Most Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with some other varieties, such as Pinot Meunier and Pinot Blanc, allowed as well. Somewhat less common are the styles called Blanc de Noirs - the “white of blacks” - and the Blanc de Blancs - the white Champagne made exclusively from white grapes. Piper Sonoma follows these traditions, fashioning its Blanc de Blancs from a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Blanc. This is an elegant wine, bright and fresh with lovely mineral notes, green apple and citrus flavors. A perfect match for oysters or sashimi, shellfish or even spring rolls and fried calamari.
Piper Sonoma was established in 1980 as part of a wave of investment in California by French Champagne houses. In the 1970s, demand for Champagne was growing while the ability to increase supply was slim due to the finite size of the Champagne region. “Go West” seemed like a good idea. While Möet, Mumm and Tattinger planted vineyards and built wineries in the Napa Valley, and Roederer set down roots in Mendocino, the house of Piper-Heidseick, led by the Marquis d’Aulan, settled on Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. He saw that the RRV’s cool climate and diverse soils would not only produce the grapes used in Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) but impart them with the acids and flavor profiles that make sparkling wine delicious. At that time, land was relatively cheap, and because Sonoma County was the unglamorous neighbor to the more glitzy Napa Valley, the winery could downplay visitor facilities and focus on making the wine and building the brand. Since the start, Piper Sonoma has consistently performed as one of the top 5 of domestic sparkling wines in the over $15 dollar category. Keith Hock took over winemaking in 2015, having honed his sparkling and still winemaking skills at Schramsberg, Saintsbury and Rudd Estate. He pursues a minimalist winemaking style to produce elegant and balanced wines that emphasize the varietal characteristics of the grapes as well as their individual growing sites. Despite the size of the production, he utilizes small lot fermentations, site specificity, and works closely with growers in the vineyard. He also applies the Méthode Champenoise, the same technique used in Champagne. Vineyard lots are hand-harvested, fermented and aged separately. Primary fermentation takes place in tanks and barrels before the blend is assembled and bottled and left to undergo second fermentation. After some years of aging on the lees, riddling and disgorging follow, with aged reserve wines used for the dosage to add complexity. The resulting wines are dry and smooth with a rich, creamy texture and can be enjoyed upon release or cellared for ten years or more. Today, after nearly 40 years, while ownership of Piper Sonoma has changed a few times, the dedication to making excellent, Champagne-inspired, sparkling wine has never waned. Sales and marketing for the brand is managed by Folio Fine Wine Partners, the group founded by Michael Mondavi and his wife, Isabel.