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

Russian River Vineyards – A Winery with an 1890 Historic Farmhouse Restaurant and Organic Food Garden

(Contributed by Jennifer Schiff) Is it a restaurant, a farm, a tasting lounge, an historic site, or a winery? Well actually Russian River Vineyards encompasses all five of these functions. Established in the 1960s in the heart of the 10,000 acre Russian River AVA, Russian River Vineyards has grown to be one of the premier organic and sustainably farmed grape-growing properties in California.

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1890 Historic Farmhouse at Russian River Vineyards

This past week  a group of Sonoma State University Millennials was fortunate enough to attend an educational session and tasting at the SSU Wine Sense Club Meeting, with Russian River Vineyards winemaker, Giovanni Balistreri. Giovanni is also one of four owners of the estate. The team carries with them a myriad of backgrounds/experience in real estate, winemaking, fine dining, environmental health, and more — that has helped aid in their success in producing world class wines at this state-of-the-art winery.

The Restaurant in an 1890 Farmhouse with Organic Food Garden

Today, if you visit the winery, you not only find beautiful wines in their tasting room, but just less than a hundred feet away over 45 different types of vegetables are grown with each of them being served at their restaurant daily. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful historic farmhouse dating from the 1890’s.

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Patio of Restaurant at Russian River Vineyards

Beyond the standard tasting experiences you will find at a winery or restaurant, those who visit Russian River Vineyards also have the opportunity to tour the estate, learn all about its sustainable practices and biodiversity, as well as enjoy fine wines alongside fresh produce from the estate’s farm.

Winemaking at Russian River Vineyards

Giovanni explained that they use grapes from their own 6 acre vineyard as well as those produced from surrounding vineyards, and as far away as Mendocino County. Their approach very much embodies the concept of ‘quality over quantity.’ They specialize in pinot noir and Gewürztraminer, but also make a range of other varietals. Almost all wines featured were aged in 35% New, 100% French Oak, with a range of 12 to 20 months for the aging process. Click here to see a great video of Giovanni.

 

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Members of SSU Winesense Board with Giovanni Balistreri

Tasting of Five Wines from Russian River Vineyards

Giovanni led us through a tasting of five different wines, all small lots, of which none  exceeded a case production of 700.

Varietal Vintage Vineyard/

Appellation

Notes Case Count

(Approx.)

Pinot Noir 2014 Sonoma Coast, Petaluma CA Acidic, Silky, Soft 650
Pinot Noir 2014 Appian Way, Sebastopol CA Tart, Bright Fruit, Sleek Style 490
Cabernet Sauv. 2014 R. River Valley, Sweetwater Springs Vineyard Herbal & Dry Integrated Tannins, Dark 200
Charbono 2014 Guido Venturi Vineyard, Ukiah Long Fermen.

Tannins, Grip

200
Gewurztraminer 2016 Kunde, Kenwood Balanced Acidity and Sweetness 420

Favorite Wines of the Evening

When the vote was conducted at the end of the tasting to determine the two favorite wines, the winners were the 2013 Russian River Vineyards Appian Way Pinot Noir ($65) and the 2014 Russian River Vineyards Charbono ($48).

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Wines from Russian River Vineyards

 

 

SSU Wine Sense Club Welcomes Korbel – The Oldest California Champagne Cellar Dating from 1882

IMG_5379(Contributed by Itze Monserrat Pena) The SSU WineSense Club kicked off the Spring 2016 semester with a delicious tasting of sparkling wine and port to celebrate the romantic month of February. Obviously Korbel Champagne Cellars was a “natural” choice to invite to campus for an educational and fun tasting.

A Little Bit of Korbel History

Korbel & Bros. Inc. has an interesting tale that dates back to 1862 where believe it or not, the three Korbel brothers: Francis, Anton and Joseph founded Korbel to make cigar boxes in San Francisco, California. It was an immediate success, which led them to become involved in the export of hardwood and timber. That attracted the brothers to the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. Over time, they began to plant vineyards on the Russian River property.

By 1882, the brothers were producing up to 30,000 gallons of wine. Due to their success, they decided to devote all their attention to their vineyards. In 1884, they invited Frank Hasek, a champagne master, to assist with production. Hasek brought forth the Methode Champenoise approach to make sparkling wine, and spent the next decade blending the results of different grape harvests to produce the distinctive Korbel style.

Why California Champagne on Label?

Today Korbel is the fourth largest Champagne producer in the United States, and reserves the right to use the term “California Champagne” on its labels. This is because in 2005, the EU and US agreed that the US would no longer use European wine region names, such as Champagne, Sherry, Chablis, etc. on its labels, unless it was a producer that had been doing it for a long time. Korbel fell under these grandfathered rules.  For more info, read.

