different artist will be revealed before each session. This four-session series kicks off with Grammy nominated Larkin Poe, a roots rock sister duo Rebecca and Megan Lovell based in Nashville. Their latest LP, “Self Made Man,” is a tribute to their journey as artists from constant touring to producing their own music. 

Larkin Poe: Jul 22 Concert
Credit: Robert Hall Winery.

“The Good Life. Well Earned”

The chosen artists reflect Founder Robert Hall’s philosophy and the company’s tagline, “The Good Life. Well Earned”: endless dedication to producing the highest quality results, from every bottle to music for all to enjoy. Unwind, sip and enjoy the rest of the summer with great wine, beautiful music, and feel the community spirit virtually!

Four Sessions Starting July 22 at 5pm PST

Robert Hall At Home Sessions is live on Facebook starting July 22 at 5pm PST on the winery’s Facebook page @roberthallwinery. Future Robert Hall At Home Sessions will be streamed on August 5, August 19, and September 2 with new artists announced the week before each show. To receive updates on the line-up and see exclusive interviews with the artists, head to www.roberthallwinery.com/At-Home-Sessions

Have You Ever Heard of an Italian Wine Grape Called Colombana?

Considered to be a very ancient grape, Colombana Bianca is a white grape from Tuscany, also known by the names “Colombana Peccioli and Verdea.”  Legend states it was brought to Italy by an Irish missionary called St. Columban. He travelled throughout Europe, and gathered many followers who brought vine cuttings to northern Italy. They planted the vine and began to make wine near the towns of Pisa and Milan, but over the centuries the Colombana vines were replaced by other varieties, so it became very rare and was thought to have nearly disappeared.

Slopes of Fattoria Fibbiano. Credit: Fattoria Fibbiano.

Rediscovery of Lost Colombana Vines in Vineyard

Recently the Cantoni family, who own Fattoria Fibbiano Winery south of Pisa, Italy, rediscovered some lost Colombana grape vines growing in their vineyard. Upon analysis, they realized they were identical to those cultivated in Lombardy, Italy, under the name of the Verdea grape. They were excited by this discovery, because in the past, wine made from the Colombana grape in that region was known for its therapeutic properties.

The vines among Fattoria Fibbiano. Credit: Fattoria Fibbiano.

What Does Colombana Taste Like?

Because the grape is so rare, Fattoria Fibbiano decided to craft a new wine made with 100% Colombana grapes. The wine has a brilliant straw yellow color, with rich notes of exotic fruits, such as banana, pineapple, and papaya, with a nose of pressed flowers. It has a notable tanginess from marine soils, with rich acidity that makes it refreshing and deliciously easy to drink.

Colombana wine by Fattoria Fibbiano.

Crafting Colombana Wine

This 100% Colombana wine is produced with cold maceration on the skins at 50 degrees Fahrenheit in stainless steel tanks for 5 days, after which skins are pressed and the must obtained is fermented at a controlled temperature of 54F without using selected yeasts, bringing greater character to preserve authentic qualities of this variety of noble origins. After fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred into concrete tanks, where it rests for 4 months before bottling.

Where to Purchase Fattoria Fibbiano Colombana

Due to the rarity of the Colombana grape, Fattoria Fibbiano winery, was only able to produce only 3,000 bottles of wine. It was released in June 2020, and will be available in select wine shops in the US in the near future.

Not Just Your Average Canned Wine – Tips on Finding the Right One for You!

They are everywhere: from Trader Joe’s to online stores, pop-up bars to your friend’s party. Since Sofia Coppola’s pretty pink cans of blanc de blanc sparkling debuted in 2004, canned wines have exploded especially in the past few years. According to Nielsen, canned wine sales grew 69% year-on-year in 2018, and 79% in 2019. The variety is now diversified to seltzers, wine coolers offering “zero sugar” and “lower alcohol” options, even sake and more.

Sofia Mini Brut Rosé Coppola 4 Pack
Sofia Coppola’s Brut Rose.

The Case for Canned

Although canned wines often have no vintage, specific AVA or vineyard, and are not meant to age like fine wines, they are a great choice for many: it’s portable, chills faster, one can try something new without buying a whole bottle. Cans protect wines from oxygen and light, and a thin layer of plastic inside prevents imparting metallic flavors, which keeps white, rose and sparkling wines surprisingly well. Finally, they’re environmentally-friendly: aluminium cans are often recycled, and lighter weight means less carbon footprint during transport.

And contrary to what some critics say, it’s not just cheap wines that get put into cans – reputable vintners have been canning their wines too. That includes Sommelier and Wine Director of NoMad New York, Thomas Pastuszak, who started Vinny using exclusive Finger Lakes grapes, and ex-Sommelier Gina Schober of Sans Wine, who makes premium organic canned wines.

Credit: Vinny Wines.

My Positive Experiences with Drinking Canned Wines

My first canned wine was the much-hyped BABE rose, which I had seen across social media, and was excited to buy a pack at Vinexpo in Hong Kong 2017. Since then, I have tried canned Prosecco, Rose and Pinot Noir. I was very curious to find a canned Pet Nat from Nova Scotia, which is normally made by bottling before end of fermentation to preserve wild yeast and create light sparkling. Fermenting in a can is quite a feat! I’m also keen to try urban warehouse winery Infinite Monkey Theorem, who sources grapes from western Colorado and High Plains of Texas, and they’re available at my local BevMo.

2018 Benjamin Bridge pet-nat in 250mL can, $8.99 ea., available in Atlantic province liquor stores.
Benjamin Bridge Pet Nat 2019. Credit: Toronto Star.

Sizes of Cans and Drinking Tips

Canned wines come in a range of sizes, usually: 250ml, equal to 1/3 of a standard wine bottle, or 1.6 standard glasses; 375ml, roughly 2.5 glasses; 500ml, about 3.33 glasses. Just remember to share and drink responsibly, and finally, canned winemakers have noted a difference when you pour it in a glass, even if it’s plastic. Try for yourself!