The Sparkling Wines of Ramona and Julian
A while back, Joe Cullen, owner and winemaker of Cactus Star Vineyard, decided it would be fun to make a sparkling wine and set about teaching himself the traditional French “méthode champenoise.”
This method requires a secondary fermentation in the bottle. You take a beautifully made bottle of white wine, add a mixture of sugar and yeast, cover the bottle with a top similar to a beer cap, and allow the yeast to ferment the wine for several months to a year, depending on the wine. The wine is stored at an angle, upside down, to allow the accumulating sediment to descend into the neck of the bottle. The bottle is hand riddled (twisted) daily or weekly, depending on the winemaker. The final step in the process is disgorgement. The neck of the bottle is frozen with dry ice, the bottle is opened, and the sediment that has accumulated is launched about 25 feet in the air! Once the neck is clear, the bottle is immediately corked and a wire cage is put on. And, as the French would say, voilà!
“I had a lot of fun making my sparkling wine and, when others became interested, I found it fun to help out and share what I learned,” Cullen said. You’ll have to wait to try his sparkling Viognier, because the first batch is already sold out. Hopefully he’ll make more this year.
Elaine Lyttleton, winemaker and co-owner of Hatfield Creek Vineyards & Winery, is one of Cullen’s sparkling wine students. She has just released her second vintage of “Celebration,” named by her 98 year old mother. The wine, a Muscat Canelli first made by Micole Moore of Ramona Ranch Winery, was fermented into sparkling wine at Hatfield Creek. With the help of wine club members, a work party and a promise of a bottle upon release, these aficionados helped disgorge the bottles of sediment and recork the wines. Get to the winery fast for your bottle as there are only 32 cases set aside for the public.
Moore, Ramona Ranch Winery co-owner and winemaker, is always ready to try something new and different. He researched one of the oldest methods of producing sparkling wines that has made a resurgence and decided to try his hand at it. He made Pétillant-Naturel, or Pét-Nat for short, a sparkling wine produced in the méthode ancestral. This historic method predates the méthode champenoise. The main difference in methods is that the wine is bottled before it has completed its first fermentation, allowing carbon dioxide to be produced by the natural sugars found in the grapes. Unlike Champagne, Pét-Nat is not disgorged or filtered on completion of fermentation.
Pét-Nat has a light and fizzy mouthfeel and is low in alcohol. The end result is a raw, rustic, and lively wine that is slightly sweet and can age a few years in the bottle. Don’t worry about the cloudy liquid—this is due to the lack of filtering the remaining sediment.
“Customers love this wine,” Moore said. “I plan on making more of it.”
Another bit of sparkle is happening just up the hill from Ramona, in Julian. Most San Diegans know Julian has apples, lots of apples. But, what to do with so many delicious apples? Sure, you can make pies, and you can make juice, but how about a sparkling apple wine? That’s what Jim and Mike Hart, winemakers and co-owners of Volcan Mountain Winery, decided to do. The result is a sparkling apple wine called Pomme D’ Amor.
“This is our second sparkling apple wine,” Jim said. “Both were made entirely from our 10 acres of estate grown apples. Some of the apples included are Early Golds, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Jonathan, MacIntosh, Pippin, Granny Smith, Empire, and Gravenstein.”
“Because we have so many types of apples, the picking process took almost two months. The early apples were picked first and stored in our cold room. We picked over 500 boxes in 2016,” Jim said. All in all, it was a six month project from orchard to bottle.
Apple wine is made much like hard cider or white wine. Once the apples were picked and pressed, the juice was sweetened with sugar and fermented with a white wine yeast. When it was just to Jim’s liking, the apple wine was then fined (cleared of cloudy settlement), then settled and filtered. Once the wine was clear and clean, he trucked it in plastic tanks to Oak Mountain Winery in Temecula where it was force carbonated with CO₂ and bottled.
Make sure you taste this wine on your next visit to Julian. Besides the obvious apple notes, it also has subtle citrus undertones, a slightly creamy texture and a clean, lingering finish. It is delightful for sitting on the patio while enjoying your day.
All of the winemakers agree that it is fun to make these wines but a ton of work.
“It’s a great time, you get to work with fellow winemakers and learn the process, everyone chips in and does their part and when it’s done you have a special beverage that you can enjoy with friends,” Moore said.
It’s well worth the effort to search out these special wines from local, boutique wineries. They only make small batches,
so get ‘em while you can.
Cactus Star Vineyard
17029 Handlebar Rd. Ramona 760-787-0779 cactusstarvineyard.com
Hatfield Creek Vineyards & Winery
1625 Highway 78 Ramona 760-787-1102 hatfieldcreekvineyards.com
Ramona Ranch Winery
23578 Highway 78 Ramona 760-789-1622 ramonaranchwines.com
Volcan Mountain Winery
1255 Julian Orchards Dr.