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A Tasting of Four Korbel Wines

Justin Shushek, a part-time hospitality rep at Korbel and full-time SSU Wine Biz major, led the tasting. The more than 40 people who showed up for SSU’s Wine Sense Club meeting enjoyed a selection of 4 delicious Korbel wines:

  1. 2012 Korbel Natural from the Russian River Valley,
  2. Korbel Brut Rose Romance, a limited edition
  3. Korbel Sec
  4. Korbel Port

Justin walked the students through the characteristics of each wine we tasted and explained that the level of sweetness in a sparkling wine is determined by the dosage, which is added after the wine finishes second fermentation in the bottle.

Favorites Wines of the Evening

FullSizeRenderAt the conclusion of our first meeting, the club members were asked to vote for their favorite wines of the evening.  Each participant could vote once with many going back and forth over their two favorites but in the end, the winner of the evening with not too many votes behind was:

  • SelectorBottles_Natural2012 Korbel Natural from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma

It was a wonderful night and a great way to kick of the start of our Spring 2016 WineSense club with old members and new. The educational tasting is one that students will not forget any time soon and we can’t thank Justin enough for leading us all through the first meeting!

 

Passing Around Passaggio Wines at SSU WineSense Meeting

Passaggio_TRContributed by Sophia Fish – Four generations ago Cindy Cosco’s family ventured from Italy to America. In 2004 Cindy, who spent 15 years developing a career in law enforcement, left to pursue her passion and create a new generation of wines. She then started Passaggio Wines, which in Italian translates to ‘passage’ or ‘pass from’.

Cindy has three labels, one of which is her goodwill bottling, a small label is called Unmarked Wines. The name comes from her career in law enforcement, aspiring to be a detective and drive an unmarked car. She put these aspirations aside to pursue her winemaking, but donates 5% of sales as a tribute to the selfless men and women in law enforcement.

Passiaggio Wines has been very successful venture and even opened up a tasting room on the Sonoma Square last year. “I believe something magical happens when you bring wonderful friends, awesome food and great wines together,” says Cindy Cosco

Tasting of Four Passaggio Wines

Passagio winesWe tasted the following four Passaggio Wines:

  • 2014 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc: Notes of citrus, guava, pineapple, tropical fruit, floral notes, balanced acidity with a lasting finish.
  • 2014 California Unoaked Chardonnay: Yellow apple, Bartlett pear, floral notes with hints of vanilla, citrus, Meyer lemon, soft apple, crisp mineral flavors with a smooth finish.
  • 2014 California Mourvedre Rose: Strawberry, floral, raspberry, cherry with a bright refreshing finish.
  • 2013  Sonoma County Unmarked Pinot Noir: Raspberry, red cherry, spice, plum clove, with minerality, balanced tannins and acidity.

The Favorites?

2014 California Unoaked Chardonnay

2014 Sonoma County Unmarked Pinot Noir

Wine club

SSU WineSense Announces New Executive Board and Fall 2015 Tasting Schedule

2015/2016 Executive Board for SSU Wine Sense Club

2015/2016 Executive Board for SSU Wine Sense Club

The Sonoma State University (SSU) WineSense Club proudly announces the members of the 2015/2016 Executive Board. In addition, they have developed a very exciting line-up of wineries and organizations who will be visiting campus to conduct educational wine tastings throughout the semester.

2015/2016 Executive Board for SSU Wine Sense

  • President: Rachel Minor
  • Vice President: Taylor Hood
  • Treasurer: Justin Stushek
  • VP of Marketing: Jingmei Su
  • VP of Operations & Culinary Experiences: Matt Lopez
  • Director of Membership: Christian Gutierrez
  • Director of Campus Outreach: Sophia Fish
  • Director of Campus Marketing: Jamie Huerta
  • Director of Meetings: Brooke Bartolome
  • Director of Volunteers and Fundraising: Itze Pema-Andrade

SSU Wine Sense Mission

The mission of the SSU Wine Sense Club is to create a responsible, fun and educational environment for all levels of wine enthusiasts to further expand their knowledge and appreciation for the wonderful world of wine. We are dedicated to provide students the opportunity to experience and enjoy events that showcase the wine industry and help students connect with the industry and their leaders.

Fall 2015 Wine Sense Schedule 

Tastings are open to SSU students over the age of 21. Meetings will be held in the Bennett Valley Room of the Student Union beginning at 7pm. Membership fees for the semester are $30, payable at the door. Fees are pro-rated for students who join later in the semester. Each session includes an educational briefing and responsible wine tastings accompanied by appetizers. ID’s are checked at the door for each meeting.

