Our first stop was to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyard right off HWY 121 (known to locals as Arnold Dr). The beautiful sign invited us in and we were met with nothing short of a royal welcoming. Cindy Friedman took us on a personal tour that included history, production, and, of course, tasting. She was nice enough to provide us with an elegant meat and cheese plate, too, as we had to travel 56 miles to get there! “Boy was this worth it,” I thought. Even if we only got to stay the night.
What used to be all cattle farm has developed into a string of successful wine producers. In 1986, Gloria Ferrer was the first to produce sparkling wines in the Carneros region, and for this is often referred to as the First Lady of Sonoma. Carneros has since become world-renowned for its ideal Pinot micro-climates. Gloria Ferrer produces an astonishing 150,000 cases of wine per year. Of those, 105,000 are sparkling wines. The Ferrer family is the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world, helped in large part by its famous Freixenet bottles.
The winemaker at GF has been there for 23 years – no common feat. This gives them a credibility and consistency impossible to obtain any other way. One thing I found fascinating is that they do the entire harvesting process by hand – not only the picking, but even the basket carrying! Harvest is done at night to keep the ripe grapes from sitting in the sun for too long, and I’m hoping to make it back to GF to witness this process. This usually happens during the middle or at the end of this month.
Another thing Gloria Ferrer pioneered in Carneros was cave storage. Dug into the hill in 1987, this facility maintains a 52-60 degree temperature year-round, with absolutely no power required and no direct light reaching the wines. It spans more than 1/7 of a mile and is lined on one side with barrels, and on the other with crates – all the way down. Here the wine ages comfortably, happy and healthy as a snug toddler.
Before I go into their wines, I just want to emphasize something. We left Gloria Ferrer thinking it had to be one of the smaller wineries we were going to – not because of its size (although in comparison it was smaller than the others), but because of the feeling we got from every one of their staff members – from retail to administrative to the serving staff. It was like doing global business with a mom and pop shop. The passion Cindy has for her job was contagious – she even offered to be our wine country Concierge and gave us tips on other wineries, restaurants, and local events. This made me wonder: How do they do it? How does Gloria Ferrer stay so small and friendly yet produce such a vast stock of quality product? Again, I hope to investigate this matter more closely in the future because, quite frankly, it baffles me.
VA de VI: It’s All About the Wine
It’s also the name of the first sparkling bottle we tried. Va de Vi has a glimmer of fruit sensation, particularly peach, and is not overbearingly sweet. GF uses muscat in the dosage – a mixture of residual sugar and reserve wine that is added just before bottling – and this gives the wine a slightly sweeter taste. This would be a great appetizer or dessert wine, especially with strawberries and/or honey.
The next wine we tried was the Royal Cuvee, titled as such because Queen Sophia and King Juan Carlos of Spain happened to be at Gloria Ferrer on the day they released the very first batch. Aged five years, the Royal is more yeasty and has more of a body to it. My first taste made me smile and say aloud: “I love what you guys do.” This wine is made mostly from Pinot grapes despite its clear color – there is hardly any skin-to-juice contact.
The Brut Rose is also primarily Pinot, although it does have a distinctly pinkish hue due to further skin contact. This has a prevalent strawberry note and would be well-paired with anything spicy. It was my least favorite (as Roses usually are), but this could have everything to do with how much I liked the Royal Cuvee. If I could choose an everyday white for myself, that would be it.
But if I were to choose an every-special-occasion wine, red, white, or any color — it would be the Carneros Cuvee. This beauty is aged for ten years and is absolutely vintage. It is creamier, yeastier, smooth and elegant. Everything about the Carneros Cuvee is done in the most traditional way. In addition to being hand-harvested and -gathered, all-estate and all first-pressed grapes, the bottles are even hand-riddled. Gloria Ferrer’s riddling racks are not only for show, and while they do use machines for the other wines (like everyone else), there’s no wonder why they still preserve the ritual for the reserve. See the video below for a detailed explanation of this process. At a price point of $49, this is one of the better deals I know of. Seriously. Next time you want to treat someone who appreciates quality (or just yourself, who obviously does), go out and get one of these. It comes in an elegant black bottle and can be found most anywhere.
We also sampled several of GF’s Pinots.
The Gloria Ferrer Carneros Pinot is the one you can find locally. Low in tannins and fruit-friendly, it is the perfect gift for any kind of social gathering because it goes well with just about any food and has an integrity of its very own.
The Rust Rock Pinot Noir has a subtle difference to it. It seemed a bit one-note to me after the Carneros Pinot, but it was also very smooth. It’s hard for me to differentiate between these two qualities sometimes.
Jose Ferrer Pinot Noir has more character than Rust Rock, at least to me. I detected more spice and flavor.
Gravel Knob, the last Pinot we tried, may have been my favorite. I can’t say why (it’s a secret).
Guided winery tours are offered daily at 11, 1, and 3PM, and the tasting room is open from 10-5 daily. Their terrace is lovely and does not have the constant rush of other wineries. Relax here with affordable wine by the glass or bottle, and the staff is sure to take the very best care of you. It’s possible you even make some friends.
2155 Arnold Dr (HWY 121)
Sonoma, CA, 95476-9285
Excuse these videos. Fascinating room – I was just a bit tour shy.
Here, Cindy explains the riddling process: