At Martha Stoumen Wines we have a saying: ‘handmade with patience’. And although this applies across the scope of our wines, the Solera Sparkling NV no 1 takes this to the next level.
I’ve always admired how good winemakers of non-vintage Champagne blend and layer multiple vintages together to create a complete, harmonious expression. And I freaking love drinking it. But, while the methode traditionelle—specifically picking grapes with low sugar and soaring acidity, and dialing the alcohol up via a liqueur de tirage of sugar, yeast, and sulfur dioxide—works in Champagne, here in California we have neither the cold growing season nor the poor limestone soils to support picking at such a low sugar if we want any flavor from the grapes. Plus, at Martha Stoumen Wines we don’t inoculate any of our wines with commercial yeast, nor do we add sugar. So, while I admire Champagne producers, especially grower Champagne producers, I didn’t think I’d ever make wine utilizing a method that even faintly resembled the methode traditionelle.
Then in 2012, when I was working harvest at COS in Sicily, I was introduced to a hybrid sparkling method, a cross between methode ancestral (what we more cutely refer to as Pet-Nat), and methode traditionelle. COS made a base wine, or vin clair, from direct press Frappato, aged it for a year so it could gain complexity (in amphora no less!), and then added fermenting juice during the following harvest and bottled it (methode ancestral-ish). COS then bottle aged and disgorged the wine years later and finished it under cork and cage (methode traditionelle-ish).
GOING THE DISTANCE: THE FIRST VINTAGE
COS’s method planted a seed that I knew I wanted to try in California. I didn’t waste any time—a sparkling Zinfandel rosé was actually the first wine I made under the Martha Stoumen label in 2014. I, too, aged a base wine (mine in neutral oak) and added fermenting juice (but at a different ratio then COS), following the general idea that COS had given me but tweaking it along the way. That 2014 wine was ready in 2017, and between bottling, capping, stacking sur latte, riddling, freezing bottle necks, disgorging, cleaning lees-stained bottles, drying bottles, capping again, and labeling, I must have touched each bottle forty times. Handmade with patience I thought, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
But then I waited...and the result! The wine was singing! I asked a friend of mine and prolific artist, Kiva Singh, to create a label depicting the ocean surface to represent both the energy and depth of the wine. In 2017 I made another Sparkling Zinfandel, and now we are releasing the Solera Sparkling NV no 1, all under this label image.
We have continued to tweak this hybrid method over the years, listening to our grape growing conditions, our climate, and learning from our past fermentations. We have made it our own.
CRAFTING NON-VINTAGE NO. 1
The Solera Sparkling NV no 1 is the most finessed of the three wines I’ve made under our hybrid method. And instead of making it less work to produce than the Sparkling Zinfandels, with the Solera Sparkling NV no 1 we opted to make our vin clair base wine from two vintages rather than one—leaning into the idea behind non-vintage Champagne a bit—and we finished the wine under cork and cage. We instead worked with old vine Chardonnay, rather than Zinfandel, to heighten the lees complexity—another wink at Champagne. Each vintage we closely monitored the Chardonnay grapes and picked at the moment the grapes still had a nervy acidity but were gaining other complex flavors, which is just from-the-gut California winemaking. All while still adhering to natural winemaking principles.
All the wines we make require a good amount of physical energy from Tim and myself, but using this hybrid method of sparkling wine production means we will never be able to make a lot of this wine. This year we made 77 cases. And I’ll be frank, it doesn’t make financial sense for us to make this. But I love the winemaking challenges this provides and moreover, I am so darn proud of the result. I hope you enjoy it.