  • Sept 17 – Kenwood Winery
  • Oct. 1 – Somm Select
  • Oct. 15 – Rare Cat Wine
  • Oct. 29 – La Crema & Murphy Goode
  • Nov. 5 – TBD
  • Nov. 19 – Dewey Wines
  • Dec. 3 – TBD

Wineries interested in providing an educational tasting are encouraged to contact SSU Wine Sense Board Members at WinesenseSSU@gmail.com

How I Fell In Love with Wine: Romance and Hoppy Beer

Chris Driving Through the Vineyards

Chris Driving Through the Vineyards

(Contributed by Christopher Harrison) – Look at how happy that guy looks! That picture was taken on my 1 year Dating Anniversary to the woman that 7 months ago became my wife. I planned a romantic getaway in the heart of the California Wine Country and she never had a clue it was coming.

At this point in my life I was much more a lover of beer. I had just started working for Pyramid Breweries and had become a full on Hop-Head. I wanted the biggest, baddest, hoppiest beers possible and I thought that wine was for snobs! Little did I know that this weekend would open my eyes to the world of wine and I have been hooked ever since. The drive up from the East Bay alone was worth the trip and when we pulled into the West Sonoma Inn & Spa in Guerneville her eyes lit up. After check in we headed to the room and we couldn’t believe our eyes! Our room had a private hot tub on a balcony overlooking a vineyard, tucked into a little valley. They had a bottle of sparkling wine on ice waiting for us and we couldn’t wait to do a toast to our first year together.

For dinner that first night we went to a nice little restaurant that the front desk recommended to us and had a wonderful romantic dinner with some great Napa Valley wines (I wish I had paid more attention to details like the name of the restaurant and the wines that we had, but I was young and distracted!). Dinner was fantastic and really gave me an appreciation for the power that wine and good food can have on you.

The next day we spent the whole day wine tasting for the first time for both of us. We went to Harvest Moon where she loved the Late Harvest Zin, Hook & Ladder where I became enamored with their nice spicy, tannic Cab, and DeLoach where we found a common love for their beautiful Pinot Noir. It was an incredible weekend and we both have developed a shared love for wine in the years that have passed. Since then we have joined wine clubs together and gone on trips centered solely on winery destinations. Wine has been a big part of our growth together and will continue to be a major part of the good times ahead.

NOTE:  This blog posting was written as part of the Millennial series on “How I Fell in Love With Wine.”

 

 

Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir and Sbragia Cabernet Sauvignon Tie as Top Favorites in Classic Red Tasting

Sbragia Wines With Cheese Platter

Sbragia Wines With Cheese Platter

What is a classic red wine grape? It is a variety that has proved it can produce consistently high quality over a long period of time in more than one region of the world. Therefore, though there are more than 120 commercially produced wine grapes, there are only 4 classic red grapes. In California, however, we add Zinfandel as well, because it is one of our most beloved State grapes:

  1. Pinot Noir – famous in Burgundy, Oregon, Sonoma, New Zealand and many other regions of the world
  2. Merlot– famous in Bordeaux, Italy, Washington, and many other regions
  3. Cabernet Sauvignon – famous in Bordeaux, Napa, Italy and other regions
  4. Syrah – famous in the Rhone, Australia, and Paso Robles
  5. Zinfandel – famous in California, Croatia and Italy

Winning Pinot Noir from Paul Hobbs Winery

Winning Pinot Noir from Paul Hobbs Winery

In a blind tasting of these five famous varietals in Bus 305W, the 42 Millennial wine business majors tied in a vote of their favorites. Paul Hobbs 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir ($55) with dark raspberry, mushroom earth and cola notes tied with the 2011 Sbragia Cabernet Sauvignon ($49), with complex cassis cedar and earthy notes from the famous Monte Rosso Vineyard. Both wines were of high quality with good balance of fruit, oak, acid and alcohol; complex flavors, excellent concentration and a very long finish.

My Favorite Tasting Room Series – Pride Vineyards in Napa and Sonoma

Tasting at Pride Vineyards

Tasting at Pride Vineyards

(By Guest Author Daniel Walsh)  It was the middle of January in 2012 with open skies and a beautiful coastal breeze in the air.  Two coworkers and myself had made an appointment a month prior to visit Pride Vineyards and Winery on Spring Mountain.  The tasting room was located on the estate, sitting atop the mountain, which is split between the Sonoma/Napa county lines.  Upon arrival, we entered the tasting room and were greeted with a glass of their estate viognier and the Hospitality Manager, Mike Campbell, who lead us on a tour of the estate and through their wine caves.

Upon entering the wine caves, Mike gave us a brief history of the winery as well as the different viticulture practices used around the estate.  At every corner throughout the wine cave, we tasted barrel samples from different vineyard blocks. To my surprise, no vineyard block tasted the same, and every Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah showed different characteristics unique to its location on the estate.  Never before had I experienced such a difference in varietal characteristics that were all grown on the same estate.

