While many would venture to guess that California was home to the United States' first sparkling wine, they would be wrong. It was Ohio, in the 1830s, made by one Nicholas Longworth, near Cincinnati on the hillsides of Mount Adams, using the traditional method, with Catawba grapes. That fact aside, the birth of quality vinifera-based sparkling wine in the United States does start with the Golden State. Today, high quality sparkling wine and California are almost as synonymous as Champagne and France.
California Sparkling Wine Timeline
The Sainsevain brothers attempt making sparkling wine in San Francisco.
Isaac Cook creates “Cook’s Champagne,” the first American “champagne,” using the traditional method -- although the specific grape varieties used are unclear.
Buena Vista’s sparkling wine sold for the princely sum of $1.00 per bottle. Though less than the cost of French Champagne, it was still expensive, considering that average salaries at the time were little more than $1 per day.
Arpad Haraszthy, son of Buena Vista’s Agoston Haraszthy and a pioneer California winemaker in his own right, creates “Eclipse Champagne,” the first successful sparkling wine brand produced in the state. Later, he was elected the first president of the California State Board of Viticultural Commissioners.
The Korbel brothers, who emigrated from Bohemia (in today’s Czech Republic) in 1852, began producing sparkling wine according to the méthode champenoise. Initial wines were made from Riesling, Muscatel, Gewürztraminer, and Chasselas grapes.
In the first four years after the repeal of Prohibition, only 350,000 gallons of sparkling wines were made in California, being dwarfed by the amount made in NY state in the same period (772,000 gallons!).
Louis Martini makes, by chance, what will become known as Moscato Amabile, the first take on sparkling Muscat-based wine, in Kingsburg, California. Sold seasonally, it became cultishly popular over the years.
Jack and Jamie Davies revived the Schramsberg winery on the property originally founded in 1862 by German immigrants Jacob and Annie Schram. Their vision was to establish the first American sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes — utilizing secondary bottle fermentation as in France’s Champagne region. At the time there were only 22 wineries in Napa Valley, and fewer than 500 acres of California vineyards planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir combined.
André becomes E. & J. Gallo Winery’s first foray into sparkling wine. The goal was to introduce the average American to quality sparkling wine at an affordable price, and André succeeded. Over time, André has come to be the #1-selling sparkling wine by volume in North America.
Schramsberg’s Blanc de Blancs was served at President Nixon's "Toast to Peace" with China's Premier Zhou Enlai. This was the first time a California wine had been served by a U.S. president on the world stage.
Domaine Chandon, established by France’s Robert-Jean de Vogüé and California pioneer John Wright in the Napa Valley, becomes the first of several French-owned sparkling wine ventures in the United States.
Barry and Audrey Sterling buy 300 acres of rolling hills in Sonoma County’s Green Valley and found Iron Horse Vineyards, a pioneering winery renowned for its sparkling wines, served at the White House for six consecutive presidential administrations, beginning with the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summits heralding the end of the Cold War.
Piper Sonoma winery is established by France’s Marquis d’Aulan, a direct descendant of the Piper family of the nearly 200-year-old French Champagne company, who launched a joint venture with then-Renfield Importers, Ltd. of New York.
André Lallier, fifth-generation proprietor of Champagne Deutz in France, identifies a site in Arroyo Grande, Santa Barbara County, California, to which he plants 160 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc in 1982. The winery, named Maison Deutz, released its first wine, a Brut Cuvée, in 1986. In 1997, Maison Deutz was sold and the winery rebranded as Laetitia, which continues to produce sparkling wines.
John Scharffenberger founded his namesake sparkling winery in Philo (Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley). Later sold, the winery began a new chapter as a member of the Roederer Collection in 2004.
Jean-Claude Rouzaud, then-president of family-owned Champagne Louis Roederer, identified and selected a 580-acre Anderson Valley vineyard and winery site to create his California vision. The first Roederer Estate MV Brut Cuvée was introduced in 1988.
After a quest to find the right terroir, Guy Devaux, Mumm Napa’s founding president and winemaker, produces Mumm Napa’s first vintage sold under the name Domaine Mumm.
J. Vineyards is established and named after founder Judy Jordan in partnership with her father, Tom Jordan (Jordan Winery) with the emphasis on producing sparkling wines in Sonoma County. The winery was sold to the Gallo family in 2015.
Domaine Carneros, located on 138 acres in the heart of Carneros, Napa Valley, is founded by Champagne Taittinger. Eileen Crane (often referred to as the doyenne of California’s sparkling wine industry) was hired to oversee development of the Taittinger style in California.
Gaining increased critical traction and growing rapidly in popularity, top California sparkling wines made using the traditional champagne method, were rocking. Roederer Estate was up 26 percent over 2002, Schramsberg 35 percent and Iron Horse 25 percent, according to The Wine Market Report.
Introduction of regulations banning use of the term "champagne" on wines not produced in the Champagne region of France -- except if the label was in use before 2006. Those "grandfathered” wines are permitted to use the term on a wine label only if it appears next to the name of "the geographical place of origin.”
Rebecca Faust and Bruce Lundquist set out to establish Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services, a leading-edge facility working with premium vineyards to produce wine in the heart of the Northern California wine country. Early on, they quickly realized a unique calling — to craft quality California sparkling wines in the French Méthode Champenoise tradition for industry clientele, as well as for their own Rack & Riddle sparkling wine label. This further contributed to a sizable increase in the number of small wineries producing sparkling wines.
Michael Cruse, the force behind the cult Ultramarine sparkling wine label, opens his namesake winery in Petaluma, Northern California. In addition, Cruze Wine Company becomes an incubator and custom production resource for many smaller wineries seeking to make or add quality sparkling wines to their portfolio.
A multi-year bump in domestic sparkling wine sales, with most wines produced in California, continues, with sales rising 3.7% to 12.39 million total cases.
Americans’ passion for bubbles continues to rise and is seemingly insatiable. According to the report “Sparkling Wine in the US Market 2020” by the British agency Wine Intelligence, sparkling wine consumers in the United States are now 50.6 million, almost 1 out of 6 Americans, an increase of +17% over 2018 (32.9 million people) among those who drink regularly, with 33% of consumers drinking sparkling wine at least once a week.