Rack & Riddle Charmat facility opens in Geyserville

On a recent Wednesday morning, a flurry of Une Femme sparkling wine cans headed down the assembly line at Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services in Geyserville. Freshly filled, capped and parceled, the cans were among the first products to be crafted at the company’s new state-of-the-art sparkling-wine facility.

With the new operation and emphasis on sparkling wines produced with the Charmat method, the full-production custom crush winery hopes to attract more small-production winemakers like Une Femme Wines. Their pitch: Charmat production is a faster, easier and less expensive way, compared to traditional methods, for winemakers to add a sparkling wine to their portfolios.

Launched in 2007, Rack & Riddle has become the epicenter of custom sparkling wine production in Sonoma County where wineries without the space, knowledge or equipment for sparkling wine come to make their wines. Last year, the company produced about 800,000 cases of bubbly, making it second to Korbel as the largest sparkling-wine producer in California and the largest custom sparkling-wine facility in the nation.

The new facility, an 85,000-square-foot space owned by Delicato Wines and leased to Rack & Riddle, has the potential to expand the company production numbers by more than 345,000 gallons.

The road to Charmat

Historically, Rack & Riddle has produced wines for winemaking clients using Méthode Champenoise, the more traditional method of making sparkling wine. It’s a long, labor-intensive, expensive process that creates carbon dioxide (bubbles) in the bottle through a secondary fermentation period.

Charmat wines, however, gain their sparkle in large stainless-steel tanks — a process that can take as little as two weeks.

Developed around the turn of the 20th century by Frenchman Eugéne Charmat, the Charmat method is used in the production of Italian prosecco and most American sparkling wines. With less time spent on the lees (dead yeast cells), Charmat wines can taste fresher, brighter and fruitier than their traditional-method counterparts.

On April 17, Rack & Riddle kicked off its Charmat production with a private-label brut California sparkling wine and a California rosé, both made of 59% chardonnay and 41% pinot noir. Soon, they’ll bottle a prosecco-style sparkling wine that promises to be “lighter and more fruit-forward,” according to Manveer Sandhu, executive director of winemaking.

“Charmat-method wines are very customizable and allow you to have a bit more fun,” Sandhu said. “For us, it’s an opportunity to create fresh blends with varietals we normally don’t work with. Others may want to experiment with dosage (sugar), color, packaging and the like. But we want to make sure we’re deliberate in our approach. As long as we’re able to maintain our commitment to quality, that’s what matters.”

Cost savings for the consumer

While Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine takes at least 15 months to produce, Sandhu said Rack & Riddle expects their Charmat wines to be made in about 30 days.

Theoretically, the finished sparkling wine could be held in the tank for longer, to develop more complexity. But that would defeat the quick, easy, affordable appeal of Charmat for winemakers — a cost savings passed on to the consumer.

“We know consumers are looking for more affordable beverages, so moving into Charmat production is perfect timing for us,” Sandhu said. “While Champagne has a seriousness to it, Charmat allows you to loosen the collar, unbutton the top button and have more fun — whether you’re drinking it at dinner, on the porch or at a picnic. I think there is a lot of appeal in that.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or sarah.doyle@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @whiskymuse.

Show Comment