As we turned a corner in the wine cave, we came into a door that lead us into a beautiful lounge area with couches, appetizers and the estates current release of wines for a sit down tasting.  Mike introduced every wine individually and explained the technical aspects from varietal blend, amount of oak used, and the type of meal each wine could be paired with.  My favorite food pairing recommendation was for the Syrah, paired with a pork chop in a fig balsamic reduction with roasted potatoes tossed in garlic/mustard aioli.  I remember it so clearly because I bought a bottle of the Syrah and paired it with the meal a few weeks later.

As we returned to the tasting room, we finished up our tour with their dessert wine; grappa distilled from viognier must and blended with fresh viognier juice.  To this day, that is the best dessert wine I’ve ever had in my life.  Pride Vineyards and Winery is located in one of the most beautiful areas of both Sonoma and Napa Counties and produces some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.  However, the best part of this experience was the hospitality of Mike Campbell.  Mike was the most educational and professional tour guide I’ve ever had the privilege of accompanying and showed coworkers and myself great hospitality when he sent us home with a bottle of dessert wine, on the house.

NOTE:  This post is part of the Favorite Winery Tasting Room Series, in which Millennial wine business students describe one of their favorite tasting room experiences.

Kenwood and Valley of the Moon Winemakers Entertain SSU Millennials with Varietal Showdown


Another sold out crowd showed up this past week at the SSU Wine Club meeting to listen to veteran winemakers, Patrick Henderson of Kenwood Wine Estates and Greg Winter of Valley of the Moon.  In addition to honoring the “end of summer,” the tasting featured a fascinating “varietal show down” of how two wines made of the same grape varietal can taste completely different based on appellation and/or winemaking techniques.

Valley of the Moon’s Greg Winter started with out with an unoaked chardonnay and then compared it to an oaked wine.  He explained that consumers liked different styles, and so they produced both.  When he asked for a show of hands, about 2/3 of the Millennials preferred the unoaked to 1/3 voting for the oaky chardonnay.

Other “varietal taste offs” included two zinfandels from different AVA’s – one light and jammy, and the other more dark, brooding, and spicy.  The “piece de la resistance” was a taste off of Kenwood’s Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon against the iconic Jack London Vineyard Cab.

Favorite Wines of the Evening

When it came time to vote for the two top favorites, the white wines triumphed with the crowd that evening.  Valley of the Moon’s 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay ($17) with crisp acid and fresh lemon/green apple notes was a favorite, as well as Kenwood’s 2011 Pinot Gris ($16) from Russian River Valley.  It was a semi-sweet white with notes of melon and jasmine.

Once again the SSU Wine Club Executive Board were present, and provided everyone with great appetizer plates filled with salami, cheese, fruit and two types of chocolates.  Another successful tasting at SSU thanks to the excellent wines of Kenwood and Valley of the Moon wineries.

Why Millennials Don’t Read Emails

Last night we had our annual SSU Wine Club Board planning meeting at my house.  This is usually a relaxed event where we identify the wineries we want to invite to campus next semester, and enjoy a BBQ dinner with many fun wines.  This year’s planning dinner was equally enjoyable, but I was struck by our conversation about how we will promote our educational tasting seminars.

“We will market the seminars via word of mouth and Facebook, of course,” said our new VP of Marketing.  “Most college students never read emails.”

As a college professor, I already knew this, but I was concerned because so many businesses still require email communication.  “Well, I will read email if it is part of my job or a grade depends on it,” another board member responded “but Facebook or texting are much more reliable.”

I leaned back in my chair, took another sip of wine, and scratched my head — feeling trapped in an electronic communication time warp.  It seems that with each new technology introduction communicating between the generations becomes more complex.

“But what about the Constant Contact email campaign you just mentioned you were using to reach people for your job on campus?” I asked our new VP of Marketing.

“Oh, that is to reach out to alumni and community,” she answered.  “We use Constant Contact to send emails to them, but it just doesn’t work with students.  Instead, I have to communicate with them via Facebook using event postings and special group messages.  I just wish Facebook would allow us to send messages to many individuals, but they are not there yet.”

I sighed and took another sip of wine thinking back to the charity golf tournament I spend the last 6 months organizing.  It was the first year we actually used online registration via Constant Contact for our 19th annual golf tournament, but we could only get half of the players to use it.  The others insisted on completing paper registration forms we sent via regular mail.

“Why is it an issue?” another Millennial Board member interrupted my reverie.  “Email is passé.  We don’t need to bother with it when communicating with people in their twenties.”

But I can’t help thinking about all of the marketing and promotion campaigns that are now forced to use multiple platforms to reach different generations.  We live in a time when one age group still requires paper communication; a second relies on email; and a third will only respond to text and Facebook.  How and when do we span this technology gulf of ages?