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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Great news! If you enjoy Prosecco, a new “pink version” called Prosecco DOC Rosé will make a sparkling debut in 2021. This past week the Prosecco DOC’s trade Consortium announced the hallmark decision by the Italian National Wine Committee to finally approve introduction of Prosecco DOC Rosé after years of discussion.
Rules for Producing Prosecco DOC Rosé
While sparkling rosé wines are nothing new, Prosecco DOC wines, like Champagne, is a protected designation in which wines must follow strict regulations (such as percentage of grape varieties used and fermentation methods) to be labelled as such. The process of recognizing Prosecco DOC Rosé requires a decree which is now waiting to be published in the Official Gazette of the Italian Republic.
Producers must follow rules to legally label their wine “Prosecco DOC Rosé”. Like Prosecco DOC, the primary grape used is Glera, with 10-15% Pinot Nero to achieve the color, which must be “pink, more or less intense, shining, and with a persistent foam”. Following the Martinotti / Charmant method, second fermentation must have a minimum of 60 days. Residual sugar levels are very low, from driest level “Brut Nature” (0-3 g/L) to second driest “Extra Dry” (0-6 g/L). Labels must state “Millesimato”, meaning “vintage”, using at least 85% grapes from that year. Finally, sales are allowed from the 1st of January after the harvest.
The Consortium estimates about 30 million bottles of Prosecco DOC Rosé will be produced annually. Therefore, you have something to look forward to purchasing in your favorite grocery store or wine shop early next year.
According to the Prosecco DOC Consortium, data from end of March showed that Prosecco DOC production quantities continue to meet expected demand to meet growth projections at least until the next harvest, despite current supply chain impacts of Covid-19. Available quantities ending April 1 amounted to at least 2,217,000 hectoliters, with an extra 550,000 hl in reserves from the 2019 vintage if demand increases.
However, multiple challenges remain which the Consortium is closely monitoring. According to Stefano Zanette, President of Prosecco DOC Consortium, the 2020 harvest is expected to have lower than average fertility. Additionally, producers with a short supply chain and those who do not operate with mass retailers are said to need greater financial and operational support. Overall wine consumption may decline as a direct result of Covid-19.
The Consortium Prosecco DOC emphasized their priority in maintaining market stability and preventing speculative actions, help producers increase liquidity for investment, and focus on producing higher value wines on a regional basis. The Consortium is prepared to implement legal and financial measures to support if the need arises.
Prosecco was granted the Controlled Designation of Origin status on July 17th, 2009, and the Prosecco DOC Consortium (Consorzio di Tutela della Denominazione di Origine Controllata Prosecco) was created on November 19th of the same year to coordinate and manage the Prosecco DOC. The organization unites the different groups of manufacturers—wineries, individual and associated vine-growers, still wine and sparkling wine producers—to ensure the designation continues to grow and that the production regulations are complied with.
About Prosecco DOC
Prosecco DOC wines come in Spumante (sparkling), Frizzante (semi-sparkling) and Tranquillo (still) varieties. The wines are made from mainly the Glera grape, native to North East Italy for thousands of years, and can be combined with a maximum of 15% of the following grapes: Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Nero. Prosecco Frizzante and Spumante varieties get their famous bubbles using the Secondary Fermentation production method, bottled under high pressure after fermentation in bulk tanks called autoclaves, as opposed to the traditional method, which bypasses the autoclaves and is used for other sparkling wine varieties. The end result is a brilliant straw yellow wine with fine, persistent perlage and aromas of white flowers, apple and pear. It is fresh and elegant on the palate with moderate alcoholic strength. For more information regarding Prosecco DOC, visit www.casaprosecco.com.–
(Contributed by Erica Schreckenghaust) – Bring on the sparkle, chocolate, and the heady taste of port please! This was the siren’s call of a recent SSU Wine Sense Club meeting, where students were introduced to Olivia Najjar from Mumm Napa and Bill Reading from Sonoma Portworks!
Most people recognize that Mumm Champagne was started in France, but Mumm has also been in Napa Valley for many years. The founding president and wine maker, Guy Devaux, worked with an architect in 1986 to create the Domaine Mumm facility in Rutherford. Three years later the first vintage of DVX, in honor of Guy, was produced.
In 1990 the winery underwent a name change from Domaine Mum to Mumm Napa, and officially opened up to the public. In 2002, Ludovic Dervin was named head winemaker and has worked on many custom projects, such as a collaboration with Carlos Santana to create a series of customized sparkling wines to benefit the Milagro Foundation. Mumm was recognized in 2012 as the first sparkling winery to receive 94 pointes from the Wine Spectator for their 2004 DVX.
Olivia poured four of their most popular sparkling wines; the 2010 Blanc de Blancs, 2007 DVX and a non-vintage Brut Rosé and Demi Sec.
Next we welcomed Bill Readings, the owner and portmaker at Sonoma Portworks, the first place in Sonoma County to make port. He explained that his love of port began accidentally when chocolate essence was dropped into an after dinner wine. Suddenly, Bill was obsessed with creating the perfect chocolate port, which later became the first in the country.
Sonoma Portworks is also responsible for revolutionizing traditional port packaging, through the use of sleek contemporary bottles and labels. The first tasting room was opened in 2002 in Kenwood, but today do the only taste room in Petaluma.
Bill brought three different ports for us to try; Petite Verdot port, Petite Sirah port, and Deco port.
Favorites Wines of the Evening
At the end of the tasting, the students voted on their favorite sparkling and port wines. The winners were:
Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs 2010 ($42) made up of mostly Chardonnay and some Pinot Gris. Light and fruity, Blanc de Blancs means “white of whites”.
Sonoma PortWorks Deco Port ($20, 500ml) – composed of Zinfandel grapes blended with Grenache, Alicante Bouschet and natural chocolate essence.
We cannot thank Olivia and Bill enough for taking time to show us their amazing wines!