In mid-September, I had the good fortune to participate in the annual Hands on Harvest event organized by the team at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards located in Sonoma, California. This invitation-only two-day affair for wine industry folks and a few members of the press featured plenty of “ah-ha!” moments as we learned about the wines of Gloria Ferrer, met new friends and colleagues, and got down and dirty in the vineyards during the wee hours of the morning.

Gloria Ferrer
What I experienced during the quickest 36 hours I can remember was all of the aforementioned elements and more. Between tasting and evaluating Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines and Pinot Noir clones, picking grapes, and enjoying a delectable grand-finale lunch in the Arbor outside of the winery’s tasting room were a beautiful dinner on the patio of the original Williams Sonoma location, mid-morning bubbly with small bites atop a mountain, and informative lectures about all things grapes, vineyards, and soil…with plenty of good vibes and laughter, of course.

Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards

Perhaps you’ve heard of José Ferrer. His family, an established sparkling wine producer in Catalonia, Spain, had been winegrowers since the 1500s and was the family behind La Freixeneda, a 12th century farming estate. When José’s parents wed, two prominent wine families were joined. The result was Freixenet, now internationally recognized as one of the world’s largest producer of méthode champenoise sparkling wines.

José Ferrer and his wife, Gloria, visited Sonoma County in the 1980s with a pioneering spirit and vow to honor his father’s thwarted dream of developing a winery in the New World. In 1982, the Ferrers purchases a 160-acre cattle ranch. On it were planted three quarters of Pinot Noir vineyards and the remaining area to Chardonnay. One year later, Los Carneros became the first wine region to receive and American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation, one that is based on climate and terroir as opposed to political boundaries. Ferrer’s intuition that the land was exceptional for grape-growing was validated.

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards was developed with the mission to maintain “continuity and long-term sustainability – as a business and for the land that will sustain the Gloria Ferrer family for generations to come”. Gloria Ferrer now owns 385 acres and has expanded the wine portfolio to include estate varietal wines as a complement to its sparkling wine portfolio. It was the first sparkling wine house in Carneros, a well justified source of pride.

Gloria Ferrer

Hands on Harvest delivered every learning opportunity I thought it would…and more. Following are a few highlights.

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée Vertical Tasting: Can Sparkling Wines Age?

Our first gathering, during which everyone met (in several cases, for the first time) was in a comfortable room at MacArthur Place, our host hotel. Steve Urberg, who joined the Gloria Ferrer team in 1996 and assumed the role of Winemaker since 2001, led a guided tasting of five vintages of Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée (1987, 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2009). The intention was to demonstrate how the sparkling wines age and how the style of the wines have changed.

Gloria Ferrer
Royal Cuvée is crafted from the first pressing of hand-picked grapes. A mesmerizing profile of ripe stone fruit and citrus is blended with toast, butter, and yeast and bolstered by plenty of structure and a creaminess that I love. Aptly named, the inaugural vintage of “Royal Cuvée” was first served to King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain when they visited California in 1987.

All of the wines in the tasting consisted of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with variations in amounts of each. Although each wine had aged on the cork, the amount of years aged on the yeast differed. The 1987 vintage boasted high acidity, notes of lemon, sherry, caramel, butterscotch, and nuts, this wine was about as mature as it gets. No kidding. The 1990 vintage was, on my palate at least, spicy and tangy with restrained notes of stone fruit and a round mouthfeel. My favorite was the 1995 vintage with its soft, lush profile. I found it quite balanced with notes of honey and just a hint of red fruit…a beautiful wine.

Toast, brioche, and subtle elements of yellow flowers were a few characteristics of the 2001 Royal Cuvée. The dancing bubbles were joyous as they celebrated the wine’s rich, round texture. Finally, we tasted the 2009 vintage, another favorite. Delicate notes of chamomile tea, black cherries, citrus, and high acidity were incredibly food friendly and satisfying.

Can sparkling wines age? Of course, but their profiles will certainly vary. Older wines will develop nutty, toasty, and dried fruit flavors, present a darker color (check out the photograph), and display less mousse. If your aged bubbly hasn’t suffered from temperature or light fluctuations, it may be time to revisit that favorite in your cellar. Enjoy!

Wake Up – It’s Time for Pinot Noir

I’m not an early riser, but I was ready a bit after 6am to visit the vineyards and pick Pinot Noir grapes. Our caffeine laden group piled into black Suburbans for the fifteen-minute drive to Gloria Ferrer’s Circle Bar Ranch where we had a chat with Mike Crumly, Vice President of Production. He explained that due to the searing heat a few days earlier, all of the grapes had been picked…except for those that were saved for our group. With special cutting scissors and a protective glove in hand, we cut bunches of Pinot Noir, placed them gently in buckets, dumped the buckets into a large bin, and repeated the process for an hour. This was hands on harvest in its purest form and I honor every dedicated worker who tackles this job. You, my friends, are amazing!

