Korbel California Champagne – Russian River Valley

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My friends who knew me when I lived in New York might remember “Champagne Thursdays”. There was a small group of us who decided we never drank enough champagne and so we designated Thursdays as the day to do so. Many years have passed but visiting Korbel, just a few miles north of Santa Rosa along the Russian River, made me wonder about that tradition again.

If you are not familiar with how sparkling wines are made then Korbel is a “must visit” for you. They offer a winery tour as well as a garden tour (spring/summer only) and wine tasting. There is also a charming little deli and gift shop.

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I took the winery tour which lasts about an hour. During the tour I learned that the Korbel brothers emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the mid- 1800’s and founded a sawmill. In the 1870’s they planted their first vineyard. By the 1880’s they hired Frank Hasek from Prague to be their champagne master. He used méthode champenoise to create the very first California Champagne. In 1954, Korbel Champagne was sold to Adolf Heck. His son, Gary, is now the owner and president.

The tour includes a movie and a history museum with many photographs and antique wine-making implements. It is finished off with a tasting just for the tour group in the tasting room. Their most popular champagne is Korbel Brut. It was delicious but I also really enjoyed trying some of the lesser known varieties. The KORBEL Brut Rosé is such a gorgeous color and our tour guide told us it is one of the most served champagnes for bridal showers and weddings. I also enjoyed the Korbel Natural which has earned many awards.

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The grounds are lovely. I am going to come back in the spring/summer to enjoy the garden tour. The grounds were planted in the 1880’s for the Korbel summer retreat. I was told that there are more than 250 varieties of roses including some antique varietals.

This was the second time that I have had lunch at the Gourmet Delicatessen. A creature of habit but I do love their tri-tip sandwich with gorgonzola and caramelized onions. It is worth the trip for lunch alone! There are several delicious salads and sandwiches and of course wines by the glass and champagne cocktails.

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The Korbel website is also a wealth of information. From information on how much champagne you will need for a special occasion to tips on how to chill, pop and store – this is a great website. There is also a section that gives champagne cocktail recipes as well as recipes for pairing. It is a great resource.

One last interesting tidbit that I wanted to know and I bet you do too. I was under the impression that a beverage could only be called “champagne” if it came from the champagne region of France. This is due to an international treaty. That is why wine produced in the champagne – style in the US are called “sparkling wine”.  The short answer is this treaty was enacted decades after Korbel had started producing wine and calling it “California Champagne”. Personally I don’t care what they call it – it is delicious and a nice change of pace.

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