Gloria Ferrer
Breakfast in the vineyard and informative lessons about grafting and Pinot Noir grapes were followed by a drive to the Gloria Ferrer Home Ranch. Apparently, we were deemed worthy of some much-appreciated bubbly and bites as we overlooked vineyards from the Hilltop and anticipated a tour of the production facility, barrel tasting, and a Pinot Noir clone tasting with Steve Urbert.

Gloria Ferrer
I admit… I’m a clone geek. But you may be wondering: What the heck are clones? In short, grape clones are cuttings from the original “mother vine” that present unique characteristics that grape growers would like to replicate. For example, traits such as preferred berry or cluster size, specific aromas or flavors, or ability to resist fungus are of interest. When you enjoy a glass of 100% Pinot Noir, most likely it’s a blend of different Pinot Noir clones. Each brings a distinct aroma and flavor profile, structure, and complexity to the blend.

Gloria Ferrer
Pinot Noir, one of the oldest grapes, has numerous clones. Our tasting consisted of five, each presenting distinct characteristics. From light to heavy were the Wadenswill UCD 2A (light in color and body and very fruit forward and floral), Wente (earth and spice with medium tannins), Colmar 538 (medium body with smooth mouthfeel, dark fruit notes, and exceptional balance), Pommard UCD4 (generous fruit, moderate tannins, and full body), and Dijon 115 (highly tannic with intense, concentrated notes and may be light in spice). My preferred profile was evident in the Colmar 538; in fact, the Pinot Noir grapes we picked hours before were of this clone.

Gloria Ferrer

Food and Wines of Gloria Ferrer

What’s better with a glass (or two) of Gloria Ferrer wine than delicious food? Nothing! Each wine I tasted during Hands on Harvest was a memorable pairing with the variety of foods on the menus.

After our vertical tasting of Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée, our lively group walked to the original Williams Sonoma store, a mere 10 minutes away from MacArthur Place. We did our best to assist the talented (and, thankfully, patient) Chef Elizabeth in the preparation of a very special dinner. Warm Marinated Olives (click here for the recipe), Crab Salad, Chicken Butter with a Quinoa side (my cooking skills were put to the test with that dish!) and Fennel and Potato Parmigiana were mouthwatering. Although I could have sipped the Gloria Ferrer NV Brut Rosé all night long (it pairs with everything), I craved each pour of Royal Cuvée, Blanc de Blancs, and Gloria Ferrer Carneros Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Each wine was a lovely complement to the varied tastes of our exceptional dinner.

Gloria Ferrer
The following day, after our experiences in the vineyards and the Pinot Noir clone tastings were completed, a scrumptious lunch, catered by Feast in Santa Rosa, was served in the Arbor, located a few steps from the tasting room. A welcome glass of refreshing Gloria Ferrer 2006 Carneros Cuvée was offered (yes, please!) as our group found our seats at the beautifully set table. That view!

Gloria Ferrer
A first course of Garden Lettuces, Flower Petals, and Rose Vinaigrette with Warm Goat Cheese Fritter was paired with Gloria Ferrer’s new brand, 2010 Anniversary Cuvée; the delightful sparkling wine is 2/3 Pinot Noir and 1/3 Chardonnay, a blend that spent five years on the lees.

Gloria Ferrer
Following was the second course. Grilled Bodega Rock Fish, Buckwheat Scallion and Macadamia Crepe with Pineapple Pico were brilliantly paired with the newly-released 2015 Windvane Chardonnay. I learned that Windvane is Gloria Ferrer’s new brand, one that is separate from their sparkling portfolio. This luscious wine with a broad palate profile was barrel fermented in 35% in new oak; only 1400 cases were produced.

Grilled Leg of Sonoma Lamb, Fingerling Potatoes, Italian Butter Beans, and Sauce Verte were paired with notable 2015 Windvane Pinot Noir. Elegant with beautiful red fruit notes, the Pinot Noir was aged in French oak; 2000 cases were produced. Consider finding the Windvane wines-truly amazing.

Gloria Ferrer
Ahhhhh… Summer Berry Tart with Caramelized Meringue was paired with the Gloria Ferrer NV Brut Rosé, a perfect finale with its bright aromas of ripe strawberries, lemon, and toast and flavors of tart raspberries and a creamy finish. In fact, the only disappointing aspect of dessert was that it signaled the end to an incredible two-day event.

I relished every moment from the time I arrived and placed my bags in the spacious, well-appointed suite at MacArthur Place to the last bite of dessert at lunch the following day. The time spent with those at Gloria Ferrer reminded me yet again that the most effective way to learn is by doing.

Whether it’s tasting wine and discovering nuances that may be a surprise, exploring the world of food and wine while appreciating each sip and bite, or clipping grapes from the vines and following its path from the vineyard to the glass, hands on learning is the best and only way to elevate any wine experience.

Gloria Ferrer

Thank you, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards for this brilliant adventure.

Cheers to you! ~ Cindy




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  1. Eva Bertran


    Cindy, It was great to share the harvest experience with you.. We will keep a good eye on our barrel of Pinot Noir that we worked so hard (lol!) to pick. And of course you are always welcome to check personally. on the barrel too. Cheers.

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